Getting Their Hands Dirty

There are some things you just can’t learn in the classroom.

For Moly Mus, ESIA ’15, an International Development major in the Elliott School, that lesson was learned during a service trip to Guatemala as part of GW Alternative Breaks.

“My first Alternative Breaks trip was the first time I experienced what it’s like to live in a developing country,” says the senior, who’s now preparing for her third trip with the program. “The experience completely changed how I view international development.”

Molly is one of hundreds of GW students that participate in GW Alternative Breaks each year, with one trip during winter break in January and another during spring break in March.

Part of GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service (CCEPS), the program aims to empower GW students, staff, and faculty to understand their role in local and global communities through service-learning trips targeting a wide span of issues.

Each trip focuses on a different issue area—community health, sustainability, poverty, housing, education, Native American cultural issues, community empowerment, LGBTQ homeless youth, ecological conservation, labor justice—providing volunteers the chance to help a number of underserved communities.

GW students learning about and practicing sustainable farming and permaculture in Puerto Rico during Alternative Winter Break 2014.

GW students learning about and practicing sustainable farming and permaculture in Puerto Rico during Alternative Winter Break 2014.

In addition to promoting active citizenship and social awareness, GW Alternative Breaks fosters introspection among its volunteers.

“One of the key parts of an alternative break is reflection—learning to unpack what you learned that day,” says Molly. “The program taught me how to reflect on my own experiences and unpack what I’ve learned, and apply it to the next challenge.”

Molly believes in Alternative Breaks so much that she’s already designated her Senior Class Gift to the program to give back and support future trips—and she’s not the only one.

In Fiscal Year 2014 alone, nearly 1,000 GW students, staff, faculty, parents, and friends gave a total of $90,787 to the Alternative Breaks Program. Donations to the program support travel costs for volunteers, educational programming, building supplies, and other onsite needs. Much of the good work being done by GW Alternative Breaks wouldn’t be possible without the support of the GW community.

This year’s Alternative Breaks program is sending volunteers to six sites in January and another 11 this spring, each with their own unique service area. Sites for 2015 include Guatemala, New Orleans, Nicaragua, Appalachia Kentucky, Cherokee Nation Oklahoma, Detroit, Ecuador, Gullah Nation, Immokalee FL, New York, the Philippines, and even right here in D.C.

Alternative Break trips do a lot of good in the communities they serve, but they’re also a learning experience for the students volunteering.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership dynamics and how to work together to achieve a common goal,” says Lauren Lamb, ESIA ’16. “Our group is responsible for all of the planning and fundraising that we need to accomplish to make the trip possible.”

The Latin American Studies major is co-leading a trip in January to build a new high school alongside members of a small, underserved costal community in northern Nicaragua. She’s looking forward to another opportunity to help a community in need, serving with and learning from locals and her fellow volunteers.

“For me, Alternative Breaks has been an opportunity to join a community of like-minded people who want to lead in service,” she says. “Regardless of what trip you go on, the program opens your eyes to new cultures and supports what you’re learning inside the classroom, and it’s given me lifelong friends.”


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GW students have a profound commitment to serving others—support them in their efforts by making a gift to Alternative Breaks today as part of Giving Tuesday at GW.

Author: GW Impact

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