by Yvette Yuan
When I first signed up for this trip, I signed up for an alternative break that addresses sustainability in a state that I have never been to. After the week-long stay deep in the forest, I am fortunate to have gained much more than what I envisioned, in particular, a unique relationship with people and nature.
by Erica Schneider
Before signing up to volunteer in Big Cypress National Preserve, I had never even heard of a national preserve. Upon learning more about the difference between a national preserve and a national park at our first pre-trip meeting, my initial assumption was that a national preserve was inferior to a national park. Preserves allow for more access to the land than parks, including oil and gas exploration and extraction, hunting, off road vehicle use, and private land ownership. Although all these activities require permits or special permission, I assumed that through this much interference, how were the ecosystems even being protected?
by Amanda Gormsen
This past winter break, I had the opportunity to go on a Branch Out International trip to Kenya for two weeks with Kenya Sustainable Village Project (KSVP), a club I have been a member of since my freshman year. The overall aim of KSVP is to support the Nyumbani Village in rural Kitui, Kenya in a sustainable manner without creating overdependence. The Nyumbani Village meets the basic needs of marginalized people affected by the HIV/AIDS generation gap by providing them with access to education, employment, food, water, and secure homes, among other things. The village is composed of orphans who have lost their guardians to HIV/AIDS and “grandparents” who have lost their children. The orphans and grandparents are paired up, with one grandparent usually caring for around ten kids. These new family units are arranged in housing “clusters” throughout the village. The village supports around 1,000 people and has upwards of twenty clusters.
by Daniel Gildea
This winter, I went on a medical relief trip to two different impoverished communities in Nicaragua. We stayed in a hotel in Managua, the capital, which was great, though we could not drink the water and used bottled water for brushing our teeth due to parasites. The first community we went to was called Barrio Tangara. I expected to see extreme poverty, but it was hard to be fully prepared for it: trash littered the dirt streets, malnourished stray dogs were very common, and nearly every house was made out of non-permanent sheet metal. Latrines were used instead of flush toilets, which were a luxury. The people of the community were very warm and inviting, and we met many of them during our community survey, which focused on information about the health situation in the community. For the next few days, we set up and worked in a medical clinic, trying to address the community’s health issues. Patterns of illness soon emerged, many of them rooted in a combination of poverty and a lack of information, which often go hand in hand. For example, we often diagnosed intestinal parasites, which could reach their human hosts both through water and food. Often people with parasites, many of whom were children, lived in homes with a coverless latrine. Flies would enter the latrine, pick up parasites, and later land on food, depositing them there to be eaten. It was clear that health education was crucial, and we gave out information on a variety of topics, from parasites to diabetes to mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever and chikungunya. Tonsillitis was another common ailment, as was asthma, which was often caused by the dirt floors of the houses: the air inside usually has a dusty feel, and breathing it in causes lung issues. Before we left, we had a community day with the children, which was a great experience. The language barrier was difficult to overcome, but I soon learned how important gestures and smiles are as forms of communication. I also learned how well sports can bring people together, even when only the most basic sentences can be used to communicate. We brought a soccer ball, and just by simply asking “futbol?” and counting off teams, we soon had a great game going.
by Bryan Banning
Big Cypress National Preserve Branch Out Trip (January 2016)
The Branch Out trip to Big Cypress National Preserve focused on environmental protection. Before the area was federally owned and protected as a National Preserve, it was a swamp, home to indigenous Indian tribes and countless Cypress trees, birds, and gators among other flora and fauna. In the late 1960s, plans were underway to create an airport in south Florida with runways and monorails and a new interstate highway that would connect both coasts. It would be over 5 times the size of JFK airport in New York (which served as our connector airport on the way home). After an environmental impact study (the first ever conducted in Florida from what I hear), and strong opposition from local residents the airport construction was halted. The noise, light, and vehicular and pedestrian traffic would have decimated Big Cypress Swamp and all the life that it offers. Shortly after construction was halted, the over-700,000 acre area became the nation’s first federally protected National Preserve. During the trip, we not only cleared out two sites full of man-made eyesores, but we also helped out the environment by using reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic ones and used real dishes that we washed instead of disposable plastic/paper. This trip provided a real tactile illustration of the problem of environmental pollution. Unlike air or water pollution, this land pollution was very easy to see because these objects did not break down into the soil like smoke disappears into air or oil gets dispersed in the vast oceans.