Twenty-three Rhodes students are in the Dominican Republic for a week of service work as part of Rhodes’ annual Alternative Spring Break trip. Students have travelled to the town of Cruz Verde to assist on a variety of service projects including constructing houses, working with local children and helping to develop irrigation and sustainability initiatives.
“The variety of work that we do means that students can do the type of work that fits them best,” says Tracie West ’14. “On top of that, this is an opportunity to get Rhodes students who may not have known each other before to come together to do service work and really bond as a team.”
West has gone on all the Cruz Verde trips, and now on her second year as a member of the steering committee, she had led the fundraising efforts and worked in tandem with Sister Island Project, the non-profit organization that works to organize the trip. Other than Erik Klingbeil ’13 and fellow steering committee members Rene Sanchez ’14 and Shawnecca Burke ’14, this is the first Alternative Spring Break trip for all the Rhodes volunteers.
“We limit the number of students who return each year so that the trip is available to as many new people as possible,” says West. “This is something the college has encouraged us to do so that more people get the chance to have this experience.”
West says that one of the most rewarding things about the trip is getting to see the combined efforts of everyone.
“My freshman year, we built houses and watered trees that had just been planted. When I went back last year, I got to see how much those trees have grown, which was great. I know that this year we’ll see a lot of similar progress.”
Students work alongside the residents of the town, many of whom have designed the different projects. In addition, the Rhodes volunteers live in groups of two in homestays with local families. Different families rotate hosting dinners for the group, and nights are spent listening to live music, learning dances like the merengue and bachata, and spending time with local residents.
“It is a very interactive experience,” says West. “And it’s never really planned. I think that is the experience that a lot of the Rhodes students are going for, and one of the best parts about the trip is getting to experience an entirely new culture.”
Student travelers are chosen in October based on their application essays, and then the group begins the fundraising process. Although each student is responsible for his/her individual costs, West says the goal is to raise money as a team.
“Fundraising can be a challenge, but once you get to the Dominican Republic, you forget about all that. It is completely worth it in the end.”
West says that for her, the trip means so much more than just building houses and completing service work.
“Even though our standards of living are so different, the people I have met in Cruz Verde enjoy life just as much as I do, and they appreciate everything that they have, even if they only have a little. I think that is why I have continued to go back. The interaction, and the perspective I’ve gained on my own life just from being there is what has really been rewarding.”
(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Lucy Kellison ’13)