Alternative Winter Break: An Invitation to “Change the World”

Originally posted: November 16, 2011

During Alternative Winter Break in New Orleans this past January, I learned to live life simply so that others may simply live.

Our group of 23 Oglethorpe students and staff members traveled down to New Orleans for a week-long service trip. We built a house through Habitat for Humanity for a family who had lost their home during Hurricane Katrina. Not only did we help to improve a community that was in great need, but we also learned new skills, met life-long friends, and got to hear touching stories from people in New Orleans who had been through this catastrophic event.

Throughout the week, I learned the true definition of teamwork, but I also learned how to see the world through another person’s eyes. While in New Orleans, we saw people on a daily basis on the streets begging for food. Seeing these struggling individuals gave me the most helpless feeling in the world. But, when we were building a house for that family, I saw the smile on their faces, and that feeling was indescribable. I felt that, although I couldn’t, and still can’t, help every single individual in the world at once, at least I can contribute positively to a few at a time.

Tony Golden and Helen Boyer

I feel that every single student at Oglethorpe – no matter what color, orientation, major, interests, skills sets, or personality should attend an Alternative Winter Break with the Center for Civic Engagement. This year will be an incredible opportunity for students as we head to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to work on disaster relief. Throughout the week, we will help to rebuild a low-income housing community that was completely destroyed by the tornados in April. Residents were forced to move in with families or onto the streets because the only homeless shelter in Tuscaloosa was blown away by the tornados.

I think that the first step in our development as humanitarians is a capacity for compassion permanence—a courageous and generous capacity to remember the needs of an unjust world even when they are out of our immediate sight. I think to myself sometimes: what is the core of my being, what can I really do??  I continue to find through experiences such as Alternative Winter Break that the core of my being is to live as if I have received nothing, but given everything, as if each breath is my last, as if each word can make an impact, as if each hand and smile can change the world.

And I learned this on my experience on Alternative Winter Break. You will too, just try it.  What do you really have to lose?

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