Students opt for social justice with Alternative Break

Program allows students to travel both domestically and abroad to serve a global community

Nearly 100 AU students have chosen to spend their spring breaks learning about human rights or volunteering with non-governmental organizations.

AU's Alternative Break programs are social justice-based and involve community service, said Shoshanna Sumka, AU's Alternative Break program coordinator.

The programs offer students the chance to travel over the spring, summer and winter breaks while learning about other cultures and discussing global issues. Since 1994, AU students have studied topics such as economic development in Vietnam, Tibetan exiles in Northern India and the civil rights of immigrants in Greece with the Alternative Break program, according to the program's Web site.

Chris Duni, a freshman in the Kogod School of Business who attended the winter 2005 trip to Thailand with the Student Campaign for Burma, said it was an "extremely powerful" experience. He said the group visited some major cities and historical sites, but the trip focused on meeting with non-governmental organizations and groups working on the Free Burma movement.

"I heard about the trip through a friend," Duni said. "I thought it would be a great way to learn about the movement [for Burmese democracy]."

Upcoming trips that offer chances for both domestic and international travel will take place during the upcoming March spring break. Students will travel to Central Appalachia, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the U.S./Mexico border region, according to the Alternative Break Web site.

Alternative Breaks are student-run and coordinated with a faculty or staff advisor. Students who wish to lead spring, summer or winter Alternative Breaks must submit proposals for breaks about six months before the break will take place. The trip is then approved based on the qualifications of the student leader and faculty advisor, as well as on the trip proposal, according to Ava-joye Burnette, student leader of the Belize trip.

Burnette urges trip coordinators to be organized.

"The whole process is very detail-oriented," she said. "All of a sudden it's like, whoa! The simplest things that I never thought of ... like bug repellent ... food."

Burnette's group will focus on economic development, particularly concerning women. The group will also work with Belizean students and help promote HIV awareness.

Group leaders hope to be able to bring the students on educational trips to Mayan ruins and the Belizean reefs, but money is tight.

"We would like to bring the students to these places but it costs money. We're looking for fundraisers," Burnette said.

Students will also travel to Ecuador this summer to study the Ecuadorian Indigenous Rights movement and to Zambia to work with NGOs to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention among other options.

For more information, visit AU's Alternative Break Web site (http://www.american.edu/ocl/volunteer/altbreak/index.html) or contact Shoshanna Sumka at sumka@american.

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