Towson University Alternative Break Connections took a community service based, cultural immersion trip to Nassau, New Providence. 18 people, including 2 advisors and 2 student trip leaders, participated, with each student bringing something unique to to the experience. I was fortunate enough to have been selected to participate.
During each of our four pre-departure meetings, we got to know each other, set trip goals and learned about Bahamian culture. From the get-go, we knew that were not travelling for a luxurious tourist experience. Our group was more interested in the multidimensional aspects of Bahamian life and culture, and focused on making a positive impact with our time.
We began our volunteer experience with a local pre school, where we separated into groups to work with classes of young kids. My group worked with a class of three to four year olds learning how to count; we helped them with their numbers, do coloring activities and then played games until their lunch time.
We followed up by helping out at homeless shelter, where half of us sorted clothing and household donations and the other half helped with meal prep and serving food. Besides giving us a real sense of appreciation for our own lives, we left questioning how the larger implications that let poverty and huge celebrity displays of wealth coexist on the same island.
We concluded our first day of service at a nursing home for the elderly. This was an emotional site for many of us – this is one of those places that you go and it hits you that this is something you will take home with you. Some of us worried about the future of our parents while some of us mourned the loss of our parents and grandparents. I had a conversation with a man who insisted that he had been to Maryland, and picked apples. I was seriously emotional since there was no way this stranger could’ve know about my job at a cider mill back home, and how my work family had become a real family. Emotions definitely came out from many of us that night at our reflection.
As trip participant Elssa Kenfack puts it, “this is the type of service that takes your breath away. You are exposed to multiple facets of a culture different from your own. From the beauty, to the parts that were a little rough the edges.” Even in our first day, she was right, we had seen a small piece of everything. We were blown away by the clarity of the water and the feel of the Bahamian sand, but still humbled by serving the homeless and seeing the elderly struggle with their health.
Our time together in our house was also spent working towards a positive impact on each other. We spent a good deal of time talking about our lives at Towson, our lives at home and what we wanted to do as active citizens in the world. Trip advisor, Lisa Parlade, recalls, “I loved being able to engage in conversation with our student participants that centered around topics of inequity and social justice along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, SES, etc. I was especially proud of how students allowed themselves to be emotional vulnerable and open to the experiences at hand and relating them back to their lives, families, and overall world views.”
The group was truly diverse, with each person having a passion for something different and hoping to create a better world with their vision. From veganism to entrepreneurship to law to accounting, we all agreed on one thing, service to others is truly addicting.
We participated in a wide range of service and immersion activities throughout the rest of our week: from visiting Dolphin Encounters to learn more about marine conservation in a fun way to reading to children staying the public hospital. We did an environmental beach clean up, packed donation boxes from the Bahamian Red Cross and visited even more schools. We toured the College of the Bahamas to get the chance to view some history and connection with students. We also got the opportunity to see a small taste of Junkanoo in Marina Village, even though it was not the season. And of course, we ate a lot of conch.
Throughout our eight days, inspiration was a huge theme. We were inspired by each other, by the people and communities we served, and we hoped to inspired others whether at home or somewhere else in life. Growth was another major theme. We all went on this trip to grow as people, we knew that we wouldn’t be coming back to Towson exactly the way we left. Whether we came back with a new passion, new friends or new ideas, something would be different.
Trip participant Haley Molnar, put it best when she said, “you prosper by giving but you grow by inspiring.”