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Back to Belize

03/30/2011

Eleven students traveled to Central America for an Alternative Spring Break to volunteer their time and efforts to the people of La Democracia, a village located in the center of Belize. The group spent five days of their 10-day experience planting more than 250 fruit trees at villagers' homes, to replace those destroyed last summer by a hurricane.

"It wiped out 90 percent of their fruit-bearing trees, which plays a huge role in their nutrition and their health," said Spencer Moser, coordinator of the MCLA Center for Service and Citizenship. "We transplanted mangos and oranges, bananas, papaya, guava and more."

Although the students (pictured left, with Moser at the Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve) also had the opportunity visit Mayan ruins, explore caves, canoe tropical rivers lined with fig trees full of iguanas, pet stingrays and swim with nurse sharks along a coral reef, the community service they provided was the highlight of the trip.

According to Nashua Rosa '13, "The best part of the Belize trip was that we were able to immerse ourselves in a community."

"Because of the nature of this community service project, we had to converse and interact with the owners of the homes who worked with us," Moser explained. "We got to know who they are, and the kids would come out and help us and we got to know the story of the folks that lived in each home. We created a relationship with the villagers, which made the service project so powerful."

By the end of the trip, which was coordinated through the Monkey Bay Education Conservation Center, "I felt like there was a real connection between us and the people of the community," said Jason Brown '13. "It was a very humbling experience. I enjoyed every minute of it."

"The experience made me realize a lot about life in the way that everyone is the same. We are all human beings with human needs. All everyone needs is food, water, shelter and family. Life is that simple and that's all that should matter in this world," said Kelley Bryant '14 (pictured right).

For Chris Hantman '14, it was his first opportunity to travel outside of the United States and to experience a different culture. The trip, he said, was life changing.

"It doesn't take too much to do a whole lot of good," said Korinna Dennehey '13. "Our work planting trees in the village will give the people of La Democracia a source of food for their families for years. Before the trip, I gave a lot of thought to joining the Peace Corps and pursuing a career in humanitarian aid, but I wasn't sure if I was cut out for it. Now I'm confident that I am."

For Sara Katz '12 and Nicolas Mendez '12, it was a return to Belize, after having volunteered their time in the country during last year's Alternative Spring Break, when they replaced a rotted-out ceiling in the kitchen of a local school.

According to Mendez, although planting the trees was a lot of hard work, the end result was nothing short of extraordinary. "Many of the families expressed how thankful they were to have us there planting new trees for them," he said.

"If you are passionate about community service and learning about different cultures, the Alternative Spring Break is very beneficial and a valuable experience," Katz said.

Coordinated by Moser, MCLA's Alternative Spring Break trips are run out of the College's Center for Service and Citizenship. For more information, go to www.mcla.edu/Student_Life/community/centerforservice.