What’s the point?
Armchair criticism of an Alternative Spring Break or Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children trip is unfair (even if you did almost participate in one). Your concern for the oppressed is admirable, but I think the uptick in Facebook cover photos that accompanies a trip, the ones with a student posing, the underprivileged arranged neatly around them, has led you to a hasty conclusion. I’d like to ease your worry about the mindset of the hundreds of students that set out this Spring Break.
The emphasis on education is what sets ASB apart. Prior to leaving, ASB groups meet to learn, reflect, discuss and prepare. Site leaders work to foster empathy, not sympathy — the trip is presented not as an opportunity to pity people, but understand what they’re going through. And, more importantly, what can be done.
It’s difficult to improve a community in a week, you’re right, but meeting key social needs is nothing to sneeze at. From packing and delivering meals to AIDS victims, to spending a couple hours tutoring a kid after school, ASB participants complete simple, practical projects. These might not greatly reduce the weight of oppression, but they serve a purpose. They also allow students to rub elbows with people who develop innovative solutions to social problems. An underrated part of my trip was gaining insight into how easy it is to become an active citizen, something that seemed quite daunting before. Finally, though a cynic might scoff, great realizations do arise out of the nightly reflections. Discussing how lessons can be transplanted to post-ASB life is a valuable exercise, and this is backed up by data. Studies show that students return from ASB more engaged and more willing to dedicate their lives to service.
There is a discussion to be had about the pitfalls of ‘help’ and the troubling savior mentality. Ideally, everyone would venture into the field, heads full with the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” But the beautiful thing about service is that it’s not exclusionary. Martin Luther King, Jr., no stranger to activism, said, “everybody can be great … because anybody can serve.” That seems like a more worthwhile mindset to me.
Aditya Vedapudi is an Business junior.