Thousands of college students around the country may equate spring break to a full week of relaxation ahead of them. However, for this year’s spring break, a small group of students had something else in mind – service.
Freshman Joey Bonnaire traveled to Cusco, Peru, over spring break as part of an alternative break to help those affected by social and public health issues plaguing the region.
“I thought it was just going to be like that stereotypical mission trip, where I was going to leave feeling good about myself, but it wasn’t going to be a life-changer or anything,” Bonnaire said. “But honestly, that was the first time I was exposed to how people live.”
Instead, he was exposed to the conditions in which some impoverished people live.
Bonnaire, a biology and marine science double major from Nashville, Tennessee, volunteered at local health clinics as part of an alternative break through UM’s chapter of Medicine Education & Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere. Alongside 24 other UM students, he spent time seeing patients and learning about the health and sanitation issues that people in developing countries, such as Peru, face every day.
There are an estimated 31 million people living in Peru. Three million in the population lack access to clean water. Only 87 percent of the population is serviced with water in urban areas while 84 percent have access to sanitation, according to the UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water.
Organizations such as University of Miami Alternative Breaks Program and MEDLIFE offered chances for students to travel to a variety of locations both internationally and domestically. Each trip focused on working in an area affected by issues such as human trafficking, addiction, immigration and animal welfare.
For Bonnaire, the experience opened his eyes to small luxuries, such as running water, which many people in developed countries take for granted.
“A lot of people there would kill to have our worst day at UM,” Bonnaire said.
Carolene Kurien, a sophomore double majoring in creative writing and neuroscience, viewed taking an alternative spring break trip as a way to immerse herself in her passion: helping animals. She said volunteer work is something she struggles to find time for during school.
Kurien visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Knab, Utah, through a trip sponsored by UMAB.
“As a pre-med, the focus is always on how you have to get clinical patient experience at hospitals, so I never really got to focus on my love for animals,” Kurien said.
UMAB offers 11 spring break trips every year, not including trips sponsored by other student organizations, such as MEDLIFE.
For Kurien, part of the appeal of going on an alternative spring break trip was surrounding herself with people as passionate about animal welfare as she is. Students helped caretakers remodel some of the sanctuary’s facilities while also spending extensive time with the animals.
“The caretakers’ passion for taking care of the animals was so palpable,” Kurien said. “It was just really nice to see such a large group of people who are involved in making sure the sanctuary runs well.”
Joong Lee, a junior majoring in accounting and management, traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, to work with GreenHouse 17, an organization that works to end domestic violence.
GreenHouse 17, which is located on a 40-acre farm, provides legal support, counseling, shelter and transportation for victims of domestic abuse. Students worked on the farm, assisting with tasks such as the construction of a new greenhouse, and also spent time with children undergoing medical treatment at the facility.
Bonnaire said his trip helped him grow as an individual. He said he would definitely be willing to participate in more alternative spring break trips in the future.
“What you are going to see is going to be really heartbreaking at times,” Bonnaire said. “But at the same time, it is really going to help you grow as a person.”
Emily Dulohery contributed to this report.