Students Serve during Spring Break

The Alternative Breaks, run through the Nashman Center, had student service projects in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and D.C.

Alternative Spring Break 2022
At an Alternative Spring Break site in Costa Rica, GW students helped a farm that was transitioning from conventional to organic. (Photo courtesy Elise Fuente)
April 12, 2022

Over George Washington University’s spring holiday March 11-20, a collection of students immersed themselves in different cultures both local and international while doing work to help those communities.

This spring’s Alternative Breaks, run through the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, held student service projects in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and at home in Washington, D.C. The mission of GW Alternative Breaks is for students to build skills and gain experiences to make meaningful change through active citizenship.

GW junior international affairs major Elise Fuente had such an experience while attending high school in the Houston area and wanted to be a part of others feeling that same kind of impact. In Costa Rica, she said this Alternative Break trip even exceeded expectations with the important work she and her fellow GW student attendees did on a coffee farm outside of Los Santos.

The GW group in Costa Rica helped a farm in its conversion from a conventional to an organic practice. The group, which had two co-leaders—including Fuente, nine student participants and a faculty member, planted roughly 200 trees throughout the four service days.

In addition to the work, Fuente found value in the rich discussions she and her fellow GW group mates had after a day of work. Turning conventional farms organic helps from a sustainability aspect, and Fuente said each day they spoke about a different eco-friendly topic such as consumption, water, biodiversity and soil fertility.

Fuente said organic farms can cultivate the whole ecosystem, which was enlightening to see how important they are to the future of sustainability.

“We hope to bring that mindset back to GW and our hometowns,” she said. “Our own habits can be changed, and the culture of consumption can be changed based on lessons we were learning. Our group noted that that was something we really valued about the trip.”

All three trips took a great deal of prep work with the Nashman Center to both educate students on what they were about to experience and to fundraise.

The voyages to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica included a travel element while introducing students to different cultures, and the D.C. Alternative Break service project showed that people also live vastly different lives within the city, largely due to a lack of resources.

Five students who stayed at GW during the break addressed a variety of local challenges such as housing and food insecurities through their service projects. They served with Martha’s Table in Ward 7 once while twice serving with both the Washington Youth Garden and Charlie’s Place in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Junior journalism major Macy McClintock, the D.C. service project’s co-leader, said it’s one thing to hear about the hardships some individuals face, but witnessing the struggles up close was eye-opening. McClintock believes getting to know others and seeing how they experience a different way of life helps in becoming a more well-rounded and empathetic citizen, which she hopes is one of the big takeaways from her group.

“Being service minded is such a big aspect of us as individuals,” McClintock said. “I think it is so crucial to give back to make sure that we're informed, educated and understanding of what other people are going through.”

Each trip had partner organizations that guided and assisted the students in fulfilling their service projects and goals. They were Green Communities in Costa Rica, Plenitud in Puerto Rico and the non-profit service sites in D.C.

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