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March 3, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 12

Service at Spring Break, Memories for Life

This weekend will see hundreds of Boston College students set off for spring break service trips in sites throughout the United States as well as in other countries. For some, it will be their very first foray into the total-immersion volunteer experience. But for many seniors, the coming week will be their final service trip as BC undergrads, and another milestone in the culmination of their college years.

Chronicle invited several "veterans" to reflect on the people and places they have encountered, and the lessons they have learned, during their spring break service trips.

Kellie Faircloth, a biology major, will be making her third visit with the Appalachia Volunteers.

My freshman year I went on a typical spring break to Florida. I had a good week with my friends but I did not take anything from the week. I could have had the same experiences if I had stayed at Boston College. A good friend of mine encouraged me to participate in Appalachia Volunteers the following spring break. I listened to his advice and it was one of the best things I could have done. I refer to my first trip as "the gateway trip" because it opened up a whole new world to me.

My first trip with the Appalachia Volunteers found me nervous, excited, and anxious to experience what a service trip was all about. I only knew that I would be on St. Francis Farm, a Catholic worker farm located in Lacona, NY, and living with a Quaker family.

Three days into my first trip we were fortunate to eat dinner and talk with two men who were migrant farm workers from Mexico and Puerto Rico. George, the man from Puerto Rico, shared his story with us. He expressed his disdain for the conditions in which he worked. George was treated like a slave, paid below minimum wage, was not given clean water, he was separated from his family, and he did not receive proper medical attention. There was a point where he said, "I am a human being, I have too much pride in myself, my family, and my country to be treated like a slave."

The room froze upon hearing George say those words and tears immediately began to stream from our eyes. The solidarity I experienced that night was unlike anything ever before. That was when I knew it was worth it.

I came away from the week full of questions, eager to learn more, and ready to pursue more service opportunities at Boston College. I went back to the same location for Appalachia the next year. I knew exactly what to expect at the service site but I was with a whole new group of students. I was excited to return to St. Francis Farm and see the people I had formed relationships with the prior year. I was also a bit nervous to see the condition of the town and health of an elderly woman I had spent a significant amount of time with the year before.

As I look forward to an upcoming Appalachia trip, I have a new set of anxieties to face. This spring break I will be a student leader for the first time. My greatest hope is that my co-leader and I can provide an experience for the other people in our group that parallels the experience I had on my first service trip.

Matthew Ziparo, a pre-med student, has been on the Pedro Arrupe immersion trip to Nicaragua.

I was at a point in my college career where I wanted to experience something outside of my own BC world. I had never thought about a trip like that before, just assuming myself to be too busy. But it struck me as a unique chance to see a part of the world, namely Nicaragua, that I would likely never visit if I didn't go on this trip.

The time before the trip gave me even more reason to be anxious to go. We learned about the problems that plagued the country of Nicaragua and the hardships that the campesinos endured. Our group meetings focused on learning about the past so we could understand their situations and be able to form a bond of solidarity with the people we encountered. We heard stories about people who had visited Nicaragua on past trips, but nothing could really prepare us for what we would truly see.

The one event that always sticks out in my mind about Nicaragua is when we visited a camp of banana pickers from the countryside. They had walked 50 miles or more to the capital of Managua to protest the use of a deadly pesticide in the fields where they worked. It was a very effective agent, but it also caused the community to experience sexual deformities, cancers, and birth defects in the children. One man in the group that talked to us pulled up the bandana around his neck to reveal a hole caused by the cancer. We were shown pictures of children with birth defects.

It was a very emotional experience, but I was especially struck by the compassion that these people showed us. There was never a hint of blame or anger towards us, as representatives of the very country where the chemical was produced. It was an amazing moment in which the best and worst of humanity was shown, but they held on to their hopes.

I like to think that I have become a more motivated student as a result of my trip to Nicaragua. Many of the speakers we listened to were adamant about how lucky we were to be receiving a great education and we should not take it for granted. We also stayed with families in Miraflor, high in the mountains where education almost always ended after grade school. There were some who were attending high school, but it required an unbelievable effort, catching rides of almost two hours to the nearby city early in the morning every day. It would be hard not to be impacted by seeing this disparity in education.

I have been pushed even more to become a physician since I saw the medical facilities in Nicaragua. The clinic we saw in one of the communities was little more than a garage, with no soap and little ability to care for the seriously ill. The memory of that clinic stays with me and pushes me to become a physician.

Lynch School of Education senior Adam Koneman will be making his third service trip - and second as leader - to the Holy Family School in Natchez, Miss., the nation's oldest African-American parochial school. Lynch School students and faculty have made regular visits to the Holy Family School since 1998.

I liked that the trip was focused on the community in which the Holy Family School is located. I also appreciated the amazing history of the school and the role it has played in providing quality education for its students. The school's motto is "Learn so we can live so we can love" and they embody this completely and so what has brought me back to this trip is the incredible generosity and warmth of the school and church community.

Preparing for my third visit to Natchez, I now more clearly understand that the value in the trip is not in what we do in the week we are there but rather in the awareness such an experience generates for us and the work we can do to support the school once we return. We hope to increase awareness about the Holy Family School and work on a long-range plan that will allow the school to flourish as it once did in a self-sufficient manner. Their focus is on educating their students but all too often the financial struggles get in the way and we feel that BC should find a way to create a partnership with the Holy Family School that supports their efforts.

I remember on my first trip the very first morning we had breakfast with the students. We walked into the cafeteria and were immediately welcomed by the students with open arms, literally and figuratively. We were treated like old friends and made to feel at home, even though we were thousands of miles away from our usual surroundings. The students did not hesitate to share one of their biscuits and jelly with us and this incredible sense of hospitality would display itself time and time again throughout the duration of the trip.

All of our experiences were rooted in love, whether it was in singing with the gospel choir, sharing a meal with the youth group, having a quiet conversation with a teacher during nap time, or playing "Duck, Duck, Goose" on the playground with a group of pre-schoolers. I have yet to experience a sense of community like that of the Holy Family School that is so open, moving or effortless.

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