UDaB goes global, local
Photo by Haley McDonald March 24, 2017
UD students spend Winter Session, Spring Break giving back
Nearly 600 undergraduate students at the University of Delaware have chosen to give back in 2017 with the UD Alternative Breaks Program (UDaB), almost double the number of any year in the organization’s history.
Eleven students began the new year with a trip to Nicaragua, where they volunteered alongside Bridges to Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a more just and sustainable world through service. The team traveled to a community called Campuzano, where they worked hand-in-hand with residents to build a new home for a family of five.
“The building process took about four days. Our team dug holes for the foundation, made cement, carried and placed the cinder blocks and helped organize the floor tiles to be put in,” said Haley McDonald, site leader and a junior human services and sociology major. “The home is stable enough to withstand heavy rainfall and earthquakes.”
While the UDaB participants volunteered their time and hands, members of the local community directed the project. “The importance of our working with the community of Campuzano cannot be stressed enough,” added McDonald. “There is no way that 11 students from UD knew what was best for their community; all we could do was be open and receptive to them.”
During their downtime, the students visited the El Coyotepe fortress, took a boat tour of Granada and visited an active volcano and a crater lake. Sightseeing, though, wasn’t what left a lasting impact on the group.
According to Tressa Ross, site leader and junior applied nutrition major, the experience of getting to know their new neighbors gave participants a refreshed outlook on what is truly important. “Sometimes, when we are at UD and so focused on school and work and balancing extracurriculars, we lose focus of relationship building and being patient with people around us,” she said. “Our trip to Nicaragua was time for us and our participants to slow down and focus on getting to know one another as well as new people. The bonds we have with each other have carried with us into the semester.”
UDaB has partnered with Bridges to Community in Campuzano for three consecutive years and will be returning again in Winter 2018.
Winter UDaB trips also took students on two separate occasions to Bright Beginnings in Washington, D.C. A legacy partner, Bright Beginnings has collaborated with UDaB since its inception in 2010. The nationally accredited child and family development center offers a bright start for more than 160 infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families.
Spring break service
During the early morning hours on Saturday, March 25, more than 550 students will board buses and vans to depart for 20 locations around the United States for an alternative break.
"UDaB isn't your typical college spring break,” said Patrick Biche, UDaB co-program coordinator and exercise science senior. “Our participants gain valuable knowledge through their site leaders and other community members that culminates in a week of direct service. This direct service allows participants to think critically about the issue at hand, reflect on their experiences, and be able to apply what they learned to their daily life.”
Among the social justice issues addressed are affordable housing, community rebuilding, disaster relief, autism awareness, domestic violence, early literacy, female empowerment, health disparities, hunger and homelessness, trail development and more. Altogether, students will complete service across 13 states.
Before departing, participants gathered in the Trabant Multipurpose Rooms for a sendoff event where they were greeted by leadership of the organization as well as Dean of Students José-Luis Riera.
Riera, who has seen the organization grow since its infancy, challenged each student to fully adopt the meaning of an alternative break. “Use this experience as a laboratory for experimenting in displacing your power,” he said. “If you are working with or serving a population of people that are seen as ‘less than’ or who comparatively have ‘less agency’ than us, I think displacing power starts with challenging or unlearning some of our social constructs about difference. Believe that the people, or people groups you are serving, have something to contribute to the work you are doing. In fact, what they have to contribute gives the work true meaning.”
Riera advised students to dig deep and fully immerse themselves, listen to the local community’s stories and ask for advice on life. “Adopt a posture that makes them the insider, accept your position as the outsider and don’t try to reverse that,” he added.
The University of Delaware Alternative Breaks (UDaB) program was founded in 2010 with its first programs piloted in the spring of 2011. UDaB immerses teams in direct service and experiential learning with community organizations to increase knowledge of social justice issues and encourage lifelong active citizenship.
A grassroots effort, UDaB is wholly student-run and student-led. UDaB has been the recipient of support from the families and friends of its participants. Those considering a donation can do so online.