April 07, 2017 by Ramsha Ahmad
With Drexel’s fast-paced terms, spring break is a way to slow down and de-stress (besides, of course, final grades also being released). While some people plan vacations or choose to stay home and hibernate, there is also the option of Alternative Spring Break.
At Drexel, the Alternative Spring Break program is a service immersion trip that focuses on a central theme, whether it is hunger, homelessness or immigration. There are both local trips, and out of state trips.
In the midst of academic stress, it is beneficial to de-stress by embarking on service trips and gaining insights while making new friends and learning more about a community’s needs.
No matter how involved you may be on campus, Drexel can seem like it has its own bubble. Once you go outside of the bubble, you see communities much different than the developing University City.
For my Alternative Spring Break trip, I traveled to the community of Point Breeze with a group of six students and stayed at the Aquinas Center, an inclusive community center located in South Philadelphia that welcomes immigrants.
Over the course of the week, the group focused on the theme of immigration and got a taste of Malaysian and Indonesian cultures by eating food and interacting with immigrants who come to the Aquinas Center for literacy programs. The group assisted people who are in need at a food pantry in Kensington and learned from New Sanctuary Movement about the journey undocumented immigrants go through in order to come to the United States.
On a service trip to Philabundance, an organization focused on reducing food waste and providing families suffering from food insecurity, we found that the organization received almost 7 million pounds of produce from supermarkets that would otherwise have gone to waste.
From helping children with homework at a religious-based organization in South Philadelphia, to learning about refugee’s status and the obstacles they face in gaining this legal status, these insights foster a kind of growth in an individual that is so different from the learning that happens in school. Service learning and immersion can give a student a new perspective on the communities one had previous assumptions about.
The reflection that goes on after each service activity creates a closer bond between a group and forces you to get out of your comfort zone into a contact zone, where you are at once forced to grapple ideas you are unfamiliar with and be molded by the insights that are shared. Whether someone is familiar with struggling neighborhoods in Philadelphia, or has never been in these neighborhoods, that person will gain a new perspective, regardless.
The immigrant population in Philadelphia is greater than what meets the eye. This service learning trip forced me to get outside of my comfort zone, interact with immigrants and learn about refugees and their struggles, in light of how they are painted by media networks and often excluded from the narrative of inclusivity.
The service immersion trip lasts a week and may be exhausting at times, but it is definitely rewarding in the end. Service learning draws on values of empathy and understanding and although the service might be strenuous, it teaches us that there are people in need who should not be limited to the stereotypes and stigmas that they are represented by in society.
Whether one is a refugee, immigrant, a person in a state of homelessness or hunger, that person should still be valued and understood, as each person has their own story and many times, has been failed by a vicious cycle of oppression perpetuated by our institutions.
Service trips allow you to bond with others, and make powerful connections while simultaneously learning more about yourself. You can gain valuable leadership qualities that will have a lasting impact in spite of what career path you take. Through service, you can grow as a person and truly see the the impact you have made on a community.