A summer of service

Oct. 4, 2002, midnight | By Elena Chung | 18 years, 3 months ago

Socially conscious Blazers devoted their summer vacation time to humanitarian aid programs in several developing countries around the world

As the bright sun beats down during summer break, senior Josh King shifts his red cap and breaks into a sweat in the humid tropical air. King is not on an exotic vacation; he is collecting palmetto palms in a rickety, orange wheelbarrow on a palm plantation in Concordia, Ecuador.

King is one of several Blazers who have found an alternative to local service by aiding disadvantaged foreign communities in the summer. Through various activities, these students have gained an ultimately enriching experience.

Around the world

During the summer, King participated in many services. He spent a few weeks at the University of Puerto Rico as a counselor at an environmental camp for children. In Ecuador, King worked jobs collecting and preparing crops for shipment at banana and palm plantations.

"Volunteer service raises awareness of the foreign community," says Michael Dixon, the executive director of Youth Leaders International. He says that communication barriers between countries break down when students volunteer abroad. "The benefit of international programs is that people discover that need is everywhere and that they can help, even with different cultures and languages," he explains.

Senior Fumino Tamaki feels that her experience tutoring kids at a convent in the Philippines brought her a worldwide consciousness. "I gained a sense of global responsibility by helping educate the children of poverty-stricken countries," she says.

Restoration and preservation

Ailish Zompa, an ESOL teacher who has volunteered in Wales, Denmark and Bulgaria, says students can partake in various activities from constructing buildings and preserving parks to helping children all over the world.

For the past three years, seniors Dorothy Boehm, Michaela Sachs and Gwynyn Hologbaugh have participated in volunteer activities in Santa Marta, El Salvador. Boehm set up computers, built a fence for local schools and funded children's activities. "This year, we raised money to help pay for the girls' soccer team of the village to play in the community championships," she says.

Several volunteers, such as senior Andre Ferguson, contributed by improving community living conditions. Two years ago, he renovated homes by replacing roofs and fixing plumbing for three weeks in Nicaragua.

Vivid memories

For Boehm, regardless of communication difficulties, playing American games on a bus ride was one of the most unforgettable times of her visit. "Because of the language barriers," she recalls, "the El Salvadorians didn't know how to play. It was still so fun."

King took part in memorable events. One time, to reach a remote plantation for inspections, he spent 16 hours atop a stubborn mule due to the lack of alternative transportation, he says.

In Ecuador, several misunderstandings caused conflict between King and the locals. At the time, strikes resulted from disputes between two provinces, Esmeraldas and Pachena, over the control of Concordia, he explains.

One night, protesters against provincial ownership tore down several roadblocks, angering the strikers from Esmeraldas. When King and his friend brought an obstructing barricade to the local police, the mob, believing he was a vandal, attacked him in a truck. Even after drivers sent several people sprawling, the strikers continued their attacks, he says. King escaped the brawl and sought refuge at the police station, having sustained minor injuries.

Just a smile

Despite the hardships, King finds enormous benefits in volunteering internationally. "Even though I met different challenges, overall, it was really rewarding," he says. "I learned a lot from the culture, the poverty, the work and the countries, Ecuador and Puerto Rico."

Tamaki believes the most gratifying factor in her service abroad was the sense of accomplishment she noticed when her service touched the community members. "When the kids were smiling and happy to see me, it was a great, satisfying feeling—to feel I made someone's day," she says.

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Elena Chung. After several failed attempts to start a school newspaper in elementary school, Elena Chung, a senior, has finally fulfilled a lifelong goal to write for a paper. When she's not hunting down sources or finishing loads of work, she enjoys taking photos, cooking, reading, watching … More »

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