In tropical Grenada, where bananas and mangoes grow and the sea meets gorgeous sands, all is not paradise.
Bianca Lawrence, a second-year School of Public Health master’s student, said that upon arriving her group learned of a murder-suicide stemming from domestic violence. It had just happened near a local market.
“Grenadians recognize that it is a large issue and would like to have services available to help those who experience domestic violence,” she says. Over spring break Lawrence worked with Cedars Home, the lone shelter for battered women on the island, on a needs assessment.
She was among hundreds of University of Michigan students who traded the traditional sun-fun spring break experience for service projects organized by schools and units. Students say they get valuable instruction in their field by learning outside the classroom.
Lawrence and other SPH volunteers interviewed members of the Grenada Ministry of Social Development, the shelter’s board of directors, staff and residents.
“Being able to go to Cedars Home, talk with the women, and see them and their children is something that I will never forget. To see women who have experienced domestic violence talk about wanting to get better, and be independent and empowered was very moving,” she says.
Farnaz Malik was also part of the SPH group. She and Ian Lang, another SPH master’s degree student, worked in the office of the Grenada Planned Parenthood Association. They also conducted informal interviews in the local market in St. Georges. The aim was to determine attitudes and perceptions toward reproductive and sexual health. The goal is to address the rising issue of unsafe terminations of pregnancies in Grenada and to inform future policy.
“My conversations with the locals definitely left a lasting memory. I realized that the best way to get to know a new country is by conversing with its people. I felt humbled by their stories and inspired by their positive and friendly attitudes,” Malik says.
Lauren VanWormer, a senior from Bay City, is on the lead team of U-M Alternative Spring Break, a student organization supported by the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning.
“We have about 270 people going on trips this year, which includes our 50 site leaders for our 25 sites,” she says. They include Cleveland, Atlanta, Fort Worth, Chicago, Detroit, Louisville, New Orleans and Memphis.
Social issues are the focus of student volunteer work. They include animal welfare, borders and immigration, domestic violence, environmental justice, HIV/AIDS, hunger, LGBTQ, Native American, health care and disability, rural poverty, urban poverty, youth and education.
Each day, after student groups leave their service sites, participants enter structured reflections, talking about the social issues involved, the root causes, and what they can learn from the experiences.
Mekenna Eisert, a Clarkston freshman on a pre-health track planning to major in communication studies, joined five other students on a Ginsberg Center-supported ASB trip to The Githens Center in Mount Holly, New Jersey, serving children with disabilities.
“We spent quality time with the kids, helped and encouraged them to learn, and gained knowledge of new environments, lifestyles and cultures,” Eisert says. “If I ever see anyone with a disability being treated unfairly, I will not be afraid to stand up for them.”
Joining the School of Information alternative spring break effort were 73 students, volunteering in Chicago, Detroit, Jackson, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., says Katie Dunn, SI career counselor. Students work on capacity building information projects at nonprofit organizations, government agencies and educational institutions.
In Washington, students worked on projects at the Open Technology Institute, including one to develop a methodology for analyzing 3.7 million comments about net neutrality released by the Federal Communications Commission.
Elena Colon-Marrero, an SI Master of Science in Information candidate, spent spring break in Washington working with the Future of Music Coalition to maintain legacy information on a cloud-based server.
“Since their goal was to just preserve the information and not the physical format it was an interesting challenge to provide a work-plan and resources that did not cost a lot,” Colon-Marrero says. The plan also had to be simple to follow. “It was a great learning experience.”
SI ASB students also take part in local cultural events and visit local sites. “Students also get a chance to interact with and share about their ASB experience to UMSI alumni at receptions in each city,” Dunn says.
Also with the SPH group was second-year graduate student Christopher Ndubuizu. He spent much time going out in public to interview adolescents and adults about alcohol consumption in Grenada. The goal was to identify themes in the responses.
“These themes are used to suggest recommendations for Grenada’s National Policy on Alcohol. The suggested recommendations are intended to serve the best interest for the Grenadian population as it pertains to alcohol consumption,” he says.
Ndubuizu says he is grateful for the travel and research opportunity, which brought him closer to his colleagues.