As I begin my journey on my third Alternative Spring Break experience, I can honestly say I have never felt more joyous, hopeful, excited, or nervous. I truly believe that when the passion and hard work of every person in our classroom comes together we can do something amazing in the short time we have together. We have this amazing opportunity to immerse ourselves in this topic and then put what we have learned into action. I keep telling myself to let go of expectations, as so often when lofty expectations are not reached, you are left with disappointment and dejection. I don’t want my expectations hold me back in any way. Genocide and refugee advocacy is a foreign world to me, so I do have my fears and worries. What change can a group of privileged Americans like me make in the life of someone who has seen and experienced the worst of humanity? In many of my academic classes I hear the continued message that true social change doesn’t come about with individual action, but from structural change. Knowing this can make me feel so small, like whatever service I participate in will all be in vain. In my time at JMU I have become passionate about helping other people, so I will continue to learn and serve as best I can.
Some of my worries are calmed because of the incredible impact I have seen service learning make. The model set forward by JMU’s Alternative Break program that emphasizes lasting community impact and intentionality of service sets us apart from many service trips. I have come to realize that education makes all the difference in the world. I have seen both participants and trip leaders set out on their trips with little core education about their social issue, their agency, or the populations they will work with. I think that this lack of preparation can unintentionally cause more harm than good. A group of people with little knowledge of the culture or issues a group faces can disrupt the lives of the marginalized groups volunteers intended to serve. I have felt this way on my previous trips that had a focus of environment. In these situations we joined the park service to help them complete projects and work that needed more people and resources than they had access too. But when it took us so long to learn the processes of things like working a chainsaw or building bridges, it took away from our productivity and I feared we were more of a nuisance to the rangers. I hope to have a vastly different experience this time around, in which our time spent serving is productive, intentional, and reaches the (reasonable) goals we set.
My heart is full. Full of excitement, nerves, and worries. The most beautiful thing about the heart is its capacity to grow. To hold more love, more experiences, more knowledge. This experience is going to challenge me in so many ways, and I greet that challenge with open arms.