A College Spring Break Creates Solidarity and Justice


A College Spring Break Creates Solidarity and Justice

April 13, 2009

University of Michigan students help build a latrine. Photo courtesy of ASIC.

In Cabañas, El Salvador's poorest region, community members continue to feel the aftershocks of the country's 12-year civil war. The people of Cabañas are stripped of many of their most basic needs, including infrastructure, educational opportunities and health resources.

But ASIC, the Asociación Amigos de San Isidro, Cabañas, is working hard to build better lives for the people of El Salvador. And American Jewish college students are laboring hand-in-hand with ASIC to ensure that this can be a reality.

Eleven students from the University of Michigan recently returned from Cabañas, where they spent a week living and working with AJWS's Alternative Breaks program. Alternative Breaks enables an important exchange between American Jewish college students and grassroots communities in the developing world. Participants spend a week volunteering, studying Jewish text and navigating the complicated world of poverty and development.

"Volunteering with ASIC was a truly unique experience for our students," says Allison Sheren, a Michigan Hillel staff member who traveled with the group to El Salvador. "The conversations and connections they made with the community are invaluable. The questions they asked and ideas they explored in a Jewish context will significantly affect their Jewish identity and view of the world we live in forever."

The University of Michigan students helped address a critical need facing the impoverished Cabañas community. Most citizens do not have access to latrines; instead, people relieve themselves in their fields, an unhealthy reality that attracts disease-generating insects. Every year the population suffers from diarrhea and dengue, curable conditions that can lead to death in communities with limited health resources.

Over the course of a week in El Salvador, the University of Michigan students helped reverse this cycle of preventable disease by constructing 30 latrines, which will benefit about 180 people. Participants woke up early each day to work, met daily with community members and spent their evenings reflecting on their experiences.

"The contribution of the volunteers is invaluable," says Marcelo Rivero, a staff member at ASIC. "They helped improve the living conditions of several families in the community by building latrines with other members of the local community. The volunteers and members of local communities also shared ideas and learned from each other. This made the experience very meaningful and unique."

ASIC received its first AJWS volunteers just last year. The delegation built a water reservoir in one of the rural communities where ASIC works. The project contributed to the improvement of the community members' living conditions: they now have easy access to drinking water, and the local women no longer need to walk miles each day to bring water to their homes or to wash their clothes.

This spring break season, 18 AJWS groups will be departing to Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala to offer a hand to local communities. Upon their return, participants enter the AJWS alumni community, which brings together Jewish activists from across the country to work together for global justice.

Alternative Breaks provide a meaningful exchange for both college students and their host communities. To learn more about these travel opportunities, please click here.