Most students who travel to the Caribbean over spring break will be sipping tropical drinks and relaxing on the beach. For members of Columbia’s Caribbean Students Association, however, their spring break trip will be rather different.
On Saturday morning, 10 CSA members will board a plane bound for St. Lucia, where they will spend 10 days volunteering at a primary school in the rural village of Vieux Fort. They will teach workshops on topics ranging from “Who Am I?” to “Skills for Success.”
“We really want them to discuss their culture and their heritage and see what ideas they come can come up with to implement in their own lives,” CSA first-year representative Chanique Vassell, CC ’17, said about the kids at the school.
This is CSA’s sixth annual spring-break community-service trip. In past years, the group has led similar trips to Jamaica, Grenada, Barbados, and Dominica.
Vassell said that the group’s mission is to empower children in the Caribbean educational system and promote positive self-image by framing each student’s personal and communal success through the lens of their culture.
“The people who started the trip had a vision of giving back to community, using our privilege and our funding to go somewhere and make a difference,” she said.
To that end, trip members will also meet with representatives from St. Lucia’s Ministry of Education to discuss the future of education on the island.
“The most interesting part of the trip is making connections with kids,” CSA member Tatiana Witter, CC ’15, said. Witter was on the group’s trip to Barbados last year.
“We had a girl in our class who was very quiet and hardly spoke ... but towards the end of the week she was going up to volunteers and asking questions, and on the last day she told me how the experience of us being there had helped her see herself becoming a teacher and doing similar things,” Witter said.
“It was really fun teaching the students about their history,” said Daena Reynolds, BC ’16, who also went to Barbados and will travel to St. Lucia. “The most meaningful experience for me was when we took the older kids to the local university. Seeing how excited they were proved that all the things we had talked about all week had stuck with them, and they were really excited about education and excited to invest in their future.”
CSA has been working since August to raise funds for the trip, holding dance parties like Dollarama and 2Dollarama and a benefit called the There Is Hope Campaign Gala. The group has also collected used books from around the city to donate to the school in St. Lucia.
Every dollar CSA raised was matched by the Alternative Break Program, a Columbia initiative that helps fund service trips, and will go toward covering transportation, housing, and food costs, as well as educational materials and school supplies to be donated to the school.
“The trip is important to me because I think it is vital that we are able to give the children of St. Lucia and the other islands we visit, to have more of an interest in postsecondary-school education,” CSA Events Chair Kachenta Descartes, CC ’15, said. “We want the students to develop a critical consciousness and their own idea of self-identity in respect to their history and culture.”