Oxford students travel over Spring Break for service, experience

OXFORD --It is Spring Break week for Oxford College students, and many of them are taking advantage of opportunities to travel for learning and for good causes.

Two student groups are involved in service in the United States, while two other groups are experiencing the cultures of Costa Rica and Ecuador.

A group of nine students and two staff leaders are in Little Rock, Ark., where they are working for the nonprofit organization Heifer International. Heifer has a mission to work with communities worldwide to end hunger and poverty and care for planet Earth. Student will learn more about the organization's operations and will lend a hand as needed.

A group of 28 students and three staff leaders are in Seaside Heights, NJ. They are assisting non-profit organizations that are helping to rebuild the area following Hurricane Sandy's destruction in the fall 2012.

Thirteen students are in La Carpio, Costa Rica, a low-income suburb of the capital city of San Jose. Almost half of the population of La Carpio is composed of Central American refugees, primarily from Nicaragua, and most live in severely substandard conditions.

Students will stay with local host families and spend the week learning about the area and performing hands-on service tasks.

The group's in-country partner is the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation, which has set up service projects and arranged for educational opportunities, such as meeting with women in an indigenous community, speaking with a healer and touring such facilities as a coffee plantation and government health clinic. Service projects will support the local "Carpio clean, Carpio green, Carpio healthy" campaign.

Accompanying the student group is Patricia Del Rey, adjunct assistant professor of women's studies at the college.

The opportunity for Oxford students to learn about other ways of life is also happening this week in Ecuador. Twelve students, accompanied by Mike McQuaide, professor of sociology; Amanda Pendleton, assistant professor of biology; Stacy Bell, senior lecturer in English; and Ken Anderson, dean for academic affairs are in Rio Blanco, in the upper Amazon basin. The trip is a fulfillment of McQuaide's spring-semester class Sociology 231RQ: Social Change in Developing Societies.

In Rio Blanco, students live among the Quichua people, who are indigenous to the area. They learn about the culture first-hand, sleeping on rough-hewn beds as the Quichua do, eating their food and interacting closely. And all of this is without Internet access, phone service, or electricity. "Students are off the grid," said McQuaide.

The Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement provides financial support for all of these trips. Additional funding for the domestic trips was also provided by the Oxford College Alumni Board.