Be the Change: AB at UCSD

Alternative Breaks at UC San Diego provides students with the unique opportunity to develop their identities as active citizens. Each year, teams of 12 volunteers form to collaborate with nonprofit organizations all around the world, both nationally and internationally, to work on a wide variety of social justice issues, including but not limited to sustainability, education, sexual health and rural poverty. The AB experience is unique in its approach to service. The process begins a quarter before the service trip with weekly team meetings. Here, participants grow close to the service group — including two service leaders (veteran AB participants) and a community advisor (a non-student team member) — while learning more about the nonprofit, social justice issue and local community AB is being partnered with. AB also emphasizes engaging in strong direct service while reflecting on what is learned throughout the process. Post-trip teams focus on reorienting to their local community to continue excelling along their paths as active global citizens.

AB Peace, Spring 2016

In spring of 2016, the UCSD AB Peace team ventured out to a service trip in a rural community of the Dominican Republic, known as El Cidral. AB partnered with the nonprofit organization, Service For Peace, which was established in 2006 and works on projects including building and renovating local school facilities, constructing levees to protect the community from flooding and creating a women’s cocoa microenterprise.

Our mission as a team was to fully immerse ourselves in the local culture by working alongside the community members to help build a new classroom. Upon arrival in the DR, we were warmly welcomed by SFP, and quickly learned that a large portion of the community life ran along one main street lined with homes, one school and one clinic, where music seemed to always be playing on a loudspeaker system for the whole community to enjoy. There was also a large river a short walk away where many of the community members would go to cool off and where we would take our daily showers.

A typical day entailed waking up early to begin our manual labor before the day reached its peak heat. Our group would work alongside the experienced men and boys in the community to complete tasks including leveling out the soon-to-be classroom ground with hoes and shovels, barreling dirt and mixing cement. For a large majority of our group, it was our first time using a shovel; we looked in awe at the young teenage boys, able to work so hard and efficiently while not breaking a sweat. Throughout the week, we forged strong relationships with the community members we were working with, often cracking jokes, shooting some hoops during down time or splashing each other with water under the hot sun. Our family was soon extended to encompass all of the loving people we were meeting and working with, including the community “abuelita,” who would always selflessly serve us her tasty homemade sweetened coffee while inviting us into her small home, which was carefully adorned with precious photos of all of her loved ones.

At the end of each day, came, in my opinion, the most important aspect of our service: team reflection. Through reflection sessions, we were able to share what we had learned each day and how we felt about what we were experiencing. We also took the time to support and motivate each other through positive affirmations, using both one another and the lovely community around us to push even stronger dedication to our weeklong service.

As we reached our last day in the DR, we were able to see the effect we had. A dirt classroom ground has been transformed into smooth cement, but we also realized our purpose there was far greater than helping with the construction. We were able to connect with the locals, forge new bonds of friendship, gain perspectives on a new way of living and share experiences that will stay with us forever.

Alternative Breaks has opened my eyes to what it means to be a conscious active citizen, and my experience with AB Peace serves as a constant reminder to continue striving towards being the change that the world needs.

Want to see more? Check out this video!