After seven months of planning, gathering shoes and flip flops, selling chocolates and candles, and more, Dr. Alice Del Vecchio was excited to accompany four students to Hekima Place in Kiserian, Kenya, the all- girls orphanage where Baby Hope (the bubbly one-year-old who the Student Nonprofit Alliance is sponsoring this year) lives. Miriah Mascetta and Karissa Lambert, senior Early Childhood Education majors; Julia Aloisi, a junior double major in Integrated Marketing Communication and Nonprofit Management; and Juliana Gabany, a senior dual major in Recreational Therapy and Nonprofit Management, were all excited to meet Baby Hope for the first time. However, the Winter Alternative Break took a different course on December 8th when it was determined that the risk due to political unrest in Kenya was too great. Unable to refund their tickets with such little advance (the trip was scheduled for January 5th through 16th!), the team was at an impasse — where could they go? Amazingly, with a great deal of assistance from Dr. Del Vecchio’s contact, Chester Alexander, in Soufrière, Saint Lucia, the team had an ‘alternative-alternative break’ planned by December 15th — the end of final’s week. Instead of travelling to teach and work at the orphanage, the girls would be teaching both the students and teachers at the various schools in Soufrière!
The team arrived in sunny Soufrière on Friday, and were immediately surprised by how brightly colored the houses were! Oranges, pinks, yellows, reds, and blues lined the streets of the island, which was only twenty-three miles by thirteen miles wide, with a population around five thousand. Though Del Vecchio has been to the island seven times before, even the girls remarked how very little “culture shock” they felt as they were immediately welcomed into the community. “I felt like part of the community for the whole fifteen days,” Miriah commented. As the team began to get a feel for all Soufiere has to offer, they tried coconut water and the local cuisine, took a boat ride to a neighboring island, got accustomed to cold showers and being awaken by bleeting goats, and learned the “extremely expressive” local music and dances. Over the weekend, they were able to go ziplining, horsebackriding, and even went hiking to the top of the Gross Peton, 2600 feet into the air!
When Monday came, while Del Vecchio hosted workshops of her own, the girls headed to school! Juliana and Julia began teaching dental health education to all eight primary and infant schools (kindergarten and 1st grade) schools on the island! Julia, who comes from a family of dental health professionals, even brought toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a morning/night checklist for the students! Juliana also held workshops to show how to implement recreational therapy techniques into the classroom, like a play space in the classrooom. Meanwhile, Karissa and Miriah went to the Soufrière Special Education School in order to not only work with the students, but also to educate the teachers on various reading comprehension and academic/behavioral individual education plans (IEPs). The four girls were amazed that their suggestions were immediately implemented into these classrooms. Del Vecchio was proud that the girls, the “Rock Warrior Princesses” had the courage to abandon eight months of preparation and go to another part of the world to “take the knowledge from their classrooms to undeveloped country, not for glory or fame or treasure, but to help people.”
Del Vecchio will continue taking students abroad because her students “are able to see what they have to offer and see themselves develop on every trip. I love that they always leave something behind other than money.” Just as the girls left their mark on Soufrière, all agreed that Soufrière left a mark on them. Read their final thoughts on http://www.sru.edu/news/020718a and see their adventures for yourself in the video above. While the team was able to donate books, flip flops, dental supplies, and knowledge to the students, teachers, and community members of Soufrière, their work (like all nonprofit work) is not complete. Miriah hopes to link the students at her current student teaching assignment with the students in Soufrière as pen-pals. All four student travelers expressed a desire to return some day.
The next trip abroad for Dr. Del Vecchio is planned for Athens over Spring Break, and this team is looking to collect packages of children’s underwear and socks to donate to the Greek National Center for Exploited and Missing Children.