Be the change: Western teams take a 'Break'
By Communications Staff
February 28, 2013
From New Orleans to Winnipeg, the Belize to Costa Rica, even right here in London, Western’s volunteer teams traveled around the corner or across the globe for Alternative Spring Break 2013, asb.uwo.ca. What follows below are two memories from two team members reflecting on the week that was. Relive the week by reading all the entries – as well as seeing all the photos – at atwestern.typepad.com/asb2013/.
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JANGAS, Peru – It seems cliché to say a single week of volunteering in Peru changed my life, but that is exactly what happened this past week.
Taking part in the Western’s Alternative Spring Break program was the most exhausting, physically demanding and bravest thing I have ever done. I would not change one second of the time I spent getting burned by the hot Peruvian sun (except by perhaps wearing more sunscreen). I fell absolutely in love with the culture and people. We could all learn a lesson from the way the Peruvians work with, and take pride in, what, in many cases, is very little.
In our modern world in which each person is defined by the ‘stuff’ they accumulate, it was wonderfully refreshing to meet people who have been stripped down to their bare existence and truly value every single possession. They seem to thrive on smiles, love and family.
To be honest, I was hesitant to assume our group could make a difference in a week. We did everything from gardening to delivering firewood to building walls, but everything seemed to be on the small-scale of change.
Then, I realized climbing a single solitary mountain is extremely challenging, even for the most physically fit. Taking a bundle of firewood to a disabled woman saved her days of labour and, if I was uncertain about the gratitude we would receive, her smile and tears told me everything I needed to know.
If you asked me how much we accomplished, I could not give you an exact answer in terms of measurement; the trip was not about how long we were there or how many hours of labour we performed. It was about showing we cared by holding an elderly man’s hand as he walked down the mountain or laughing with a 7-year old girl as we bagged rice for her family.
Sometimes the biggest aspect of change cannot be seen at all, but rather felt in the heart.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that helping – or serving – others is rarely a selfless act. In fact, I think it’s the most selfish thing we do as humans. Helping others means helping ourselves because even small acts generate well-being, friendships, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of inner peace.
I have never felt more myself than when I was covered in mud building a wall with a new circle of great friends. The beautiful and tragic thing is that nobody back home will understand how wonderful that feeling is because it is not translatable through words. I received a hug from a dear Peruvian friend who I made on the trip and that single action is worth more than all of the words I have written in my trip journal.
I can talk about my trip and share pictures, but I will never be able to truly express what happened there and within myself.
My week in Peru exists solely for me to possess. I think I gained much more in seven days than I gave to the Peruvians in terms of labour. Maybe I was the one that needed help all along.
McGregor, a third-year English students, plans to continue vounteering and traveling the world.
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NEW ORLEANS – “I build because I have the tools to help.”
Over Reading Week 2013, nearly 160 Western students dedicated their time to serving underrepresented communities through the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. The message is simple – Be the Change – and the effects can be tremendous.
One of those communities was New Orleans.
Still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina nearly eight years later, ASB worked collaboratively with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a family in need in New Orleans.
“This is a pretty amazing group of students – really, 38 students who chose to participate in such a trip when so many other options exist is truly amazing,” said Kim Miller, Student Success Centre staffer and ASB team co-leader. “For those who are already active in their communities, I hope they bring back to Western a renewed sense of service, and for those who are new to this, a commitment to putting into action the many lessons they learned here back home.”
The group also spent the week reflecting on the difference they were making and how it affected both the community and themselves. From realizing how much their lives can be impacted by civic engagement to appreciating the opportunities they’ve been given, it was an experience that goes well beyond simply putting in sweat equity.
“This trip has given me the opportunity to take a step back, reflect and really see the bigger picture. We can get so focused on just ourselves sometimes that we often get disconnected from the amount of people our efforts can affect in a positive way,” said David Zhang, first-year DAN Management student and ASB participant.
Now in its 11th year at Western, ASB spans many distances.
Beyond New Orleans, Western students taught English in elementary schools in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. In Costa Rica and Belize, students offered medical clinics in under-serviced communities. In Peru, students were engaged in a variety of community development projects, while programs and services to assist those experiencing homelessness took place in Winnipeg. And in our own backyard, students worked to empower London youth.
Wesley Moir, a web coordinator in the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, was a member of ASB.WALK IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS
A showcase of photos and memories from at the Alternative Spring Break locations is set for 4:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 in London Hall.
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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