Honors College students to educate youth in Dominican Republic

Group shares different reasons for taking alternative spring break trip

The Spectrum

While Spring Break offers students a chance to leave their classes in Buffalo behind, some UB students in the Dominican Republic will be teaching children who are eager enough to scale fences just to reach their classroom.

Students in the Honors College Alternative Spring Break program, made up of 21 members, will travel to the Dominican Republic from March 15-22 and teach English to impoverished children.

"None of the children that we taught last year were mandated to go to school, so only the children who really wanted to learn showed up to school," said Alexandra Van Hall, a sophomore chemistry major and director of public service for the Honors College. "Some children were climbing over barbwire fences just to come learn."

The children who had to travel long distances to get to the classroom encountered properties separated by tall fences, she explained.

The group of UB students will spend their time at a school sponsored by a volunteer organization called Outreach 360, located in the Monti Cristi providence in northwestern Dominican Republic. Many have different motivations for joining the program.

Patricia Johnson, a sophomore medicinal chemistry major, made the trip last year. She believes the work that comes with fundraising is worth it for the time in the Dominican Republic.

"I wanted to go back for a semester," Johnson said. "I felt like I was very useful there, incorporating English into teaching arts and crafts."

Sharon Lynn, a sophomore chemical engineering major, wanted to go to the Dominican Republic because, coming from a family that enjoys traveling, Lynn wanted to "go to a place that no one in her family had been to before."

George Mitchell, a sophomore English major, had a different motivation for attending the service trip in the spring.

"I want to teach English in China, so I am using this experience to get my foot in the door," Mitchell said. "I plan to make a career out of this."

For Van Hall, helping children last year made the entire trip worth it, despite the high costs of traveling. The overall cost of the trip is about $1,600 per student. Most students end up paying for the majority of the trip out of pocket, Van Hall said.

To help offset the costs of the trip, the students held their second annual raffle in the Student Union Feb. 6-7. This year, the raffle raised $954. Members of the group also wrote letters to local businesses asking for donations to create raffle baskets.

Toggenburg Mountain Ski Resort, Anderson's Frozen Custard, Delta Sonic, AMC Theatres, Splash Lagoon and the UB Bookstore made donations to help the group's fundraising efforts. As the group's biggest fundraising event of the year, each member was expected to bring two baskets.

The group has been fundraising since the beginning of the school year. There has been a Yankee Candle fundraiser, as well as a bottle and can drive. A chocolate sale is in the works for upcoming weeks.

The Honors College Alternative Spring Break is one of several options UB offers spring breakers, including trips to New Jersey to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief and Charlottesville, Va. to work with Habitat for Humanity.

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