Saturday, March 28, 2009

More of my comments on volunteering abroad

I got an email a while back from the University of Cincinnati about alternative spring break trips they have going on this year.  I went on one of these when I was doing my Master's, to Reynosa, Mexcio.  We were helping build dorms and church roofs with a church right across the boarder from McAllen.  It was undoubtedly one of the worst travel experiences I've ever had.  I'd lived in Mexico before I went on this trip, and knew what to expect.  Most of us had little to no experience working at a construction site, and I was the only one who spoke Spanish fluently.  We ate peanut butter and jelly (note: most people I've met in Latin America have a strange aversion to peanut butter).  We brought all the food, or ate at malls.  We didn't really go out in Reynosa.  We went to Monterrey and Saltillo, but didn't spend much time there.  We went to a cave.  It was Mexico, minus Mexican culture, language, food, everything there is to love about the country and its people.  The only thing worse I've seen is Cancun, which might as well be Florida at this point. 

So, this year they're also going to El Salvador, to La Libertad.  They're paying $1,200 and staying a week.  I'm familiar with the projects they working on.  I don't disagree that there's a need, and that it's good for people to get to know El Sal.  But how far could that $1,200 go if it were just donated?  And how much of this do we do just to feel good about ourselves and to get to go to the beach? I hope they don't have matching t-shirts. I hope they learn some Spanish.  I hope some of them go back and stay, not for vacation, but to live, to work, to really get to know the place.  And please, I hope someone tells them that undercurrents and jellyfish are a real thing, and that the beach isn't necessarily safe. 

Here's a portion of the mail.  Like I said, I understand why people go on these trips, but in the long-run...

The UC student organization Serve Beyond Cincinnati is organizing three trips. Serve Beyond Cincinnati (SBC) strives to build an emerging, civic-minded generation by providing national and international service experiences for UC students. All trips depart Cincinnati on March 20 and return on March 28.

La Libertad, El Salvador – Thirteen UC students will represent SBC as they join the Fuller Center for Housing’s 100 House Village Project. The project provides secure homes for families in need. Each of the students has raised $1,200 to cover their cost of the trip.

Reynosa, Mexico – Ten student members of SBC will travel to northern Mexico to assist in construction projects ranging from building homes and school buildings to building bathrooms and cultivating gardens. The cost of the trip per student is $1,100.

Minden, La. – Nine students will assist families in Louisiana as they help build and refurbish homes and assist with other projects. The cost of the trip per student is $300.

1 comment:

Fly Girl said...

I agree with your points but as a travel writer who sees way to much American ignorance about different cultures, I think these trips will help make it a little bit better. The students will have interactions that they would never seek out ordinarily and maybe they'll come home with more than t-shirts and beach pix!