In May 2013, 22 uOttawa students from various faculties participated in the Centre’s second summer Alternative Student Breaks (ASB) program. Eleven students travelled to Quito, Ecuador as part of a project to increase food sustainability and promote nutritional education, while the other 11 participants travelled to Barrio Granada, Nicaragua to work on a construction project.
Thanks to the efforts of these students, both programs had remarkably positive and lasting effects, both tangible and intangible. In Ecuador, students helped the community build a sustainable greenhouse and a vegetable garden equipped with a vermicomposting system. The students also painted a mural for the local community partner to illustrate their contributions. The factors specific to this project exposed participants to the current needs of the community. “The students got an idea of certain social and economic realities that are very common in developing countries,” said Rosie Hageraats, a Faculty of Sciences student who was the team leader of the Ecuador trip. In Nicaragua, students helped build three houses for 17 members of the community, painted a mural, and taught English to local students. Jessica Silva, a Health Sciences student who was team leader for the trip to Nicaragua, commented on the success of the project. “The objectives were not only met, but exceeded. I believe that this was due to the strong sense of team and the enthusiasm that [the participants] had for helping others.”
The ASB experience provided participants with a unique opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and gain a higher level of social awareness through a hands-on sustainable development project. “It was expected that participants would acquire critical thinking skills and an appreciation for a new culture, greater social awareness, and a desire to promote sustainable development, community service and international solidarity,” said Rosie. With its strong emphasis on local community involvement, ASB projects seek to meet specific needs identified by the community: “That was a very important aspect for me – to ensure that we were not enforcing what we thought the neighbourhood needed; rather, we asked what the neighbourhood wanted from us,” said Arlanna Pugh, a Health Sciences student who participated in the Nicaraguan project. Given that the project provided significant exposure to difficult conditions, students learned about and embraced the causes they worked for, and enhanced their skills in many areas, such as leadership, teamwork, project management and cultural sensitivity. Even though it lasted only two weeks, this experience has clearly had a profound impact on the students. Jessica said, “What I found most striking was that they were already planning future trips and a reunion in Nicaragua. This demonstrated how much they appreciated their experience and the impact that it had, not only in the moment, but also on their future.”
The students who participated in this year’s ASB programs came from various faculties: 2 hailed from the Faculty of Science, 13 from the Faculty of Social Sciences, 5 from the Faculty of Health Sciences, and 2 from the Faculty of Engineering.
Are you a student who wants to make a difference globally? Get involved in community-based service projects as part of next summer’s international ASB program 2014. Visit the News section of our website (www.servingothers.uottawa.ca) to learn more about our 2013-2014 projects!