Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

Digging Even Deeper

by Christina Phang

Now that my senior year is beginning to wind down, so too is my time with the W&M Students for Belize Education alternative break trip. With only a little time left here, I’ve started to reflect on the great experiences I’ve had with my team and Branch Out International(BOI).

When I first found out I was accepted onto the team my freshman year, I was incredibly excited. I knew I wanted to be on a trip with an educational focus, and this team was the perfect fit. When I arrived at my first team meeting though, I realized how very little I knew about the social injustices in Belize. Like many of my peers here at William & Mary, I spent much of my time in high school involved in extracurriculars like sports, and some of my time volunteering at soup kitchens and non-profits like Habitat for Humanity. Joining this team and BOI though, was the first real exposure I got to working hand in hand with a community in tangible need of help.

Active Citizen Continuum
On my first trip to Belize, I was utterly appalled by the injustices going on in the community we stay at. Guided by my amazing trip leaders though, I was encouraged to question why they were happening, and more importantly, how my teammates and I could help. While I didn’t realize it at the time, during that trip I was transitioning through The Active Citizen Continuum and moving forward on my journey towards becoming an active citizen (diagram shown below).

For those who may be unfamiliar with the continuum, it was developed by Break Away and visually represents the transition that occurs when someone progresses through community involvement to become an active citizen.

Through my time with BOI, I have become more and more involved with tackling social issues. When I was first asked to place myself along the continuum my freshman year, I was hands down transitioning from the first to second stage and it appeared nearly impossible for me to ever reach active citizen status. It seemed like some sort of enlightenment only attainable by incredible community engagement leaders like Melody Porter. However, after three years with BOI and my team, I can definitively say that active citizenship is not some sort of mythical enlightenment after all. It is something that can be attained by all of us. It’s reached by making community a priority in daily life, and being determined enough and passionate enough to tackle the tough social issues facing us today.

Since returning from Belize in January, I’ve often been asked what my favorite experience with Students for Belize Education has been. And my answer hasn’t been getting to teach in the classrooms or help with mangrove restoration, but rather getting to see my younger team members move along the same continuum I did. It is always amazing to see younger members transform from barely knowing much about Belize (except maybe where it is on a map), to trying to understand the educational issues at hand, and then continuing to dig even deeper and challenge themselves after returning to W&M.

Although I’ve been taught a great deal the past four years at this college, my time with BOI continues to remind me that there is always more to learn. Thanks to my amazing alternative break team and BOI, I will be graduating in May with the determination, curiosity, and passion to strive for active citizenship throughout my life.

For anyone interested in service opportunities, check out Branch Out’s amazing national, international, and regional alternative breaks. My advice? Apply. You won’t regret it!

Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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