Trip Combines Caribbean Adventure and Caring for Others
Twelve students combined a vacation in the tropics with helping a community in need when they spent an Alternative Spring Break in Belize. In addition to helping build a medical center in the small, rural village of Mahogany Heights, the students explored caves, climbed Mayan ruins, canoed the Sibun River, swam with sting rays, snorkeled on the Belize Barrier Reef, and visited the Belize Zoo.
“It was an experience like none I had ever participated in before,” said Samantha Giffen ’18, a psychology major from Bellingham, Mass.
“I wanted a spring break to remember, where I could combine my loves of community service and traveling across the world. This was the perfect opportunity,” said Chelsea Valentino ’16 (pictured top right, on the far right), an English major from Oxford, Mass. “I thought that it would be exactly right for me. My ideal career is working with children in some way, most likely through a youth services or children's advocacy role.”
Alejandra Aguilar ’17 (pictured top right, third from left), a biology major from Pittsfield, Mass., decided to participate in the service trip because Belize is not far from her native El Salvador.
“I heard how beautiful the nature is in Belize, and – at the same time – how many people are in need,” Aguilar explained. “I thought it would be an interesting experience to open my mind and get to know a new place and its culture.”
With a love of travel and a passion for service, “I knew this was going to be a really fascinating experience,” Aguilar said.
Marra DeJesus ’16 (pictured bottom right), a business major from Scotia, N.Y., loved visiting Belize, and particularly enjoyed the peaceful beauty the country has to offer.
“We explored caves, animals and the underwater world. Snorkeling was an extraordinary experience,” DeJesus said. “Our guide for the snorkeling activity has a cute bond with sting rays. It was amazing to watch him swim and play with them!”
DeJesus continued, “We have so many memories to treasure. From learning how to hammer a nail, canoeing, and exploring nature’s wonders, I was truly inspired.”
Upon her arrival at the health center, Valentino was surprised to find that all of the students could fit into the small, trailer-like structure. Over the next few days, they helped to measure and cut the wood that made up the framing and walls of the center.
In addition to using the center as a clinic, residents of the village set up a sewing classroom and a computer center inside the facility. With the new walls in place, two or more activities now may happen at the same time.
“We also interacted with kids from the community and organized activities with them,” Aguilar said. “We played soccer with them, and on our last day we had the chance to participate in an activity organized by a local church, where we played games with the kids that attend there.”
“We made connections with many unbelievably heroic individuals,” DeJesus added. “From citizens who helped us in the community to our program coordinator, each interaction was very special. We also met many young talented students who have a bright future.”
Her most important take away from the experience was “Take less, give more.”
“The most challenging part of the trip was accepting the reality,” DeJesus said. “There are people out there who struggle to get the basic necessities. That’s hard to take in.”
Giffen added, “The most valuable part of this experience was the interaction we had with the residents of this community, and seeing how something that seemed small to us meant so much to them. It really made us re-evaluate the life we live.”