I decided to be a part of the Center for Civic Engagement’s Alternative Break because I felt a need to be more involved with the College and the greater community. Also, it just seemed fun to go somewhere I have never been before and do something productive over my fall break. This specific trip to Beaufort, SC intrigued me because we would be learning about the migrant farm workers, which honestly I did not know that much about. Our trip was not only about the migrant workers but also their children who are greatly affected by the work their parents do. For me, working with children is such a rewarding experience so that aspect of the trip really sold me, and I knew I had to become involved.
Upon arriving in Beaufort we went bowling with some of the children. It was so fun because these kids do not always get the chance to just be kids, and it was great to see them all enjoying themselves so much. The next day we visited one of the camps (that is what the housing areas for the migrant workers are called) where many of the children live and we spent the day and evening hanging out and playing. We were also able to sit down with someone from the South Carolina Department of Education who works to create change for the children of migrant workers that are in the U.S. education system. These children are often unable to finish high school as they are continuously moving. The rest of our trip entailed going on tours of the different camps and learning firsthand about the many difficult issues migrants and their families endure while living there. But we also learned that it was not all bad. The workers often develop a deep sense of community by living and working together on the farms. And there are people in the community who work hard to provide services for them.
My favorite part of the trip, though, was on our last evening when we sat down with Angel, Violeta and their two daughters. Over dinner they shared their stories about coming to the U.S. for work but also about their hopes for the future. Violeta’s story really exemplified how resilient people who immigrate to this country are when they do not even know the language or anyone living here. Violeta came to the U.S. from Guatemala at a young age with no knowledge of either English or Spanish, having only spoken an indigenous Mayan language in her town. It is so remarkable to hear that someone who could not even communicate with those she worked with was capable of eventually learning two languages while working so hard to provide for her children. Even though she had to single-handedly support her four children on the little amount of money she made, she regarded living in the U.S. as a great freedom because she could do this for her children and for herself. Violeta has so many dreams for the future to help other women who are in need and she knows that her situation, although not horrible, will not last forever and her desire to help is so inspirational.
The trip was all around a wonderful experience but some aspects were challenging because it can seem like our time there was in vain. My biggest challenge was the language barrier because I wish I were more capable of speaking Spanish with those so willing to speak with us. Their stories were so eye-opening, and I aspire to have the language to communicate my gratitude to them. There is also the added challenge of leaving Beaufort with so much information and feeling a sense of helplessness, which can be really overwhelming. To help with this I find myself just re-telling all the information I learned and the stories I heard. To me, it is a cathartic experience, and it is indirectly beneficial to the migrant workers in its own way.
As a Sociology major I believe we have an obligation to look at society with a fine eye but also to go beyond the society we are faced with every day. That is why the Alternative Break program can be so valuable to majors because it forces you to look outside the bubble that college often creates. The trips focus on a community in need and work to be as helpful as possible and to do little harm to those we are working with. Sociology entails looking at society and the systems that shape the way it works and participating in Alternative Break allows us to go beyond the theoretical of a classroom and requires us to put into practice what we have learned.
If you are interested in participating in an Alternative Break trip, check out the Center for Civic Engagement. Applications for the MLK Jr. Weekend trip, spring break and Maymester are due Monday, November 16th.