When Pranav Nanda returned this year to El Manzano Uno, the small Nicaraguan community where he spent his school break last winter, he was unsure whether the friends he had made a year ago would remember him.
Their enthusiastic greetings when they saw Mr. Nanda’s group made it clear they had not forgotten.
Mr. Nanda was in El Manzano Uno with longtime George Washington University service partner Waves of Hope to help run afterschool programs for elementary students, start ground on a new bathroom and help with general maintenance at the village’s elementary school. Each project, he said, was developed by and completed alongside members of the community.
“Those lasting relationships made us all work a lot harder than we probably would have if we hadn’t known the community,” Mr. Nanda said.
Along with 130 other students from GW, Mr. Nanda—a junior in the Elliot School of International Affairs—was participating in the Alternative Winter Break program, which offers projects in six locations in North and Central America—from Puerto Rico to East Los Angeles.
Rather than parachuting into other cultures for a quick vacation, participants in Alternative Winter Break work with an eye to the long term, investing with the same partners for years to work on ongoing projects. This year, for instance, marked the 10th year of Alternative Break rebuilding trips to New Orleans—and participants met with the same Ninth Ward resident, Robert Green, who has worked with GW students since 2006.
The Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service coordinates the service trips, which students plan and lead.
“It’s entirely student run, and that’s one of the really special aspects of the program,” said Avra Bossov, a graduate fellow in the Center for Career Services who went on the New Orleans trip as a learning partner. She participated in four Alternative Breaks as an undergraduate at GW, and said she was “thrilled” to return to the program—even in what she called a secondary role.
“[Learning partners] might step in and handle emergencies if necessary, but it’s students who are really developing their leadership skills and engaging with these communities,” she said.
Students from three Alternative Winter Break sites—Nicaragua, Los Angeles and New Orleans—shared some of their photos with GW Today. (Click upper right corner of photos to expand.)