Ohio University students serve in New Orleans and the Dominican Republic
March 30, 2007
By Meryl Smith
In the short duration of spring break, many students cruised off to the usual destinations, many stayed in Athens or went home, but some Ohio University students traveled elsewhere to lend a helping hand and do something different, fun and fulfilling.
To address social issues ranging from natural disasters to environmental matters to hunger and homelessness, the students fully immersed themselves into their new surroundings through volunteer work, discussion and reflection -- definitely not the stereotypical college spring break.
"I went to Panama City last year and spent too much money. I came home feeling as though I had wasted a week away. After participating in this service trip, coming home I felt my heart was in the right place," said Amanda Estok, Ohio University junior and vice president of Habitat for Humanity.
Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed community service fraternity, sent two different groups of students to undertake two separate social concerns.
One of the groups traveled to the Dominican Republic to participate in an Orphanage Outreach program designed to provide opportunities to orphan, abandoned and disadvantaged children. The students became teachers, tutoring the orphanage children in English.
"I was able to spend time with orphans in El Salvador, and it was one of the best times I have had. They were such happy kids, even though they were living in such poor conditions," said Caitlin Nowlin, an Ohio University sophomore and one of the directors of the trip. "Sometimes we think we have such tough lives, but then I remember these kids and the smiles on their faces. They remind me that I don't have it as bad."
Alpha Phi Omega also sent a group to New Orleans to help with the ongoing efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They worked with Relief Spark, a non-profit organization that began post-Hurricane Katrina.
The students visited with local families, gutted housed and helped at an animal shelter. Some of the students tutored local people attempting to earn their GED.
"The trip was a great experience for everyone because we were given the opportunity to see first hand the devastation that is still present 18 months after Katrina," Ohio University junior Jeremy Harrigan said. "It seems the country has forgotten about all the people down there that are still in such desperate need of help."
Alpha Phi Omega wasn't the only organization sending students to help with Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Collegiate Challenge is Habitat for Humanity's alternate spring break program that sent 15 Ohio University students to Slidell, a suburb of New Orleans to build houses for families who lost their homes.
While these service trips aren't meant for personal gain, she explained that some of the students came away from the trip with some extra skills.
"We have a group of girls that now know how to roof a house, a group of students that can side a house with their eyes closed and a couple guys that know how to make big holes smaller. I learned how to use a power tool for the first time. Also, we now know what it is to work side by side and create something really great," Ohio University senior Amanda Estok.
"In the end, what mattered was what we were able to do for other people. We only wish we could have done more, but the appreciation, thanks and accomplishment we felt while we were down there was enough to make us all want to come back," she said.
Meryl Smith is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.