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.
February 2, 2016
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.
January 26, 2016
by Dahanah Josias Sejour
This January I had the opportunity to spend a week in Cap Haitien, Haiti where we spent most of our time working at a school in the town of Cima. I will admit that I was not sure what to expect before going – I was excited, for after leaving Haiti at the age of 7 this would be my first time back to Haiti, but I was also nervous and anxious to see how we would implement our work and how it would be received. I was not at all prepared for the experience I would have during my short stay in Haiti. I was blown away by how comfortable and at peace I felt. The people we encountered were amazing. From our hostess to the teachers we worked with, everyone welcomed us with open arms.
July 6, 2015
by Korkor Koppoe
This spring break I had the opportunity to spend a week in Richmond, VA (oh so far away!) and worked with the Fan Free Clinic. I must admit, the first few days were rough. I realized that I went into this experience with the wrong ideas about what we were going to be doing. I thought we would be working alongside the doctors, patients, and other staff members in the clinic. We spent most of our time in a classroom in the basement of the clinic. I realized that Branch Out is really dedicated to educating students on issues in the community rather than having us go into communities with no knowledge and leave after a week of “service”. While it was tiring and often an information overload, I can honestly say that I walked away with more knowledge than I entered with
June 30, 2015
by Rachel Warner
It is hard to put into words the experience I had in Nicaragua with Outreach 360 because it was such a positive one. Not only did I make a difference in the lives of people in the community, but they continue to have an impact on me. Outreach 360 is an extra-curricular learning center in Jinotega, Nicaragua that teaches Spanish literacy and English language acquisition. Attending school in Nicaragua is only for half of a day and so for the other half, kids at the center opt into this program. When we worked there, it was their winter break but they continued to come with enthusiasm because they truly love learning.
June 24, 2015
Allison Prell and Cate Johnson share about their experience on their second Branch Out International alternative break to El Portillo, Nicaragua with Bridges to Community.
June 4, 2015
by Ellery Lea
In March, I spent a week in South Carolina working on a Habitat for Humanity site over spring break. I traveled with eleven other William & Mary students to the Charleston area where we helped refurbish a home and worked in the ReStore. Some of the work we did on site included cleaning the home’s exterior, priming, painting, removing shingles on the roof, and landscaping. Doing manual labor was really rewarding because I could get immediate results and see the progress I was making. For example, when I was painting a side of the house, it was satisfying to see the unpainted area slowly shrink away with each stroke of the brush.
May 21, 2015
by Ayala Maurice
This year’s Branch out trip to Cap Haitien was truly amazing. It’s so difficult to describe in words how much the experience impacted my view of the world and the role that the government and organizations play in it. We were greeted warmly by the teachers and students and taken in as a friend immediately. I did not expect to feel so comfortable with the teachers and despite not speaking Haitian Creole, I found we were able to communicate in so many other ways. The NGO that we worked with, Sonje Ayiti, is led by some phenomenal people. It really made me appreciate the work of grassroots organizations in developing and easing economic pressure within communities. The teachers who were employed by Sonje Ayiti had pride and passion for what they did each day and only wanted to do more for their students in advancing their learning. The sense of community that I felt surrounding the NGO and the school really solidified, for me, just how vital these organizations are for improving everyday life.
April 8, 2015
by Allison Shomaker
My week working with Outreach360 in Jinotega, Nicaragua was one of the best. We flew into the capital, Managua, and took a two hour long bus ride through the mountains to Jinotega. The NGO we were working with was amazing. Outreach360 had everything planned perfectly. We spent the first day adjusting and then we jumped straight into teaching. Our group worked with around 48 children in the Learning Center. We did review of basic vocabulary and taught some new grammar lessons. During recess, we sang songs and played games in the walled-in back yard. For four days, we worked with the children and learned about the program.
March 2, 2015