Students help children in need, explore Belize
As she considered the final spring break of her college career, Krystal Cantu ’15 of Chicago, Ill., was eager to travel somewhere new. But she also wanted to do something different – something she’d never experienced before. MCLA’s Alternative Spring Break provided just that as she found herself making cement in Belize to provide the foundation for a church facility that aims to feed hungry children.
“We didn’t use a cement mixing machine or anything like that,” Cantu explained. “We dug the sand and then mixed it with the dirt and water; that part was tricky, and hard, physical labor. But, in the end, it was even more rewarding because we literally put our sweat into it.”
According to Nia Scott ’17 of Brooklyn, N.Y., “The children who hung around the site were supposed to be in school, but couldn’t attend because it was too expensive for the families to send them on the bus. Many of them don’t eat three meals a day, and fresh drinking water has to be bought at a store.”
“It was my first time ever doing such intense community service like that,” said Jasmine Cespedes-Mejia ’15 of Dorchester, Mass. “Never did I think I was going to have the opportunity to make cement for a foundation. It was an amazing experience.”
Spencer Moser, director of MCLA’s Center for Service and Citizenship, accompanied the 10 students on their week-long trip.
“When people think about masonry, we don’t often mix our own cement in the United States. It was fascinating to the students to learn how cement can actually be made. It was very hard, manual work, mixing all the ingredients together. It’s heavy. It’s sloppy. That experience was very valuable. Students said, ‘I’ll never look at cement the same,’” Moser said.
Two years ago, Cespedes-Mejia traveled to Kentucky on a previous Alternative Spring Break. “I love learning about new cultures and countries by actually going there, and experiencing everything hands-on,” she said.
“The best part was simply experiencing and learning about another culture,” Cantu added. “And we got to do this in a way most tourists don’t.”
Community service, according to Lucas McDiarmid ’15, who is originally from Cortes, Honduras, and now from Palmer, Mass., is a huge part of the culture at MCLA. Working with the people of Belize, he said, was “incredibly special.”
“The service totally changed my perspective on careers. My goal is to someday work for homeland security to combat human trafficking, but now I’d like to work in the humanitarian services field for awhile, before doing so,” McDiarmid said.
While many in Belize don’t have the materialistic items Americans feel they need to “survive,” they also “are the happiest people who will make sure that your needs come before theirs,” Scott said.
“This experience made me realize how fortunate I am to have all that I have in life,” Cespedes-Mejia said. She also saw how important it is for communities to work together. “I sensed a very strong community in Mahogany Heights. Everyone knew each other, and everyone looked out for one another.”
Beyond the rewards their service provided, the group also took a few days to enjoy the beauty of Belize. Scott particularly enjoyed snorkeling off the island of Caye Caulker.
“I had never gone snorkeling before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. It was beyond amazing to see the coral reef and swim around with sharks and other animals. It definitely made me appreciate nature even more,” she said.
The group also climbed a Mayan Temple.
“It was a challenge to get to the top, but it was so worth it,” Scott said. “The feeling that I had was overwhelming and the view was breathtaking. I was so glad that I got to experience that.”
Top right: Lucas McDiarmid at the Mahogany Heights work site.
Middle right: From left, Krystal Cantu and Jasmine Cespedes-Mejia swim at Caye Caulker.
Bottom right: Nia Scott at the base of a Mayan temple.