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2008 - Alternative Spring Break Journal

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Students Embark on Alternative Spring Break Missions

More than 20 Wilkes University students are conducting a week of community service domestically and abroad as part of the annual Alternative Spring Break trip. The students departed from campus for their destinations on  Saturday, March 1, and will

Alternative Spring Break Team
return to campus on Sunday, March 9.

Eleven students and two advisors traveled to New Orleans, where they are helping to restore city parks and school playgrounds. Ten students and two advisors embarked on an international trip to San Ignacio, Belize, where they are working with children in after-school programs and helping to build a school library. This group of students will also have the opportunity to trek through the rainforest and visit the Mayan ruins.  
The students raised more than $35,000 to offset the cost of the trip through various fundraising events.
The students are now posting first-person accounts of their trips on this web page. Please see below. 




And so it Begins.... 

February 29, 2008
To my fellow ASBers,

It is crunch time! For some of us, we will be meeting in a mere 7 hours! And for others...only a little bit longer. We have made it and we have been through it all. Each and every one of you is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. You will never look at the world the same way again, because you will have seen things that many people will never have the opportunity to understand. You will also never look at each other the same way again. When you see each other, you will recognize that you share a bond that cannot be replaced. And perhaps, most importantly, YOU will never truly be the same again.

Each of us has been given the opportunity to change the world, to change each other, and to change ourselves. With one of these, come all of these. Congratulations to all of you for all of your hard work and dedication throughout the last 5 months. You are ALL to be commended. I am honored to have been a part of this experience with you. And now, relax, enjoy your trips, be safe, and take every single minute in because, from someone who has had this wonderful opportunity before, this trip will become one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

It is with much love and the highest esteem that I leave each one of you,
Amanda Kunkel




 Belize Journal 2008 -

 Do’s and Don’ts

From: Steve Karpinski
Belize, March 4, 2008

Don’t walk barefoot – You could get worms in your feet.
Do use insect repellant – Bot Flies can put a larvae under your skin that grows into a worm and finally a fly that will emerge happily from the site of your itchy and odd bite.
Don’t swim in the river unless you have to and if you have to, don’t have any open sores or open your mouth – Sewage drains into many rivers.
Do wear sunscreen – Heatstroke is common and sunburn is even more common.
Don’t drink from a bottle, glass, or cup without wiping the rim off with a napkin – There’ a fungus here that could give you something similar to poison ivy in your mouth.
Do drink plenty of water – Stay hydrated and find the shade before you feel woozy.
Don’t get a tattoo or body piercing – HIV and AIDS are still a big problem here.
Do be friendly to the locals – They’ll be friendly to you in return.
Don’t be afraid of composting toilets – That smell means you’re helping the environment.
Do be wary of snakes – We haven’t seen any yet, but Belize has some of the most poisonous.
Don’t be afraid of tarantulas – They’re big and fuzzy and probably won’t bite…probably.

I know, I know, it sounds scary, but what Do’s and Don’ts would you offer to someone who had never been to the United States, Wilkes, or Wilkes-Barre? 

Our group has been working in the heat and humidity, meeting and making friends with local men, women, and children, and exploring the town of San Jose Succotz. We’ve scaled Mayan ruins together, marveled at the local flora and fauna, and shared the local cuisine with one another. Most of all, we’ve worked together as a focused team to accomplish the unbelievable – or the nearly impossible – and we’re beginning to realize that all this couldn’t happen without one another.

 The American Tourist

From: Dana Lehman
Belize, March 5th, 2008
People often leave their home lives in search of a foreign getaway, an escape from their daily routines.  These vacationers are labeled as tourists, a term which makes other countries’ inhabitants cringe.  American tourists have given themselves a bad reputation which precedes them - having little respect for the local facilities and partying into all hours of the night. I, an Alternative Spring Break participant, am not the typical tourist. 
Although my outward appearance labels me an American tourist, I am not confined by its definition.  Traveling to Belize, I am immersed in the culture of San Jose Succotz, a town which sees little tourism.  Not only have I indulged in traditional Belizean food and drinks and visited some of the Mayan ruins, but I’ve also spent a day walking the streets of Succotz with an 11-year-old boy.  I’ve had the opportunity to play with the semi-pro soccer team and to watch children walk to school every morning. 
This trip makes cruises and hot vacation spots less desirable to me and less meaningful.  It is a trip which will never leave my heart or my memory, because I have truly seen the life of multiple Belize citizens.  I have talked with them, sweat with them, and shared some of my most intimate dreams and goals, all the while working toward a common goal - a 12 X 30 library.  Through this experience, I have learned that a person becomes educated about a culture by talking and working with its citizens - an experiential learning.  Not only have I learned so much about myself, but I have also given my time and effort to those who are in need. 


 New Orleans Journal - 2008
New Orleans 2007



City Park

From Courtney Hossler,
March 3rd - Monday- Day 3 first work day
Listen to Audio 

Today we started pulling dead twigs from the vegetation to later figure out that a company was coming to plow everything over. We met a woman named Lisa who was the director of the parks service who put us to work mulching the pathways throughout the area we were working. We also had to fill in a low lying ditch with clumps of damp mud and clay. Once we were done with this some of the group had wheelbarrow races by throwing people in the wheelbarrows to roll them over the newly covered ditch. The most amazing sight was seeing a man and a hound dog chasing a wild boar through the area we were clearing! Megan wouldn't let us stay. She made us get into our van and leave the work site because she said we should all hit the showers first. (We only have two bathrooms in our mansion for 42 people.). We were disgustingly dirty and sweaty from our work in the 80 degree heat.


What a Day 

From: Jen Smeraldo
March 4th – Tuesday – Day 4 (second work day)

What a day. Today our group had two tasks at hand. Half of us started the day off at the Children's Museum in New Orleans while the other half began at ARNO, which stands for Animal Rescue New Orleans. It was the first day we'd been separated as a whole, but we were still excited nonetheless. I was part of the six who volunteered at the Children's Museum. The museum is basically a mini science and arts center for children. We got into groups of two and were given a small task to complete. Two of us were face painters, and the other four did two separate craft projects. Also, another ASBer and I were the storytellers during "story time." That was a lot of fun. The kids were so fun to work with, as we helped them make paper gondolas, and watched them wait in line for the face painting. We even requested to stay longer and will be back on Thursday to volunteer again at the museum.
We then joined our fellow ASBers at the animal shelter. I wish I could take every single cat and dog home. Some dogs had been there since Katrina hit (though fortunately one that had has recently been adopted!) Others had been wandering the streets since the disaster and were found recently. Some cats were friendly, some were not. (Those cages were marked "feral" because they were not domesticated) Other cages were marked as "needs socialization." ARNO is a no-kill shelter, so you can imagine how many animals they have. They are keen on socializing both cats and dogs so that they are ready for adoption. So, in addition to our cleaning duties, we also pet the cats and took the dogs out for walks. It was a hard, but fun, day at the shelter. One of our advisors (Lisa) was peed on by one of the dogs, and one of the other students stopped a dog fight. Even with things such as that, we had a lot of fun and look forward to going to the shelter again on Friday. 
All in all, our experience here in New Orleans so far has been amazing. The people are amazing and they are so appreciative of our efforts. I can't wait until tomorrow!
P.S. If you're looking for a pet, or want to help out with ARNO, they do have a website! www.AnimalRescueNewOrleans.org . You can volunteer, donate, foster or adopt one of their animals!


Common Ground

From: Claudia Cassett
May 5th – Wednesday – Day 5 (third work day)

Today we were sent to the Common Ground worksite in the lower 9th ward. Common Ground was formed in the days after the hurricane and has remained in unoccupied homes in the lower 9. Although we expected that we would be assigned to rebuilding projects, we were quickly set to work organizing the volunteers’ tools. We also cleaned out a shed for the volunteers to use and cleaned debris out of a house’s backyard. Common Ground even provided us with lunch - a vegetarian meal cooked by Hare Krishnas. 

After lunch, we were assigned to take apart a path made of shingles. We also met Malik, the founder of Common Ground, who showed us the wetlands called the Cypress Triangle and the levee. The levee has not been rebuilt, and we were able to videotape some other volunteers removing rocks from the levee to use in a vegetable garden.

St. Bernard's Community Center

From: Kelly Patchell
March 3rd - Monday- Day 3 first work day
Today we went to the St. Bernard's Community Center and we have all come to the conclusion that this is what we came here for.  We got to help with food and clothing distribution and most importantly we got to talk to residents of St Bernard's Parish which lost 11.9 miles of levee during Hurricane Katrina resulting in astronomical damage.  I was so deeply impacted by everyone I talked to.  I helped one woman, Joanne, with her groceries and we talked for twenty minutes about her life in New Orleans and her family.  It was so rewarding to be able to put a name and face to the people we are helping.  I think the person that affected us all the most was a volunteer named Steve.  In both of my ASB trips to NOLA,  this man was both the most insightful and inspirational man I've met.  He asked a few of us to help him in the kitchen and we gladly went to help. 
From there, I think I can safely say I learned so much about New Orleans and the story of an amazing man. Steve lives in St. Bernard's Parish and his house was flooded with 14 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina.  His wife was very sick with a bad heart that was only pumping at about 20 percent of what it should have been, so he had to help her into the attic in her wheel chair while trying to escape the storm.  When his wife asked how she got there, Steve told her that Jesus had lifted her there and told her that they would make it together.  If she fell, then he would fall.  They would get out together or not at all. They were able to escape from their roof and survive the devestation.  In the following months, Steve's wife tried desperately to get involved in volunteer work but her health prevented her from doing so.  Sadly, his wife passed away in March 2006, less than a year after the storm.  Steve now volunteers 7 days a week in memory of his wife and plans to start his own non-profit organization to house volunteers for free.  He plans to call it "Joanne's Vision of Hope" after his wife. 

 After hearing this story, I couldn't help but cry.  The tears came as I saw him begin to cry when talking about his own struggles and his wife.  He opened up my eyes to an entire new perspective.  He made me believe that anything is possible and I know the rest of the group feels that same way.  This man lost absolutely everything.  He doesn't even have a picture of his wife left to remember her by.  Yet he is taking what has happened to him and making it positive.  He tells us his story in hopes that we will pass it on, which we all plan to do.  He gave us a look into what life was really like down here and how it continues to be.  His own story and the viewing of home videos of the storm was life changing.  It took this trip to an entirely new level.  I will never forget the time that we spent with Steve.  He solidified all of our reasons for being here especially when he told us that we are the true heroes of New Orleans.  This is exactly what we are here for.

Listen to some of the students most memorable moments in their ouwn words:

Student 1 ----  Student 2 ---- Student 3
Student 4 ----  Student 5

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