Olivia Starling plants seedlings in a gardenHuman kinetics student Olivia Starling (left) plants seedlings in a garden outside a school in rural Jamaica.

Students spend spring break in selfless service

Saying that “selfless service is in the DNA of the University of Windsor,” dean of science Chris Houser led a team of nine students on a trip to Jamaica, where they spent their Study Week supporting water conservation programs.

Drawn from the faculties of human kinetics and arts, humanities, and social science, as well as science, participants in the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) travelled to the small community of Seaford Town in the western highlands, far from the country’s popular tourist destinations.

While there, they applied what they had learned from their studies and conversations with local residents to develop an education program on water conservation for the region’s elementary and secondary students. It was the second year that Dr. Houser has brought ASB students to support water conservation programs in developing countries.

“While we may think of Jamaica and other countries in the Caribbean and Central America as being water-rich, small interior communities face water scarcity and security issues as a combined result of climate and land-use change,” he says.

Besides their work on the education curriculum, group members took part in a water delivery program, established a garden outside a grade school, helped out on a small family farm, and participated in a community cleanup.

Houser points to the example set by the late UWindsor president J. Francis Leddy as an inspiration. Nearly 60 years ago, Leddy helped to found the Canadian University Service Overseas, dedicated to fighting poverty by connecting communities around the world with skilled Canadians.

“The students on this year’s trip are future doctors, scientists, social workers, and teachers,” says Houser. “Participation in the program is an opportunity for them to reflect on the importance of applying what they are learning in university in support of others, while also developing essential skills in communication and collaboration.”

Drama student Zara Bellavia has enjoyed two tours with Alternative Spring Break.

“These trips have been an opportunity to apply what I have learned in applied theatre methods,” she says. “It is rewarding to know that you are making a difference in the lives of others.”

Her teammate Olivia Starling, a kinesiology major, says she wishes she had known about the program earlier in her University career.

“Not many students are given the opportunity to travel, learn and live within another culture, and gain a course credit all at the same time,” Starling says. “I entered the program not knowing anybody, but I am leaving with a handful of friends.”

Houser says the Faculty of Science is planning to provide another Alternative Spring Break experience next year with a continued focus on water conservation in rural Jamaica. The program is open to undergraduate and graduate students from across campus; learn more on its wsebsite.