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Acting Director of Service Learning
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
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Spring Break 2013
For spring break this year, I accompanied ten Eckerd students to Ladyville, Belize, a small town just north of Belize City. There, we worked at Liberty Children's Home, a sanctuary for Belizean children who have been orphaned, abused or abandoned by their families. Even as a veteran spring break leader, I wasn't prepared for the amount of love and affection these children would pour into our hearts in just a few short days. The Eckerd students made lifelong bonds not only with each other, but also with the kids we played with every day.
While the Liberty children were in school, our Eckerd students undertook a variety of projects to help Liberty run a little smoother. From working in the kitchen to doing the massive amounts of daily laundry, Eckerd students put in countless hours of manual labor for chores that really helped the Liberty staff. We also undertook two major projects: 1, we cleaned and reorganized a large craft closet that had been collecting dust for quite some time, and 2, we overhauled an overgrown ditch that was no longer allowing water to flow out of Liberty when the summer rain storms came. These two projects gave the Eckerd students a well-rounded view of the different types of service one can provide to any organization, be it physical labor, reorganization or just attending to daily chores. The EC students continued to give their effort all week, despite the blistering and unforgiving heat.
Once the children came home from school, typically around 3:30pm, we would drop everything and play games with them. These children were fun-loving and excitable, and really enjoyed spending time with us. It gave me and our EC students great perspective on what it means to be a kid, and the resilience of the human spirit. I have led many of these trips and am consistently impressed by the nature of EC students, but none more so than those that I lead to Belize. These students were the perfect blend of hard working and fun loving, of level headed and silliness. It was such a great experience that will be unmatched for years to come.
Costa Rica - 1
Saige Liparulo and Tyler Fortune lead a spring break service trip with 10 students to the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary located on the coast of Limon, Costa Rica. We stayed and the Sanctuary with Vanessa Lizano who started the center to rehabilitate and release local animals that have been effected by deforestation and loss of habitat. Our service included helping with the daily tasks at the center, feeding and taking care of rescued animals, creating animal enrichment toys, building turtle bridges, baby sloth climbing areas, and helping with the sea turtle program.
At the Sanctuary our daily tasks involved cutting up food for two and three toed sloths, Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, white- tailed deer, Spectacled owl, keel-bill toucan, parrots, Scarlet Macaw, Kinkajou, Olingo, and ant eaters. We hand fed them, cleaned cages, cut down bamboo for sloth exhibits, and created a garden for the sanctuary.
At night we helped the sea turtle program by patrolling Moin beach from 10PM to 3AM. We walked a total of 16miles along the beach keeping an eye out for poachers. Sea turtles have been exploited for centuries by coastal communities as a source of meat, eggs, as a base material for cosmetics, jewelry and crafts.
To wrap up our service trip we had some fun Zip lining through a canopy, spending time at the beach, going into the city, and hiking around an active volcano.
Costa Rica - 2
A group of eleven students and two leaders went and served at the La Marina Foundation, a zoo and wildlife rehabilitation center found in the rainforest in the heart of Costa Rica. One of the main projects completed during the week of service was building an enclosure for turtles and baby alligators. Students cleared a plot of land, made cement, organized large river rocks, built a waterfall structure and the pond itself, and finished the enclosure by building a retaining wall around the structure. Other projects completed that week included cleaning and painting rusted wires of large bird enclosures, clearing land for a new exhibit, laying the cement foundation for a new bird enclosure, trail and grounds maintenance, and brush removal. Activities accompanying the work included a day rafting the Sarapiqui River, spending time with the Rojas family that runs La Marina, cooking dinner together, going out to dinner, two trips to local hot springs, and taking trips into Aguas Zarcas, the nearest town. It was tough work, but incredibly rewarding and the group was great! More information on the La Marina Foundation, what they do, and how you can help can be found at www.zoocostarica.com.
We traveled to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to volunteer with a nonprofit called Project Esperanza. Project Esperanza was started in 2006 after a group of college students from Virginia Tech traveled to the Dominican Republic for a service trip and to do a street census about what the community there needed. Project Esperanza works primarily with the Haitian immigrant population who have very limited employment and educational opportunities. We split our days working on two different projects: a grassroots school teaching English in the mornings and constructing an outhouse, hand washing station and planting a garden in the community where we were staying. We also had the opportunity to volunteer in Project Esperanza's fair trade art shop and brought back some of their products to sell here at Eckerd. The week was filled with great service and our group left the Dominican Republic feeling like we really made a difference in the community. We did about 8 hours of service each service day and when we were not volunteering we spent our free time with the children of the community, teaching them to make friendship bracelets, reading with them and playing baseball. We loved how immersed we were and felt like there was always an opportunity to do some service.
For a total of nine days, our group of 12 students and three leaders traveled to an indigenous Shuar community in Ecuador to complete a week of service with Fundecoipa, a non-profit organization in the Amazon Rainforest that practices sustainable community development. Over the course of the week, the group completed several service projects including trail restoration, roof-making, sugar cane planting, bridge building, and gardening. In addition to service, the group was exposed to the cultural practices and traditions of the Shuar people, and all of us received an extensive education about the wonders of the rainforest and the natural resources (food, medicine, ornaments) that are naturally provided in the area. Such natural commodities have come to shape the culture of the indigenous inhabitants in the area.
Our group was extremely fortunate to work and play together very well, and the team as a whole was incredibly positive, energetic, and enthusiastic. It seems that all participants thoroughly enjoyed their time completing service and learning the ways of the jungle and its inhabitants. Each participant completed about 30 hours of service, all of which were very much appreciated by Fundecoipa and the Shuar community as a whole. For nearly all trip participants, this experience served as an amazing service and educational opportunity that changed many of our perceptions about the importance of natural resource management, rainforest conservation, and indigenous knowledge.
Tucked in the wooded hills between the Guazapa volcano and Lake Suchitlán, El Roble is a small, vibrant community of about 50 families outside of Suchitoto. A hotbed of violent conflict and human rights abuses during El Salvador's recent civil war, El Roble has come a long way in its recovery through organizing to address the community's needs. During the week of March 16-24, 2013, our group of 12 worked in conjunction with El Comité de Reconstrucción y Desarrollo Económico-Social de las Comunidades de Suchitoto (The Committee for Socio-Economic Development and Reconstruction of Suchitoto/CRC), which works to rebuild communities affected by the conflict. We spent the week laboring under the leadership of a local bricklayer, Rene, who patiently transferred both his technical expertise to our team of eager workers, and his personal accounts of the impact of the conflict on his community. Mixing dozens of batches of cement and laying hundreds of concrete blocks, we constructed brick walls for a community center that was at the start nothing more than a foundation and roof.
Aside from our contributions to the project, our group also spent the week living with local families and sharing delicious traditional meals with the affectionately-nicknamed "Mama Lucy." We were fortunate to have an authentic experience that lifted El Salvador out of the shadow of conflict that clouds most portraits of this tiny nation, and highlighted both its astounding natural beauty and resilient, generous people. We learned to make corn tortillas by hand, take bucket showers at the river, and most importantly, the true meaning of solidarity from an exemplary community that has persevered through so many challenges. After just a week living and working alongside our new El Salvadoran friends, El Roble felt like home.
Our time in El Roble culminated in a big fiesta with the entire community. Everyone gathered in the newly-formed center, shared gratitude for the work completed and the invaluable exchange we all experienced, and danced countless bachatas. It was clear upon our departure that the new building would be a focal point of the community, to host traditional dance lessons for youth, organizational meetings, and celebrations. We may have just lent helping hands for the week, but the work completed in conjunction with the community will live on as a symbol of solidarity and will facilitate continuous steps toward peace, reconciliation, and development.
Rabbi Ed led 13 students to the Florida Keys for an environmental Spring Break service trip. We had the chance to dive everyday and remove trash from the reefs. We discussed the importance of being involved in cleaning and protecting our local environment. Many of the students were passionate about protecting our oceans. It was a great chance for students to use scuba diving, a favorite recreational hobby and show that it can be enjoyed while helping the environment.
When the thought of working with wild animals crosses your mind, you think about viewing them from a distance or working along side an animal specialist who is looking over your shoulder at every moment, but on the Guatemala trip, that was hardly the case. Fourteen students, led by Kira Moyer and staff member Jim Terkelsen, traveled to the Petén region of Northern Guatemala to volunteer for ARCAS, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center, located deep in the heart of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. The ARCAS center in Petén was founded with the idea of rescuing and returning animals to their natural habitat and providing education on wildlife as well as the human effects on the environment. The rehab center features acres of tropical forest, veterinary facilities, rehabilitation cages and the hundreds of animals ARCAS works to save each and every day. Volunteers work 3 animal husbandry shifts throughout the day in pairs or in groups to ensure that animals are fed and cared for depending on their stage in the rehabilitation process. We also put in hard labor restoring the primate and aviarian rehabilitation cage, where Guacamayas (Macaws) and Mono's (monkeys) will make their final stay before being returned to the wild. Throughout the acres of land and in the quarantine center, students were able to interact with kinkajous, monkeys, macaws, parrots, crocodiles, white tail deer, ocelots, a baby otter and many other species. The highlight of working with the animals was the interaction with the ARCAS staff and their willingness to allow the Eckerd students to be very hands on throughout the week. We even had the opportunity to assist in a surgery on a white tail deer and complete a necropsy on a baby deer and a spider monkey!
The travel to and from Guatemala certainly made an impression on the students and was an adventure that many will not forget. After a short plane ride from Miami, an overnight bus ride from Guatemala City delivered us to the small town of Flores on Lake Petén. The sleepy well-travelled group stepped out of the "luxury bus" in this small outpost town and was immediately greeted by the bounding veterinarian and Assistant Director, Alejandro Morales. After a quick greeting, a quick boat ride brought us over to the ARCAS grounds and then the final leg was a "wake you up" hike up to the facility. Our days were filled with tons of animal work and "chores" around the facility in high temperatures, but the pay off was a relaxing swim in Lake Petén at the end of each day and cold showers at night before going to bed. Completing the aviaries and primate cage for next months planned animal moves was a major help to the staff and they were impressed that we were able to complete the work in such a short time.
Our trip also included some fun, as well as immersing ourselves in the culture of Guatemala. Throughout the week, the students worked tirelessly to interact with the ARACS staff, learn the Spanish language and experience Guatemalan cuisine. Later in the week, the group traveled into the island town of Flores, where our limited experiences were put to the test in the streets and the local shops and then the culmination of a group dinner while we were in town. But, that was hardly the end of our cultural experience. Our last day was a visit to the Mayan Ruins at Tikal. After rising early in the morning and after a packed van ride to Tikal, the group enjoyed a 3 hour tour of several Mayan Temples, the Lost City and a palace while learning about how the ruins were constructed and what they were used for in past times. Along the tour, many of the animals we worked with at ARCAS were abundant in the trees around us, as well as the flora and fauna that we had experienced while living in a remote area of Guatemala. Following the tour and the long trip home, the group reflected on their experience and wished they were back in the jungle of ARCAS and leaving their stamp on this special organization who serves so many animals, with so little funding.
This spring break 11 students headed up 66 degrees north to Iceland! Upon arrival, we took a six hour bus ride to Skaftafell National Park. We stayed in the national park in cabins. Everyday we woke up to meet the national park ranger and begin our work. About two weeks before we went to Skaftafell National Park, they had record rainfall that washed away many of the hiking trails. We spent the week repairing these trails by carrying gravel and rocks up the mountain to pour onto the trail. The group spread apart along the trail and we passed the buckets of gravel up the chain. It was repetitive work but we made it fun by playing I Spy, 20 questions, and talking about random facts about ourselves. And at the end of the week the 11 of us had carried 30,000 pounds of gravel up the mountain to repair the trail! Our sweaty hard work paid off and now visitors to Skaftafell National Park have a sturdy trail to hike! After a day of service, we would go back to our cabin and cook dinner together. The food was delicious! And at night, we would bundle up and head outside to watch the beautiful display of the Northern Lights! In other spare time, we became experts at playing the game Mafia. It was a great trip with wonderful hard working students who became great friends by the end of the trip The biggest lesson we took away is to take more moments in life where you stop and just stare at the beauty of nature :)
In the hands of an average writer and the embellishment of a few facts, the 2013 spring break service trip to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico would make a great novel or television drama. Truth be told, it was a great trip even if you eliminate the run-in with la policia, hanging out in jail and a Catholic missionary prostitute. Co-led by Jenna Behnke and Brian Zaun, the service, the learning and the experience at La Ciudad de la Alegria (The City of Joy) in Cancun all made for a memorable spring break service trip.
La Ciudad de la Alegria's home in Cancun isn't the rollicking excitement that is the tourist hotel zone, but rather a part of the normal hustle and bustle of a regular Mexican city filled with people just trying to do their best. It's a very nice complex that cares for vulnerable and underserved people, providing a wide range of services through various facilities: Bread and Blanket Shelter, Women's Shelter, Home for the Elderly, Personal Development Center, Cafarnaum Hospice, Training Center, Multipurpose Center, Mano Amiga School and Home for Children. The thrust of the group's service was working with the elderly, elementary students from the Mano Amiga school and the older students participating in the after school program. The coordination of the service was handled by Mision Maya, an organization that utilizes Catholic missionaries from around the world.
The group left campus at 4am for a time bending 10am flight from Orlando that arrived in Cancun at 10am. After an introduction and tour of the complex with our Mision Maya host, the group had some time to settle in to our rooms, relax a bit and get ready for the service and adventures to come. Like most new experiences the first day was a bit slow, slightly confusing and somewhat disconcerting; we need more Spanish training. As the week rolled on, everyone seemed to settle into the service, the schedule and gradually found their Spanish voice to help with communication. In addition to the work at Ciudad Alegria, the group visited a Mayan community church, chatted with inmates at the local jail, found time to hit the beach and visited the Mayan ruins at Tulum. It was an enjoyable week and a memorable experience.
Twelve students along with staff member Makenzie Schiemann and faculty member Matt Schiemann, traveled to the city of Masaya, the cultural basin of Nicaragua. In Masaya, the team worked with Casa-Nica, an NGO aimed at doing something different with their development work as they believe that the most effective way to truly help Nicaragua is by working with and contributing to the pre-existing projects and foundations already created by the Nicaraguan people. Casa-Nica works with the Nicaraguan people in a diverse array of project fields such as education, agriculture, sustainability, technology, and animal care. Our team chose to help Casa-Nica in their mission by spending a week volunteering at the National Zoo.
At the zoo, the team worked to improve several of the zoo's animal facilities including expansion of two of the projects that the Eckerd group completed during the 2012 trip to Nicaragua. Last year, the students revamped part of the boardwalk in the butterfly garden. This year, our students furthered this work by adding a new bench for visitors to use and extending the remodeled boardwalk to the entire length of the butterfly garden. The team then divided up the rest of the work between painting the jaguar cages, building rope ladders for the spider monkeys to play with, preparing food for the animals, and even feeding the lions, pumas, tigers, and alligators.
In the evenings, the team spent time learning and engaging in the rich culture Nicaragua has to offer. This included participating in a language exchange with a group of students learning to speak English. We also visited several cultural/tourism sites such as Laguna de Apoyo, authentic markets, Fort Coyotepe, Mombacho volcano, and the beautiful Isletas de Grenada.
"Where happiness inspires hope…" This statement sums up our Spring Break 2013 in Kissimmee's Give Kids the World Village. While others our age were soaking up the sun, ten Eckerd students spent 6 days working with terminally ill children and their families in the Village, providing smiles and help where needed. Give Kids the World is a non-profit organization that provides these families with an unforgettable, memory packed week at no charge. Operations at the village are reliant on upwards of 1,400 volunteers weekly and we put our time in facilitating smiles and hope. Starting early in the morning the group would help out with many activities from serving breakfast in the gingerbread house, operating one of the few wheelchair accessible carousels in the world, and hosting other activities. In the evening we served dinner, led events, served as pool attendants and delivered foods and snacks to the villas via golf cart. When not being of service we slept on the floor of a Church youth house, were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the congregation members, conversed about our service and a few other fun things along the way. Overall, seeing children and their families who go through so much adversity wearing a smile is what makes this service so meaningful, and gives new meaning to living in the moment. Members of this trip came back with a change in heart and mentality and the want to everyday inspire hope with happiness.
Residence Coordinator, Jessica Wright and Resident Advisor, Claire Fleishell lead 10 students to volunteer at Hogar Malambo Orphanage in Arrijan, Panama. The group volunteered up to 12 hours per day in each of the houses at the orphanage. The orphanage and the house are run by several Nuns and caregivers. There are 7 houses in total: baby house, toddler house, HIV house, disability house, middle-school aged house, boy house, and teen house. The Eckerd students helped with cleaning, diapering, cooking, feeding, playing, tutoring, teaching, providing activities, and most importantly giving the live-on campus caregivers some time to relax. After five days of volunteering, the group left to the islands of San Blas for the last two days. Here, the group was able to relax and reflect on the service work.
We worked with Plenitud Eco-Educational Initiatives. It is a non-profit organization that supports individuals and communities in their sustainable development by providing training, demonstrations and services in organic farming, bio-construction, and other permaculture practices. As many of you remember, Eckerd College lost a student last year, Nate Mosby, so our major project was working on his memorial garden. The main goals of this garden are to create a self-sustaining perennial garden that will attract the largest amount of biodiversity possible; because Nate was so full of life and energy it seems the only way to successfully embody his energy into this garden would be to fill it with life and let it grow on it's own standards to become something beautiful inside and outside. In the short six days we spent on Tres Amigos farm, we added a lot of love, sweat, muscle, and great vibes into Nate's garden. This is only the beginning for his garden, however!
The St Petersburg service program was a week-long smorgasbord of local service. Our group volunteered with six different agencies, and each member contributed approximately 23.75 hours of service by the end of the week! We volunteered in a number of different areas-we performed environmental service to preserve a local sanctuary as well as a local nature preserve, worked on issues like hunger, refugee assimilation and education. Though we were able to sleep comfortably and sacrificed no amenities in our time together, we worked as a team to serve our local community in many different ways. We are grateful to all of the organizations that welcomed us to learn with them, including Bay Pines VA Hospital, Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Pinellas Community Church, Southeastern Guide Dogs, and the Eckerd College Waterfront.
12 Eckerd College students embarked on a Service-Learning Spring Break trip to Natural Tunnel State Park, Virginia this last March. We lived in the park next to a train track, cooked all of our own food, and stayed in bunk beds. We worked on several projects during the week with the park rangers. Some of the students helped to lay a "green" parking lot at the amphitheater and the other group worked to renovate the pool area. Renovating the pool included painting, building benches, removing decorations, and helping to install a decorative pond. Laying the parking lot involved flattening layers of dirt and gravel under an interlocking plastic support system, which grass can grow through, then filling the plastic holes with more dirt. We also spent a lot of time exploring the park and learning about local culture including how to dance the Virginia Reel.
US Virgin Islands
Our group worked with Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park in St. John, USVI. Our work consisted trail maintenance along two trails, the world famous Reef Bay Trail and L'Esperance Trail. While working on the Reef Bay Trail, our group helped clear Danish sugar mill and slave village ruins. While clearing the trail, we were lucky enough to find artifacts that archaeologists would later measure and collect. Ceramic pots and glass bottles were strewn over the ground and it was quite a sight.
While working on the L'Esperance Trail, we helped clear to make hiking on the path easier. The last time the trail had been maintained was two years ago by a different Eckerd Spring Break group. While on the trail, we were able to see St. John's only Baobab tree which was brought over from Africa decades, if not centuries ago. During our free time we explored different bays and took advantage of the pristine surrounding nature habits in and around the island including: Cinnamon Bay (where our campsite was located), Mahao Bay, and Francis Bay. To relax from hard days of service, we went snorkeling and witnessed marine life such as sharks, sting rays, and sea turtles up close and personal in the crystal clear waters. Although the days were long and hard, the service provided immediate aid to the local community. All involved had a great time!