Thirteen Rider University students recently returned home from a service trip in Belize, but the goodwill, aid and friendship they sowed there will remain in the Central American nation for some time.
The international service trip, a joint venture between the Center for International Education (CIE) and Campus Life, saw the students and their advisers construct a new garden and tool shed, along with related improvements. The volunteers also spent time during the day at three separate schools, working as teacher assistants, tutoring the students in English, math, and health and nutrition.
“We built a fence around the garden, because pigs were getting in and eating the crops,” said Kim Cameron, assistant to the director of the CIE. “We provided them very practical things, items they’re not used to being able to work with.”
The Rider volunteer group was connected to the schools through PeaceWorks, who directed the Rider group to their gardening initiative in Belize.
“We made site visits to meet individuals in those communities who were able to indentify community needs” who then manage the gardens after the Rider volunteers’ departure, said Annie Pasqua, assistant director of Campus Life for Service Learning, who previously led a service trip to Costa Rica with Cameron.
According to Pasqua, the service trip offered more than a one-way benefit to the Belizean people. The students, she said, saw their perspectives broadened by their experience.
“I think we saw a shift in some cultural thoughts,” she said.
Melanie Hunter ’14, a Human Resources Management and Management and Leadership dual major, agreed with Pasqua’s assessment.
“The Belizean children are all so happy and respectful. It was a pleasure to be allowed to meet all of them, and they were all so excited that we were there,” explained Hunter, who participated in the service trip as a Rider Bonner Community Scholar. “It was really sad when we had to leave.”
Hunter says she wasn’t well-acquainted with Belize prior to the trip, but was quick to embrace the opportunity.
“What appealed to me the most about the trip was getting the chance to explore an entirely new country while connecting with the Belizean citizens through service work,” said Hunter, who also volunteers at different nonprofits throughout the Trenton area as part of her Bonner service. “I had never traveled abroad before this trip so it was the first time I was able to get a stamp in my passport.”
Hunter also admits that the experience has opened her eyes to new possibilities, too. “Over the past year, through volunteering in my local community and serving internationally in Belize, I am inspired look for a position within a nonprofit organization after I graduate,” she said. “In the future I’d love to take the opportunity to serve abroad again, and I would definitely recommend it to all my Rider peers.”