by Edith Amponsah

This past spring break was the best I’ve experienced yet, and it was because of the Branch Out National trip which I took part in. We visited Mount Pleasant, S.C. to work with Habitat for Humanity partners building a house. Before this trip, I had a small experience working with Habitat for Humanity but none of that prepared me for the experience I was about to have in Mount Pleasant. I had always known that homelessness was a problem in the U.S., but my knowledge I found out soon, was immature. The pre-trip meetings which the trip leaders held prepared us for the trip through a series of educational modules. Neither I nor my friends truly understood the difficulty and responsibilities of living under the poverty line and not having a place to live. By making us aware of this social issue, our trip leaders taught us to be appreciative of all of life’s circumstances, a lesson which shaped not only shaped our thinking but our attitudes as we embarked on this trip.

I knew this trip was going to be amazing for many reasons. First, I had already began forming relationships with the people on the trip, many of whom I now call friends. Secondly, we had the opportunity to meet William and Mary Alumni in Charleston, an opportunity which greatly enhanced our experience in Charleston. The thing is, wherever you go, as long as there’s another Tribe member, the saying “One Tribe One Family” holds true. Many of the alumni we met took the time to get to know us and welcome us to Charleston, making it feel like we’d never left Williamsburg. The best part about meeting the alumni was that many of them were aware of the social justice we were there to combat and were in their own way, doing the same thing. At this point, my friendships had extended from my peers to alumni, and it was this aspect that made the trip a great one.

Although I knew a little about Habitat going into the trip, I did not know about their international works or the different responsibilities of the individual site leaders, builders, and volunteers. I learned that it is not always about helping the poorest people in the population, but also helping those that are neither extremely poor nor in the middle class is essential in having a stabilized and growing population. I was very surprised that our trip would take place in the Isle of Palms, because usually I associate the place with tourists and beach houses. This trip brought to light the fact that there are multiple parts to every community and sometimes the less fortunate members of the community are overshadowed by the image of their community. Through this experience, I am now aware that a similar situation exists in our own community here in Williamsburg. Williamsburg has a high rate of homelessness, however this is overshadowed by the tourist attraction of Colonial Williamsburg and our very own College.

As a public health major, I was exposed to more facets of  the field through this trip as well as understanding the relationship between such social issues as homelessness and the general health of the public. This trip taught me that I can do more as an active citizen which influenced me to apply to be a Branch Out Regional trip leader, and I look forward to playing an even bigger role as a citizen of our communities as a trip leader.