Students volunteer time for international care breaks, travel to Africa, Bolivia

Published by adviser, Author: Stephanie Cheek - Assistant Campus Life Editor, Date: January 22, 2014

Students look forward to school breaks, but for some students, they look forward to the travel and service opportunities during those breaks. This past winter was a season for Care Breaks that had many SRU students doing service projects in other countries and nations. For example, two of the Care Breaks included trips to Bolivia and Gabon.

“The students brought their own fresh and exciting perspective,” Dr. Myra Balok, a professor in the English department and adviser to the Gabon Care Break, said.

Dr. Balok has been to Africa a total of three times and many students show interest in going on a trip to Africa during last year’s Empty Bowls event, Balok explained. In the end, there were a total of 16 students who applied yet only nine could attend the trip, making the application process competitive.

While the group stayed in Gabon, they were guests of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in the area. According to Dr. Balok, they provided the food, accommodations, travel expenses, and an interpreter.

“They provided everything and in return we went to church services,” Dr. Balok said. While church was not the main aspect of the trip, it was another way that the team got to experience a new culture, Balok further explained.

Some of the service projects and locations that the team experienced were going hiking through the jungle, going to the beach to seeing the Atlantic Ocean, visiting the Hope House children, and helping with a mobile medical unit.

“The Hope House is a temporary location for orphaned children,” Dr. Balok said.

While the students were there they volunteered and created focused and fun activities such as, a sidewalk chalking competition, made bracelets, played rhythm games, and helped color coloring books.

Another service project was going to a small village called Libreville, where medical help was needed.  It was located two hours outside of the capital of Gabon. Students performed a skit to teach the residents about malaria and also help the medical staff take villagers’ blood pressure and fill prescriptions. Also, the children were taught how to properly brush their teeth, in addition to being given one of 5,000 toothbrushes that the group brought with them to Gabon.

“I have never met people like I met there,” Dr. Balok said. “They have very little but they have a vibrant faith, especially when they think in terms of community.”

One of the students who had an opportunity to go on the trip to Gabon was senior communication major, Chloe Finigan, 21.

“I love service and travel, so the opportunity was so good, I couldn’t say no,” Finigan said.

According to Finigan, the trip took a 10 month long preparation and involved getting the word out on the student level.

Finigan explained that the planning was well worth it, particularly by highlighting certain aspects of the trip and being fully immersed in the culture.

“The service was wonderful, getting to work with the community that took them in and gave us a chance to deal with the different culture,” Finigan said.

One of Finigan’s favorite parts of the trip was generally learning how to communicate with the different people and cultures, especially with the language barrier.

“I love meeting new people and getting the chance to work with them,” Finigan said. “It’s amazing the power of communication.”

One of Finigan’s most memorable experiences was the first day there.

“The first day there we saw the PK27 land that was covered with jungle and medical centers and aviation,” Finigan explained. “It gave us a new perspective on life.”

This perspective was further challenged by the students being able to experience life living in Gabon, for example they each got a chance to carry a heavy basket full of wood on their backs. According to Dr. Balok, this basket was the same weight as the baskets that most women use to carry firewood.

“The trip was not as much hard labor as I thought, but overall it was still great,” Finigan said.

Another trip that SRU students attended was the Care Break to Bolivia. One of the students that attended was Oliver Laniear, 21, a senior criminology major.

“I wanted to go to Bolivia because I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, I wanted to go to a place that many people aren’t familiar with, and for the specific type of service work that was needed,” Laniear said.

While they were in Bolivia they built two different classroom exterior walls and painted in the city of Quillacoyo. While they were doing service work, the team of eight also got the chance to visit other cities in the area.

“We went to Cochabamba, Vinto and Columbia during a flight delay,” Laniear explained.

Laniear said that he loved traveling and whenever he travels he wants to give something back to the community and this is a chance to give back while visiting a new place.

“It can change your perspective about other’s lives, and it adds to your experience,” Laniear said.

Overall all the Care Breaks give students the opportunity to give back and visit some exciting places around the world.

“This is a great experience, and it’s great that our college makes this opportunity possible, especially with finances,” Laniear stated.


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