Students make difference abroad

Students participating in the Alternative Spring Break program are helping low-income families in Guatemala for a week.

With spring break underway, many students plan to unwind from their classes and professors, but some are championing a much nobler cause.

These students are choosing to spend their spring breaks serving as volunteers in various community projects through the Alternative Spring Break program.

The program sends students to communities that need services domestically and internationally. Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit housing organization, is one of the programs organizations that build affordable housing for low-income families.

This year, Temple’s Encontour group is traveling to Guatemala where it will complete a reforestation project and build stoves. The project was designed to reduce forest fires in Guatemala where food is often prepared over open fires in highly vegetated areas.

The group left Saturday and is spending the entire week in Guatemala.

The group is lead by senior BTMM major Miafere Jones. Jones first became interested in restoring under-privileged communities after receiving a grant to complete a media project in Tanzania.

As the trip leader, Jones’ responsibilities include recruiting students to go on the trip, guiding them through the process, conducting meetings and serving as the liaison between the group and other organizations involved.

Jones considered spending her break working with children but chose Encontour because she wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on her, as well as others.

Monica Hankins-Padilla, assistant director for community relations for Temple Volunteers, said her favorite spring break experience was a trip to Belize, where she worked on a variety of community-building projects.

She considers Belize her “baby” because she planned the trip, coordinating projects for students and arranging travel plans.
“I’ve been on a few [trips], but I’m more partial to Belize because I developed it,” she said. “I got to see the project worked from scratch.”

Hankins-Padilla said the difference between Alternative Spring Break program and other community service programs is students work side-by-side with the communities they serve, allowing them to be engulfed in the culture.

Alternative Spring Break is open to full-time students in good academic standing.

Hankins-Padilla said the majority of the money used to underwrite the program comes from fundraising. Students who participate in the program must raise $500.

Hankins-Padilla said it has become difficult to coordinate trips because of the current economy.

Companies aren’t donating as much as they used to, and some students don’t have as much money.

“It’s sad,” Hankins said.

Jones estimates this year’s Guatemala trip cost between $1,200 and $1,500. Most participants finance the trip out of pocket. The group has tried to get sponsors and sponsored fundraisers.

When students return from the trip, they plan on selling Guatemalan coffee to subsidize the cost of the trip.

Lauren Williams can be reached at

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