Purple Box: Alternative spring breaks

Some Ephs spent spring break wallowing in their rooms, watching crappy TV on their laptops and eating peanut butter out of the jar so they wouldn’t have to get out of bed. Other Ephs, however, ditched their pajamas and traveled across the state, the country and the world to do community service. While all the groups took at least some vacation time, getting to explore the area where they were working, the majority of their time was spent in the service of others.

First Year Bible Study: Springfield, Mass.
In the tradition of Nehemiah, the man who dedicated himself to rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its community, the First Year Bible Study group (commonly known as the FYBSters) worked to encourage art, reach out to the underprivileged and brighten up people’s lives in Springfield. They taught art at a Christian after-school center, cleared out an entire warehouse to create a new space for people to work on art and sang to the elderly and homeless. “Collaborative efforts [are] needed for service,” Shana Dorsey ’14 said. “We need to pool our resources.” The FYBSters hope to draw upon their spring break experiences to improve the Williams community.

Navajo Nation: Window Rock, Ariz.

The Navajo Nation project worked at a Catholic school on a Native American reservation in Arizona. Their goal was to assist with teaching, to inspire students to continue their studies and to represent a radically different cultural background. “We tutored, edited essays, gave guest lectures … [and] organized workshops,” Meg O’Connor ’14 said. “Our coming was a big deal because St. Michael’s is underfunded and understaffed … [and] lacking in enrichment activities.” Although they focused by day on working with the kids, by night they stayed in a local parish house “under the watchful eye of a nun named Sister Josephine,” as O’Connor put it.  She, and doubtless others, came away with a newfound understanding of privilege. “It’s more than just the amount of money you have. It’s the environment you’re in, the people around you and what you believe you can achieve,” she said.

Fair Trade Coffee: Dominican Republic

Initially, this group of Ephs thought they’d pick coffee along with the workers, but they soon discovered there were no beans to pick. Moreover, where they had expected to see a highly organized farm abuzz with work, they found rampant unemployment, ethnic strife, pathetic education and extreme poverty. They did their best to collaborate with workers’ children in the one school on the plantation, but found it difficult since children only attend school for four hours. “I wouldn’t call [the trip] fun so much as eye-opening,” Prim Songkaeo ’11 said. “If coffee with a fair trade symbol is produced under conditions that poor, how much worse must the conditions be for non-fair trade coffee?”

Free Medical Clinic: Nicaragua

Pre-med students set up a free clinic in Nicaragua. After one training day, they spent the next four days treating patients. “One little girl who came into the clinic with many cavities and oral ulcers,” Alex Highet ’13 said. “Unfortunately, her teeth couldn’t be extracted until the infection was cleared.” Highet said the attending physician prescribed antibiotics, but he also gave the child the anesthetic she’d need for the extraction, since her local dentist probably would not have any. Sadly, such low expectations of local care are realistic assessments. “Free clinics are the only time [Nicaraguan] people are even really listened to, let alone treated … and these clinics are transient,” Highet said.

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