Story posted April 08, 2009
Over spring break, 90 students traveled to communities around the U.S. and abroad to learn more about poverty while providing service with partner organizations. While nearly a month has passed since they returned to campus, the impact of their experiences remains imprinted in their memories. Tuesday night nearly 80 of these students, joined by 15 faculty and staff members, had the chance to share some of those memories - as well as lessons learned - with one another. For the first time, the Alternative Spring Break installation "Perspectives" opened with a dinner in Ladd House giving participants the opportunity to share stories, consider the implications of poverty and learn about potential next steps to inform their interest in effecting change.
At each of the twelve tables, ASB student leaders facilitated conversations among groups with representation from the seven different trips. What were your expectations, and how did your experience confirm or challenge those expectations? What impact do you think you or your group had, if any? How will your experience influence your future engagement and decisions? Faculty and staff members joined in the conversation, asking probing questions at times, but mostly just listening.
For many students the starting place was just having others who understood the impact of the experience, as was noted by one participant who commented to others at his table, "Aren't you astonished by how people are surprised by your stories?" By the end of the evening, many expressed that living and working in these communities provided the greatest introduction to the despair of poverty coupled to the generosity of the human spirit: their own despair and their hosts' generosity.
At one table, the conversation quickly moved from observation to inquiry:
"It was so interesting to be in a place so different from here" commented Katie Stokien '09, who worked in Louisiana on Hurricane Relief.
"Yeah. These images of poverty will always be with me," reflected Brandon Asemah '12 about his experience in Guatemala working with Safe Passage. "But by the last day, the language and culture barriers had been stripped away and everybody was laughing and playing." He smiles.
"People are not aware. ASB makes you aware." Khristianna Jones '10 noted with emphasis of her experience with Safe Passage.
"And shows how poverty is so multifaceted. That's what we need to understand," added Rasha Harvey '12 who traveled to Peru to build steps in a shantytown.
"I learned the harsh reality that when you do not have money...or in economical terms--a high per capita income--its hard to have a voice," reflected Coretta King '12 who worked in a school in Camden, New Jersey.
"I learned the importance of breaking the cycle of poverty," remarked Rachel Gang '11 who worked with Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi.
"How do you create opportunity for people to do that?" questioned Matt Shew '09, a leader of the New Mexico trip which volunteered in middle school classrooms at a Native American school.
Encouraged to consider taking courses that can inform their interests, find opportunities to address the issues at the local level, connect their study abroad to community engagement, or explore opportunities for related internships and fellowships, the students left with ideas for moving their inquiry to action.
Listen to the students involved in the conversation noted above as they reflect on one of the most important things they learned from their service trip:
"Perspectives", an installation of photographs and written student reflections, is on display in Smith Union outside LaMarche Lounge through April 17th.