Over winter break, students traveled back home for 5 weeks to work, relax and spend time home again. However, a group of six students and one faculty member at SRU went on an Alternative Break to Fort Pierce, Florida to volunteer at the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary, Save The Chimps.
The non-profit organization was originally founded to provide a home for chimpanzees once used by the U.S. air force for research purposes.
Kaila Dechristofaro, a sophomore actuarial science major, went on the trip as a student lead.
“We went down and did community service at Save The Chimps, but we also went to the Clearwater marine aquarium and the Kennedy Space center for enrichment. We learned all about rescue, rehabilitation, and release,” Dechristofaro said.
“We had a lot of discussion about animal rights and captivity and what our responsibilities to animals are,” Dechristofaro said. These discussions are part of what differs the alternative break program for Slippery Rock’s Care Break program from previous years.
To go on an alternative break, students have to go through an application process and do research before the trip. They also have discussions during the trip and re-orientation when they return to talk about what they can do to continue the service.
The group of students decided that one place they got to visit, the Kennedy Space Center, was showing injustice to the chimps by not recognizing and what they provided to the space science world. In 1961, a chimp named Ham was launched into space and this was a huge step towards bringing man to the moon.
“We are going to write letters to the space center because they have absolutely no information about the space chimp program. We’re writing letters to say ‘Hey, this is pretty rude and disappointing because they did pave the way for humans to go to space and they did not get any thanks for that,’” Dechristofaro said. Humans got so much praise for getting to the moon, which is fine, Dechristofaro added, but not acknowledging the chimps at all is wrong.
Most of the chimps were sent from the Coulston Foundation, which was in New Mexico, but since went bankrupt. The animals were treated terribly, and since rescued by Save The Chimps.
“We need to recognize the sacrifices they were forced to make,” Dechristofaro said.
“Every day was different, and we did a lot of maintenance,” Dechristofaro said. “I like being involved with alternative breaks because not only does it give me a chance to serve, but it encourages me to go beyond service. I get the chance to educate myself through distance service experiences, and then bring those experiences home and raise awareness about the issues I have seen.”