Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring-Break Service Learning

Back from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, Kallie Garrett ’11 and Alyssa Maine ’11 reflect on their spring-break trips, including what it means to be servant learners, how to transition back to life on campus and what it’s like to witness an erupting volcano.

Dominican Republic
By Alyssa Maine ’11

I was one of 10 students who traveled to the Dominican Republic over spring break to participate in service learning. We went to serve and engage with a church in the Haitian community and learn about differences in the DR. I’ve been on a traditional mission trip before, so the idea of going on one that focused differently on service and learning interested me. I have often found myself unaware of what to do when I come back home from serving in a different culture. With all the images and people still vividly in my mind, the transition back to life in the United States is always hard and unwilling. I have found myself with new formed relationships and questions, but the relationships end abruptly, and the questions are left without immediate answers.
But while on the service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic it became clear. The questions and education I participate in allow me to develop as an individual so I can affect others in the future. Service Learning is about the future response, not necessarily the immediate. With this particular experience I saw the mindset of our team was different. I wanted to experience all there was of the Dominican Republic, learning from those around me—to be a teachable spirit. My goal shifted to learning, thus everything I saw and experienced became an opportunity to be a student.
Not only was my view of a mission trip changed, but my view of myself, my society and my education was changed as well. I am beyond blessed with an education, experiences and resources so I too can be a blessing to others. If I choose to hoard what I learn or the resources I have without applying them to the decisions I make or the way I conduct myself, is it worth learning anything? Jesus says in Luke, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV ). Asking questions of the world and its existing structures is the only avenue for change I can imagine right now. This is for my own development, and for the development of synthesizing what I saw and experienced with what I am feeling.

Nicaragua
By Kallie Garrett ’11

This spring break I was able to visit and learn about the beautiful culture of Nicaragua. Along with 13 other Gordon students and our faculty advisor, Ian Drummond, we spent a week traveling and learning about a country very different from our own. Our first stop was a visit to Peace and Hope Trust, an NGO run by Peter Coleman, son of Gordon professor Sybil Coleman. He helped introduce us to the amazing country of Nicaragua and inform us of the different issues they are dealing with. We also learned about PAC, a group who helps local farmers learn the most effective farming techniques and then export their products to the United States.
The main part of our trip was spent at CICRIN, an orphanage on the island of Ometepe, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. It is run by a wonderful woman named Hellen, who moved from Costa Rica to Nicaragua to live out her passion for helping the Nicaraguan children. During the day we did different work projects like weeding a pepper garden, construction on a house, helping in the kitchen, collecting firewood, raking leaves, and more. The rest of the day we played soccer or just spent time (and attempted Spanish conversations) with the kids. I loved the feeling of purpose as we worked at the orphanage. Through the sunburns and sore muscles, we continued to work as hard as we could because we knew Whom we were working for. Leaving the orphanage was bittersweet; it was heartbreaking to meet these wonderful kids who do not have families to go home to, yet we were comforted by the sense of family and love that abounds at CICRIN.
One of our most exciting moments of the trip was when the active volcano on the island Concepción erupted. There was a giant cloud of smoke and ash which, thankfully, blew over and beyond where we were staying. It was not a safety threat but an incredibly rare event to witness. Throughout the week we also had the chance to hike part of the other volcano on the island up to a spectacular 300-foot waterfall, ride horses on the beach, eat pizza with backpackers hidden in the Nicaraguan forests, and so much more. As well as enjoying these breathtaking moments, we also saw the poverty that covers much of the country, and the shocking differences between our cultures.
This trip was truly a service-learning experience; we were given the chance to work hard and bless others, and also to learn about the great things that people like Peter Coleman and others are doing through their work. Nicaragua was beautiful in every way, and a life-changing experience for me and the rest of the team.

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