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UMaine Students Rolling Up Sleeves for Spring Break Volunteerism

Dozens of University of Maine students are headed to Honduras, Belize, Florida, the Grand Canyon and New Orleans and other places over spring break, March 4–15, to build houses and a sewage system, clean up parks, deliver health care services to the poor, and help out in rural schools and orphanages.

In the last few months, students from varied academic disciplines have been raising tens of thousands of dollars for travel and living expenses during their service-learning and volunteer projects in the U.S. and Central America. Some leaving Maine for the first time will immerse themselves in diverse cultural and philanthropic adventures while making a difference in the quality of life for the people they will serve.

“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to be able to make an impact in the lives of people in need,” says Gwen Beacham, a molecular and cellular biology major from Farmington, Maine. She is heading March 2 to the outskirts of Dulce Nombre in western Honduras with the UMaine chapter of Engineers Without Borders. She and four other students, an interpreter, a faculty adviser and a private-sector engineering consultant will spend two weeks finishing a new sewer collection and sanitation system that UMaine student engineers designed and helped build. They’ll also teach the 120 villagers in Dulce Vivir how to operate it.

Beacham, who has never been outside the United States or Canada, isn’t sure what to expect on her first “real” travel experience, she says.

“I can imagine that I will return to Maine with such different eyes,” she says. “I am excited that I am actually able to do something to help, and I especially love that this project is so collaborative, as the community members have played a major role in the implementation of the system. Not only is this more sustainable, but it ensures that our effort is being put into a project that the community wants.”

UMaine’s Engineers Without Borders has won several honors, including a $25,000 award last year from the Newman’s Own Foundation for its work in Dulce Vivir, which started in 2008. The project will help villagers struggling with poor sanitation and overflowing latrines during the rainy season, which contaminates water supplies.

“This project provides valuable lessons in the field of engineering, while allowing me to participate in a humanitarian, life-changing experience,” says Logan Good, a mechanical engineering major from Presque Isle.

Meanwhile, 13 UMaine School of Nursing students in the UMaine Nursing International organization have partnered with International Service Learning to offer medical assistance in rural clinics in San Ignacio, Cayo District of Belize. Accompanied by Nilda Cravens, School of Nursing faculty member, they’ll work over the break with physicians providing health care to underprivileged families and children.

The UMaine Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism and UMaine Alternative Break also are organizing dozens of students planning spring break trips in the United States, says Andrea Gifford, assistant dean of students for Student Affairs and director of student and administrative support services. The students will partner with a variety of national organizations to help children victimized by domestic abuse in Virginia; improve housing conditions for low-income families in the coal-camp communities of West Virginia; assisting at a rescue camp for neglected and abused animals in Pennsylvania; provide respite in Florida for vacationing families of children with terminal illnesses; and help with disaster relief and rebuilding homes in New Orleans.

The Bodwell Center also is overseeing student volunteer trips to help with maintenance and trail restoration in the Grand Canyon in Arizona and in the Moody Forest Natural Area in Georgia.

Aaron Cyr, a Bangor native and senior nursing student making his second trip to Belize, says his trip last year was a startling introduction to poverty that many Americans can’t imagine unless they experience it firsthand.

“Things such as clean running water, the availability of limitless amounts of food and small things such as heat or air conditioning, that we take for granted every day,” he says. “I am being given the opportunity to positively affect countless lives for the better.”

Gwen Beacham agrees. “I believe that becoming aware of the different ways people live will lead to positive personal growth and development, and I’m sure I will realize how lucky I am to have some things I have always taken for granted,” she says.

Contact: George Manlove, 207.581.3756


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UMaine News
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System