Indie Spring Breaks Do Good Works

Maggie Fried

For most people, the words “spring break” and “Mexico” lead to thoughts of sandy beaches, warm weather and daiquiris. However, the students who went on the Colgate sponsored trip to Mexico saw a completely different side of the country. The trip to Mexico was one of three alternative spring breaks that Colgate offered. The other trips went to Washington D.C and New Orleans.

Three faculty members and eight students, ranging from first-years to seniors and led by sophomore Merryl Pohl and senior Philip Cole, went to Mexico to build latrines for a community of 70 families who live on a dump.

“After approximately a twenty minute drive from our hotel, we would begin working on the latrines. The first few days was focused on cement, mortar and building the foundation. Mixing batch after batch of cement/concrete was our primary job. Once we laid the floor on Wednesday afternoon, we then focused our last hours on building the actual building, roofing it and placing the toilet,” junior Lisa Henty said.

At the end of the trip, the group had built two sanitary latrines for the families, many of whom make their lives by rooting through the trash dump on which they live. The experience gave the group a chance to learn about other cultures and people who live differently than Colgate students and led many of the participants to reevaluate their own lives.

“Every so often people need an experience like this one to reevaluate their priorities and realize the world is much bigger than their own,” senior Mandy Carden said. “The experience in Mexico really made me reconsider my definition of success. We’re prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our homes. I think success should be measured by the quality of our service to others.”

Sophomore Kathryn Meng was likewise struck by the contrast in lifestyle between Colgate and the communities which the group visited.

“Going on a trip like this really does put things into perspective,” she said.”It seems to me as though spring break has become increasingly commercialized and materialistic in a sense. College students are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to go on elaborate vacations, yet we had a difficult time selling $1 raffle tickets for the community we went to visit.”

Another group of students also chose not to go on “elaborate vacations,” and instead took a trip to Washington D.C. The 13 participants, sponsored by the Sophomore Year Experience, had the chance to learn about non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other non-profit groups in the D.C. area from current professionals in the field.

“I went on this trip because I was interested in NGOs and wanted to learn more about them. I have volunteered for a long time, but more on the ground level, and I wanted to see how nonprofits worked on an organizational level,” sophomore Marty Shapiro said.

Every day, the group visited different organizations or attended lectures at Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute. During the afternoons, participants were given free time to explore the D.C. area.

“For me the most memorable experience of the trip was our trip to the Carlos Rosario charter school, which was a school that taught adult immigrants English and other career skills,” Shapiro said. “I got to sit in on a Level 1 [English as a Second Language] class, which was really interesting to see. Overall the school just seemed like it was so successful in helping non-native speakers adjust to the language and with other aspects of living in a new country.”

Much like those people on the Mexico trip, the experience taught the students about social change and how they can better the world around them.

The students who participated in the NGO trip interacted with both professionals in the nonprofit sector and Colgate alumni, including Brendan Tuohey ’96, Executive Director of PeacePlayers International, an organization that uses the game of basketball to bring integration and dialogue to divided regions of the globe.

“I learned that we must be the change we want to see,” sophomore Barry Nyaundi said. “Brendan Tuohey and many others like him were courageous enough to reach out to a broken world in ways that were unique to their talents and passions and each has so far been effective in the changing the world one life at a time. I really admire how they didn’t wait for someone else to do it but stepped up and became the difference they wanted to see.”

The group that went to New Orleans included fifteen students, who, along with other students from across the country, gutted and rebuilt houses that had been destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.

“We got so much accomplished as a group,” sophomore Rachel Solomon said. “We cleaned out and gutted a whole two-story house in our time there, along with a few other houses.”

After finishing their work, the participants had the opportunity to meet the owners of the homes they had worked on and experience firsthand the impact that they had made.

“They were extremely thankful for our work and it made the whole situation in New Orleans much more personal,” Solomon said. “I think many people think that this is an isolated situation that they cannot relate to, but I think anyone would be devastated to lose their home and everything associated with it.”