Sunday, March 13, 2011

Venezuela - March 2006

My first year as a Gamecock I became very involved in the Methodist student group on campus. This group was infamous for their international alternative spring breaks. Like many colleges, alternative spring breaks are very popular at the University of South Carolina (USC). The decision to attend this trip was a no brainer, as USC offers a scholarship program for alternative spring break students.

So, in March I flew to Maracaibo, Venezuela with 20 other college students, a minister and a nurse. We stayed one night in the "big city" in a group hotel room. I wish I had a picture, but literally all the girls had there own bed in one hotel room, there were like 16 girls.

The next day we rode a bus to a town in the Andes mountains to begin our service. As service to the community, our group was to provide an after-school program for the town children, run a youth program for high school students, run a clinic, build a greenhouse, help on the farms and get to know the local people.


We were each assigned a responsibility. My responsibility was to organize arts and crafts for the little kids. One day we made God’s eyes (pictured above). But by far, my favorite arts and crafts activity that week was decorating picture frames and taking Polaroid pictures. Mothers came to us thanking us for the craft. Many of these families had no pictures of their children, let alone any displayed in their homes.


With the middle and high school students, we played soccer in the afternoons and dominoes in the evening. The last night we even hosted a dance, which was a lot of fun and a great way to end the week.

Besides working with the youth, the group rotated through three activities: working in the fields, building the green house and working in a clinic. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the clinic. The clinic only accommodated our nurse and one or two students a day. Therefore the members of our group with interest in pursing medicine worked in the clinic.

I found our experience working in the fields the most enlightening. Each group was assigned a different family to help. Not only did we get to experience farming on the side of the mountain for a few hours, but we also got visit the family's home. I was amazed at how their housing was so primitive and yet most of the families were so happy. It really made me appreciate what I have, but realize material things are NOT everything.


We also worked on a green house for the Community House. The Community House was built by a previous student group. The green house would allow the community to grow vegetables regardless of the season of the weather.


Speaking of weather, it rained the entire time we were in Venezuela. This is very uncommon. As a result, our group took the initiative to contribute an addition service, we built a driveway. This was a great group bonding experience as we built it in the mud in the pouring rain!

While we accomplished a lot of work that week, we also had some time to play. We spent one afternoon watching the town’s men play a game of softball.


And we had a chance to spend a day touring the area. We visited the highest point in Merida.

As well as La Puerta, a local town to purchase souvenirs. Can you tell we are American’s at heart?

My trip to Venezuela was the most eye-opening trip of my life. It was fun and invigorating to go on a trip to a foreign country in which you have had no part in the itinerary planning. I hope I have the opportunity to go on another service trip and have as rewarding an experience as this one.

I will leave you with one final image, the one I left Venezuela with. On our last day, when it was time for us to leave we all rode on Jeeps through the Andes Mountains to our buses. It was one of those moments when I looked across the scenery and knew that this was what travel is all about, harmony.