March 29, 2004
Students lend a hand in Mexico during spring
By Louise Donahue
Spring break just isn't what it used to be. For 51 UCSC students, a
spring break trip to Mexico meant building a house one day, and repairing
roofs, digging trenches, installing toilets and showers and painting
for another two days.
UPDATE: After this story was posted March 29, news of the
students efforts caught the attention of the Governors
Office on Service and Volunteerism, GO SERV, and the students'
project has been featured on the GOSERV web
students will receive a GO SERV Spotlight award (See press
release) May 25 at UCSCs Volunteer Recognition Awards
Students work together on a house, top photo, and level the
ground in preparation for a cement pour in the Baja town of Tecate.
Top photo: Luke Botzheim; photo above,
The volunteers also found time to work with the local children on art
projects and play Frisbee and soccer with them.
Instead of lounging around in a hotel or motel, the students slept
on the floor of a community centerwith no indoor plumbing until
they installed it themselves.
Despite the lack of amenities, the students said their time in Tecate,
Mexico, was better than the typical spring break trip.
I think this is more fun. This is so much more rewarding. Were
making our mark on Mexico, and theyre making a mark on us,
said Jennifer Low, a first-year student at College Ten. "It's one
of the best experiences I've had. I don't learn as much in a quarter
as I have in the past two days," she said from Mexico.
The studentsmostly from College Nine and College Ten--participated
in an unusual project that was part work program and part cultural exchange.
Arranged by the nonprofit Corazón
organization, the students got to know the townspeople by working alongside
future homeowners and other local residents.
The Corazón houses are one large room with plumbing. This
is fantastic compared with what the families were using. Its a
real step up, said Abbey Asher, service-learning coordinator for
College Nine and College Ten, one of three staff members who accompanied
"It's very rewarding," said Margot Brown, a first-year student
in College Nine. "I feel like Im getting more out of it than
the people I'm helping. It's benefiting both sides."
Several of the students on the trip are bilingual, and for some, the
trip had additional meaning. I came because I wanted a firsthand
experience with poverty, said Rosa Contreras, a third-year student
at College Nine. I also wanted to come back to my roots because
this is how my parents lived, and to realize how much I take for granted
The UCSC trip was unusual in a few ways. Corazóns work
with volunteers usually involves smaller groups of students, church
groups, and others from southern California, who make short trips and
build a home on Saturdays.
Money for the longer trip required months of intensive fundraising.
Students helping staff members do gardening work earned $500, and students'
friends and families chipped in, with each student raising a minimum
of $100. Contributions from the colleges, resident adviser funds, Student
Affairs, and student government also were crucial in raising the $15,000
needed for the trip.
Rawbe Guzman of the Chancellor's Undergraduate Internship Program was
a driving force behind the project, said Asher, who worked with students
from College Nine and College Ten last year on a spring break community
service program with Barrios Unidos, a local nonprofit.
Asher said the trip to Mexico may become an annual event. This
alternative spring break exceeded all my expectations. The students
were able to experience firsthand the benefits of international service;
of working hand-in-hand with a community for the betterment of that
community, Asher said. I hope we can make this trip an option
for future students."
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