Overseas alternatives give break meaning

While many students will be spending spring break at home or indulging in a tropical vacation, some will be working on more than a tan.

Members of Reach Out and the Yale AIDS Watch, or YAW, will be heading overseas in March to help raise buildings and AIDS awareness, respectively. Reach Out has set up a program called “Social Action and Community Service in Contemporary Brazil” to refurbish a community education center in a small Rio de Janeiro “favela,” or shantytown. Meanwhile, YAW members will be traveling to the Hunan province of China in an attempt to further develop ties with Chinese non-governmental organizations (or NGOs) dedicated to HIV and AIDS-related issues, most notably, the Aizhi Institute, which was founded by prominent public health researcher Wan Yan Hai.

The 12 students signed up for the Reach Out trip are optimistic about the group’s ability to effect positive change, specifically by aiding other non-profit organizations, trip coordinator Daniel Weisfield ’07 said.

“We are using our contacts here in the [United States] in order to finance project expenses,” Weisfield said. “In this way, by taking advantage of our privileged status as Americans and Yalies, we are able to help the non-profits working on the ground in Brazil to better achieve their mission of alleviating poverty, promoting education, and providing for people’s basic daily needs.”

However, Reach Out is not without help of its own, Weisfield explained. The group has been partnered with Viva Rio, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest and most respected NGOs.

The members of the Reach Out trip will spend 13 days in Brazil in a combination of service and learning, Tori Truscheit ’05 said.

“The first few days in Rio we will spend visiting NGOs to look at how they approach development,” she said. “Then for the last week, we [will work] on a specific service project.”

Truscheit said her experiences on last year’s Reach Out trip to Cuba motivated her to help expand the organization’s efforts to Brazil.

“I had such a great experience [in Cuba] with Reach Out as an organization that I thought it would be great if we expanded this year to Brazil,” Truscheit said. “Brazil is a fascinating country to visit on a service-learning trip. It’s a huge country with an incredibly rich history, but its income distribution is among the most unequal in the world.”

While YAW is not officially sponsoring a trip to China during spring break, three members are going there to solidify summer projects, YAW co-founder David Steinberg ’05 said.

“We’re hammering out our two-week summer trip, when some [YAW members] will attend an open symposium on HIV and AIDS with people from China, the U.S. the U.K., Australia, and Japan,” Steinberg said. “We’ll be talking about help for the huge rise in AIDS that started after tainted government-sponsored blood transfusions in the mid-’90s.”

Steinberg, who will be attending the symposium, said the opportunity to participate this summer is due to the explosion in YAW membership since he and Matt Wilson ’05 founded the organization in the fall of 2002.

“I don’t think this [trip] would have happened two years ago,” he said. “After a year and a half in existence, we’re one of the largest groups at Yale, and I think it’s because we’re very results-based rather than theoretical. People come in with ideas and we put them into action. The symposium trip is happening thanks to our close ties with NGOs, which is thanks to some of our more dedicated members.”

The symposium trip is being organized by the global branch of YAW, which includes three distinct organizations that operate on local, national, and global levels, respectively.

Weisfield said that the Reach Out trip’s participants were chosen by competitive application based on prior experience, community involvement, and diverse areas of expertise.

“We have people interested in women’s issues, public health, economic development, environmental issues, human rights,” he said. “The majority speak Portuguese, and if not Portuguese, Spanish. This is a qualified group … and besides the obvious fact that we’re going to have an eye-opening cultural experience, we feel like we can make a real impact on the community we will be visiting and working with.”

In addition to the trips to Brazil and Cuba, Reach Out is also sponsoring trips to Mexico and Nicaragua this year.

Exotic places such as the “sabado de rumba” at El Gran Plenque (above) and the Agro Americando supermarket (below), both part of Reach Out’s 2003 trip, lure many students to alternative spring breaks.
Courtesy DrewAlt
Exotic places such as the “sabado de rumba” at El Gran Plenque (above) and the Agro Americando supermarket (below), both part of Reach Out’s 2003 trip, lure many students to alternative spring breaks.

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