Every year, Rice University’s Community Involvement Center organizes week-long service trips for students who want to have an “alternative” spring break (ASB) experience. This year there were 15 different trips, each one planned and led by students, that went to all different parts of the country to do service learning work. My trip went to San Diego, California, and focused on immigration issues. The emphasis of each trip is not only the volunteerism aspect, but to educate students on different social issues and enable them to take action.
My ASB group spent the week working with two organizations. The first one, Border Angels, is a San Diego-based non-profit that works to prevent the unnecessary deaths of immigrants traveling through the desert and mountains to San Diego, caused by extreme heat and cold as well as dehydration. Border Angels also seeks to educate the community and spread awareness about these deaths, and its members maintain “rescue stations” out in the desert with warm clothing, food, and water. The founder of the organization showed up in person to lead my ASB group to visit the desert, where we helped set up water stations and got a firsthand look at how terrifying and dangerous it is to cross the border illegally. Just the mere fact that people are still coming across every day, despite the risks, was a sobering revelation.
My ASB group also got a close and personal tour of the US-Mexico border, led by border patrol agents. They explained the need to secure the border for national security purposes, and discussed many of the difficulties and setbacks that Border Security experiences on a daily basis due to illegal crossings. It was interesting to balance this bureaucratic perspective with the humanitarian work that Border Angels does, and being able to juxtapose these views really gave me a better understanding of my own views on the issue.
One of my favorite activities that we did was working with another nonprofit called Casa Familiar, based in San Ysidro (a border town in California), where 82% of students in the district are determined as low socio-economic status, and 100% qualify for free or reduced-cost meals. Casa is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life by providing education, advocacy, affordable housing programs, and community development. Given that most border towns—yes, even on the US side of the border—face many challenges to their economic and community development, it was greatly inspiring to see the wonderful impact Casa Familiar had on San Ysidro. For the last three days of the trip, my group helped Casa prepare for an exhibit opening at their art gallery, celebrating Dia de la Mujer (International Women’s Day); played kickball with some kids who proved to be way better than us despite their age; and did a lot of painting, including touching-up some fence art—just another vibrant detail to brighten up the community.
Of course, my spring break trip wasn’t all work and no play. I really loved getting to know my fellow ASB members, who represented a variety of majors, backgrounds, and personalities. We all grew incredibly close during that week, by sharing the meaningful experience of the work we were doing, as well as group bonding activities such as nightly games of Taboo (it got pretty competitive) and going to the beautiful Coronado Beach one night. I had no regrets about giving up my spring break to do service with such a great, fun group of people. I learned a lot from the experience and from the other trip members, and by the end of the trip, I felt like I gained a lot of perspective on the immigration issue. I hope to do ASB again in the future, and maybe even lead a trip next time, and I’m so glad that Rice has kept up with this tradition, helping students fundraise and organize service trips for important social issues.
Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll be talking about research opportunities at Rice, and my summer job.