The Middlebury Campus

MAlt Trips Culminate with Reflection Dinner and Presentations

Benjy Renton

Benjy Renton

By BENJY RENTON

Over February Break, six Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) trips departed for destinations from Atlanta to Haiti and other places in between. MAlt aims to provide affordable, service-oriented alternatives to traditional February break activities. Student leaders and participants convened in Atwater Dining Hall on Wednesday, February 21 for a reflection dinner, during which each group presented about its trips and had the opportunity to answer questions asked by attendees and Center for Community Engagement (CCE) staff members. Co-presidents of MAlt Ana Sanchez Chico ’18 and Prasanna Vankina ’18 introduced the evening’s program. “We hope you understand the impact of your trips by bringing these connections back to campus,” Vankina said.

MAlt Appalachia explored the mechanisms of rural poverty through engaging with communities in West Virginia. Participants assisted low-income families through home repair and maintenance, tearing down one home that had been in place since 1970. “Obviously, we as a group of college students had very limited construction experience,” said Yuchen Zhu ’18, one of the trip’s leaders. Helping at a food bank, attending a church service and learning about West Virginia’s coal industry were also major parts of the trip. “It was a truly transforming trip, and I’m very lucky to have been with the people I was with,” said Gloria Breck ’18.

Learning about biodiversity and environmental conservation, MAlt Costa Rica partnered with Osa Conservation, a sustainable farm and nonprofit on the Osa Peninsula. The region holds 2.5 percent of the world’s diversity, which provided the participants with many opportunities to observe and engage with organisms such as birds, sea turtles, orchids and corn. The trip’s main activities fell into three greater projects: reforestation, sustainable agriculture and conservation. “One thing we learned [about] at Osa was the intersections with the environment,” said trip co-leader Ravi Patel ’19.

MAlt La Push lived and worked with members of the Quileute nation, a tribe based in northwest Washington State. This trip partnered with Xperitas, an organization invested in cultural immersion and building a global community. This was not a typical service trip, as intercultural learning was a key part of the experience. “Our trip was not meant to teach anyone. It was instead us learning how we live in the community,” said co-leader Valeriia Vakhitova ’20. The group participated in drumming circles, joi1ned a women’s domestic violence support group for lunch, helped the community’s elders and cleaned out transitional homes. “We were really honored to participate in those traditions,” commented trip participant Rebecca Strull ’20.5.

Focusing on food justice in urban environments and sustainable urban agriculture, students on MAlt Atlanta worked with Metro Atlanta Urban Farm in College Park, Georgia. Over the course of four days on the farm, they planted new seeds, cleaned out old sheds and met the other farm volunteers. Other activities included raking leaves at the community garden and visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the King Center in downtown Atlanta. Participants also noticed a contrast between rural and urban areas and segregation in the American South. “Atlanta is actually the second-most-segregated city in the U.S., and by taking the MARTA [Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] it was really evident. … We were lucky to not just [experience] the agriculture piece but [to] also interact with the city,” said trip co-leader Claudia Huerta ’18.

MAlt Haiti was based in Anseà-Pitres, and participants flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and crossed the border by bus. “Considering today’s political climate, that was … really special,” commented Georgia Grace Edwards ’18. The trip spent most of the time at École Anandamarga, a community day school and orphanage dedicated to raising women and children out of poverty through self-sustaining methods such as education and microfinance. Painting a mural and assisting at the school, trip members explored development and the role of international aid in a Haitian context. In addition, much of the trip took place without cell-phone service, which was a welcome part of the experience. “None of us really had our phones. We didn’t want to keep them out around the kids,” said trip co-leader Katherine Kulp ’20.

Partnering with the Life of Freedom Center, MAlt Miami engaged in conversations about sexual exploitation and human trafficking in the Miami area. Students participated in workshops and talked to a survivor of sex trafficking who managed to escape. One of the most striking aspects of the trip was a van tour during which a local contact pointed out sex-trafficking “hotspots” in restaurants and hotels. “It showed us how pervasive sex trafficking is,” Varsha Vijayakumar ’20 said. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 12 years old, and participants brought pictures of missing girls to their work on the streets. MAlt’s reflection dinner was the culmination of over three months of careful planning, as participants for trips are selected in October. “People think of [MAlt] as a week, and it actually goes much longer than that,” said CCE program director Ashley Laux. In addition, unlike many peer institutions’ travel programs, MAlt is almost entirely student-organized. “MAlt is really unique in that students design trips, find community partners, fundraise and go on trips,” Laux added.

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