ASB Nicaragua Winter Break Trip 2015

Day 1: December 13th, 2015

Today was a very busy, fun-filled, culture day in Nicaragua. Since eating rice and beans for breakfast for the first time wasn’t risky enough, we headed to go zip lining across one of many crater lakes in Nicaragua. Our guides were super helpful, and probably a little amused by the uncoordinated nature of our group. Nonetheless, there will be some great pictures to come. We were then feeling hot hot hot at Volcano Masaya. Not only could we go right up to the crater, but we also visited a great lookout point. We could see where the lava had traveled back when Masaya erupted in 1772, along with some breathtaking landscapes. Get ready to get some goodies because we then visited the handicraft capital to snag some souvenirs and try some quesadillo (tortilla filled with cheese, onions and sour cream). Granada, the THIRD OLDEST CITY IN THE AMERICAS, was our next destination. There, you will find a lovely yellow cathedral next to a very much lively square. The square is full of food and craft vendors, musicians and horses ready to give you a buggy tour. We tried a traditional Nicaraguan treat of shaved ice topped with fruit. Delicioso. While in Granada, we headed another crater lake for a boat tour of the 365 islets. We saw everything from dirt-floored shacks to homes on these islands owned by some of the richest families in Nicaragua. We also saw a spider monkey or two on their secluded island. The mountains and neighboring communities were surrounding us as we received our tour from our driver, Cesar. Again, it was another great photo-op. Tomorrow, we head off to start serving the community of Santa Julia, and we couldn’t be more excited! Meeting people and traveling to foreign, unfamiliar, places in order to experience some new things are all a part of the challenges we will face on this trip. However, after our reflection meeting tonight, I can’t wait to see what this group makes of this amazing week.

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Day 2: December 14th, 2015

Today was our first day in the community of Santa Julia. First,we got two know a few of the women and some of their stories. Most were leaders in the community, each were inspiring. We got to see the school where the 6th graders will graduate from on Friday. We also visited the cemetery, and each grave was marked with a cross and some had the national flower of Nicaragua on them. After a tour of the community we learned to pick coffee from the coffee trees. We were in awe of how far these women walk and how steep the terrain is. We tied baskets around our waists and trekked across the mountainside looking for ripe berries. Next we had to pulp the coffee cherries and separate the bean from the pulp. At first we did it by hand, then we used a de-pulper that was donated by an Auburn group two years earlier. This made a huge difference in the productivity, and it was great to see the impact Auburn students had made on the community. We hope we can leave our mark as well. The women and children were so welcoming and always had smiles on their faces. They were so grateful to see us, and are looking forward to getting to know us during the coming week. We can’t wait to spend the rest of the week with them.

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Day 3: December 15th, 2015

Today was our second day in the community of Santa Julia. We started the day by planting seedlings that included peppers and tomatoes. The process for planting these seedlings began by sifting dirt then filling small trays with it. Next, the trays were watered then a stick was used to poke holes in each compartment filled with dirt. Two seeds were placed in each compartment. We enjoyed working together with members of the community to accomplish this task. Next we got to de-shell red beans. We did this by hand but also by beating the bag of beans with a piece of wood. Then we picked some coffee cherries and the terrain was very steep today so it was challenging. Then we went back and de-pulped the coffee cherries until lunch. After our lunch break, which consisted of a chicken kabob, rice, slaw, and plantains, we began the process of making candles. They had never made candles before and neither had we so it was a learning process for us all. While waiting for the candle wax to melt, we were able to meet and play with the children in the community. We danced, played games and got to know each other and even though some of us did not speak Spanish, our fun and laughter broke all language barriers. We heard Lola’s, who is the vice president of the co-operative and the community leader, story. We all took back the lesson of perseverance back to our hotel rooms. Next we went to dinner, and after dinner we met a famous Nicaraguan painter whose paintings are based on petroglyphs found in Nicaragua. He also plays the hand saw as an instrument so he played us some tunes. Later we sorted out donations to start preparing for the graduation and gift giving on Friday.

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ASB Nicaragua Winter Break Trip 2015

ASB Fall Break 2015: Savannah, Georgia

Reflection and summary:

Day One: We created a winter-themed Candyland at a local nursing home and we took inventory at the Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance.

Day Two: We gardened at the Midtown Miracle community garden and helped prepare things for Shalom Y’all Food Festival. We also built garden boxes.

Day Three: We weeded garden boxes and harvested herbs at America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia. We also mulched trees with the Savannah Tree Foundation.

Day Four: We shoveled sand into a sandbox for the children at the Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance.

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The first part of the Auburn Creed states, “I believe in work, hard work.” The 12 students who signed up for the Fall Alternative Student Break were ready to perform hard work in Savannah, Georgia. We were ready to make a difference in the community. We were bright-eyed college students, waiting to make a noticeable change to this place we would be visiting for 4 days.

But that’s not what reality or Savannah had in store for us. Instead of completing one giant project, we did a lot of little things. For instance, one day we stapled tickets together for an upcoming event hosted by a local synagogue. Another time we shoveled dirt from one place to another (a sandbox). There were times we became disheartened and frustrated. We had come to make a difference, and instead we were doing busy work. We were moving chairs, not lives.

We continued to do the tasks set before us with smiles on our faces. We cleaned closets, took wrapping paper off of doors, and weeded gardens. And by the end, we realized that we were doing what we had come to do – help the people of Savannah. We didn’t need to change the community; we needed to listen to them and serve them in whatever capacity they wanted. That was what our mission was.

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When we realized that, it was easier for us to enjoy and learn from our experiences creating a winter Candyland for senior citizens (even though it is still fall), mulching trees, and raking leaves. These were small tasks, but they were tasks that needed to be done. And if we were the ones to do them, then that meant the community partners we were working with could devote their time to do something else, to perform their own service for their community.

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We met many interesting characters during our trip, but perhaps the one we’ll remember most is Chef Floyd Jackson, who works for America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia. He told us that even though we would never know it, the work we were doing mattered. The weeds we were pulling and the effort that we were showing made a difference. We made the garden boxes clean, which meant he could plant more vegetables and herbs so that he could make better meals for the children in Savannah. The children will never know we helped and we will never see the fruits of our labor, but by completing our tiny task, we helped him in his larger mission.

Chef Floyd
Chef Floyd

We learned that hard work does not always mean big work. We learned that small things can make a noticeable difference. When we were mulching trees on the side of the highway with the Savannah Tree Foundation, people noticed and they honked their car horns out of appreciation. But the most important aspect of our trip that we took away from Savannah is what it means to be an active citizen in a community. Everyone we met cared about the place they lived in and the people with whom they shared that space. Everyone we met was trying to make Savannah a better community.

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We came in with grand notions of changing Savannah, but we’re the ones who were left changed. The Creed states, “I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.” and that is what the people in Savannah taught us.

Life is like a box of chocolates and we learned that even though we never knew what we were gonna get, it was still going to be pretty sweet.

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ASB Fall Break 2015: Savannah, Georgia

Thank you.

“Thank you.” I heard it way too many times this week- from the thrift store owner who gave us free sweatshirts, to a complete stranger at Newk’s on the way back.

I got frustrated, because I wanted to explain, over and over again, that they had nothing to thank us for- I wanted to explain that the community of Guin was giving us something, something so much greater than our week, something we could never thank them for.

Never before had I experienced the unconditional love of a tight-knit community, a week of true Southern hospitality and great food, an excursion into a world so much more vibrant than our day-to-day back home.

But I couldn’t, and I still can’t, because there are no words to describe what Guin gave us, while we gave only our time. It wasn’t just Momma T, the head honcho of the local Habitat for Humanity, or the sweet heart and energy of WW2 veteran Mr. Carter. It wasn’t just the overwhelming amounts of delicious food, or the complete acceptance of the town.

But whatever it was, I loved it.

The past week was a little messy, with our projects and schedules existing on a “wait and find out” basis, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way; we got to see so much more of the community, from the Women’s Hope pregnancy center to the hospice to the local church.

I loved my group, too. The only thing we truly had in common was our desire to serve, but that turned out to be enough; I got to know some amazing, vibrant people I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise. I’m not going to forget game nights or Disney screamo or the deep, kind of odd talks we had gathered around a deck of cards.

I learned so much from each person, about how to fully live and focus on what’s important, and I watched each of us grow more centered and focused each day.

At the end of the day, all I want to do is say thank you. Thank you to Guin, for opening their doors and their hearts to us for a week. Thank you for the world’s best site leader, for her energy and love. Thank you for ASB, for existing, for giving me the opportunity to see this community, to spend this week with this amazing people.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Give Kids the World Village Day 5

Today was our last day that we were able to spend volunteering at Nemours as well as the Give Kids the World Village. We began our day at Nemours by setting up and running all of the activities for medical day that took place. The kids made bracelets using medical tubing and beads, x-ray hand drawings with throat swabs, butterfly paintings using gauze and band-aids, and stress balls using gloves and flour. It was so cool to see the kids using the medical supplies as a craft instead of strictly associating them with their sickness. One of our group members was playing Disney tunes on the piano during the activities, and her music inspired some of the children to go to the piano and showcase their talents as well. Medical day was a hit, and there was no better way that we could have ended the week.

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In the evening, we went to the GKTW village. Our group was split up into a variety of different roles. We took part in pizza and other food delivery as well as serving ice cream at the ice cream palace. Serving dinner and dessert to the families we had gotten to know over the week was a great way to end the night.

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Winnie the Pooh couldn’t have put it any better than when he said “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” This quote perfectly encompasses the feelings experienced during our last day here in Kissimmee. It certainly was a day full of mixed emotions. Volunteering at Nemours Children’s Hospital as well as the Give Kids the World Village has been a life-altering experience for each and every one of us. The children and families that we met and spent time with were uplifting and provided such a positive outlook on life. Sometimes it almost seems like they helped us more than we helped them.

It’s so crazy to think that a group that once consisted of ten strangers has transformed into a group of friends that care deeply for one another. We came together to try and improve the lives of others, but we ended up with so much more than that. It has been a blessing to have been able to spend this week together. We’ve built friendships and learned lessons that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much for reading, hope you enjoyed keeping up with us!

Give Kids the World Village Day 5

Give Kids the World Village Day 4

Our day started off by heading over to Nemours Children’s Hospital. We spent the morning organizing a DVD collection, closets containing a number of games and other activities, and a book collection. We also prepared for the medical day that will be taking place tomorrow, which will consist of the children making fun crafts using various medical supplies (stress ball made out of a glove, etc.). Finally, we got the chance to make crafts and play video games with some of the kids that visited the game room.

We had a pretty lengthy break during the day, and then went to the Give Kids the World village later on in the evening. It was a very special night at GKTW, because it was the night that Christmas was being celebrated! This night was an absolute blast. Our group was able to take part in some awesome activities. Some of us were able to help the kids with making snowmen treats out of marshmallows, others drew pictures and made reindeer antlers, and some of us had the honor of being Santa’s helpers! Everyone in the village had a great night and got into the true spirit of the holidays.

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Tomorrow is our last day here, and it has flown by. We’re not looking forward to leaving this wonderful place and people we have met, but we’re incredibly thankful for the time we’ve been able to spend here. We can’t wait to wrap up our time here on a great note. Thanks for reading!

Give Kids the World Village Day 4

Dominican Days 3, 4, and 5

   
 

 
 
Day 3-
Today was such a fun day! We started off by hosting a street medical clinic in the refugee camp. We treated fungal infections, gave out vitamins, and treated common colds, stomach issues, and things of that sort. Everyone enjoyed getting to be hands on while helping the community!
       After we finished, we had a bit of free time, so we decided to visit the feeding program again! There are about 100 children enrolled in Pan de Vida, but they are not all able to be there every day due to school schedules. It’s held on the same property as the orphanage, so we enjoyed getting to spend time with the girls there too! 
     We held babies, fed children, played basketball and soccer, and gave a lot of piggy back rides. Some of the medical and nursing students treated some fungal infections, motorcycle burns, and small scrapes on the onsite medical room. All of the girls got their hair braided multiple times! 
       After lunch, we went to the capital city of Santo Domingo for some sight seeing and shopping. We all showed off our new found bargaining skills and made new friends with the shop owners, too! We saw Columbus’ fort and the first cathedral in the Americas. We also visited a chocolate factory and tried some free samples! 
       After a delicious dinner of Chinese food, we headed back to the house to rest up for the next big day. 
 
Day 4-
   Day 4 was busy, but exciting! We started off by heading to a local school to teach English. We first worked with the children age 2-5, and then 1st through 8th grade. Our directors’ two oldest children go to preschool here, so they LOVED have us come meet their friends and hang out for a while! We taught the kids to sing “heads shoulders knees and toes” and played Simon Says. With the oldest kids, we taught them to say “War Eagle Hey!” And explained all about our university and life in America. 
      Next, we headed to the feeding program again. It was fun and rewarding as always. The children enjoyed playing with us and we enjoyed spending time with them. 
     After lunch, we walked across the street to the park and had a party with the community! We celebrated “Christmas in March” complete with a bonfire to roast marshmallows, games, and Christmas shoebox presents. We had a blast playing soccer with the kids, and they all looked so cute trying to eat their marshmallows! When we gave the children their presents, they were filled with joy and gratitude, which was cool for us to see. These little boxes of dollar store presents made so many hugs smiles. 
      A little later, we all walked up the street to an area where some guys in the community play basketball. We hung out and our Auburn guys played a few games. The games were tough and sadly, we never won. However, it was good competition and we certainly made some new friends. Meanwhile, the girls sat and watched, while making friendship bracelets for the children in the neighborhood. They all loved picking out their colors and showing off their new bracelets! 
       After dinner, we all decided to check out a local dominican church. Although it was very different from what we are used to, it was an interesting cultural experience! By the end of the service, half the girls were holding sleeping babies! 
   

 

Day 5-
    Today was our free day! We woke up early and watched the sun rise. We then headed to the “27 waterfalls”, an outdoor adventure site in Puerto Plata, DR. We climbed an hour to the top and then jumped and slid down the waterfalls to the very bottom. We brought along a Go Pro camera and all took a turn holding the camera as we jumped. It was both a relaxing and exciting day! 
     Tomorrow is our last day serving here in the Dominican. While we are sad to leave, we are all hoping to brig everything we learned back to Auburn and continue to impact the community in a positive way. 
Dominican Days 3, 4, and 5

Everglades Trip Days 2, 3, & 4- Work and Adventures in Everglades National Park

Our first day in the Everglades started off with a tour of the visitor’s center, and a drive through the park’s sawgrass plains into a hidden grove complete with a lake! Our guides, Rangers Jeff and Chris, took us back to an Environmental Education Center where they normally host summer camps for elementary students from Miami schools. There, we worked hard cleaning trails and sanding and painting picnic tables for the camp. The boys (plus Katie) took the first shift clearing away trees, while the rest of us worked with the camp’s two regular volunteers over the last 15 years, Larry and Julie.   

 After working together all day in the heat and biting flies, Chris and Jeff decided to take us out into the area’s Cypress Domes to look for animals and cool plant life found only in the Everglades. We saw all kinds of wildlife, including some awesome American Alligators deep inside their gator hole!

  

  

 

On our second day in the park, we switched teams and got to talk more about how our work helps the park by inspiring kids to care for their local ecosystems. In fact, the Everglades has impacted so many people over the past 40 years that the Everglades is the only privately funded National Park in the country, relying entirely on public help rather than government aid. After just two days of working together, it was tough to say goodbye to the Everglades team. When we returned to the park the next day for some free time hiking, we made sure to see Jeff on his morning bird walk, and exchange stories of the morning’s wildlife encounters. After our third morning exploring the park, we went to the beach in Miami for some well deserved relaxation!

  

 

Everglades Trip Days 2, 3, & 4- Work and Adventures in Everglades National Park