Tag Archives: MAlt

My MAlt Spring Break: Intersections of Faith and Climate Action

I spent my February break this year a little differently. I went back to Los Angeles, the place I have been calling home for the past 11 years, with nine other Middleury students. At 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday our plane finally landed in LAX, and I felt our group’s collective excitement and eagerness to learn about the intersectionality between climate change and religion and what roles we can play in helping mitigate this global crisis.  Although it is true that our trip was not the most physically demanding–we may have gone to the beach this week more than I ever have in one summer–I believe that it was one of my most intellectually and emotionally engaging experiences at Middlebury College. 

MAlt LA 2020 Participants in Long Beach, California for the beach clean-up with Algalita Marine Research and Education, a non-profit organization. Participants from left to right: Chima Dimgba ’21, Julia McClaine ’22, Rachel Jeong ’22, Nhi Do ’22, Isabella Primavera 21.5, Soyibou Sylla ’20, Bo Liu ’23, Anna Cox ’21, Bayu Ahmad ’21, Huiming (Sam) Liang ’22.

On our first full day, we visited the Metropolitan Church of Christ, a church centered on Creation. The whole community welcomed all of us with open arms, reflecting the core of their sermon that day: we humans are “the salt of the earth.” They shared the message that humans are one of earth’s most valuable resources and we have a duty to be kind to each other. This kindness must also extend towards all of God’s creation. We have a duty to protect and nurture the earth and everything that resides in it because we are simply sharing the earth with other living beings. Theirs was a call for responsibility. Although this was a clear articulation of the connection between climate change in religion, the most powerful experience I had in this church was more personal.

A banner hangs outside the Metropolitan Church of Christ. The church’s members are known as the “Queer and Quirky of Cahuenga Street” as they practice love for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, and other social signifiers.

They did the Holy Communion a little differently from other more traditional churches. We were invited to join if we desired. I took the “body of Christ” with my own hands from a tray and dipped it in the chalice filled with the “blood of Christ.” After eating this, the deacon took my hands and touched our foreheads together in a very personal prayer. My eyes started to water as her words touched my heart. She said: “Blessed be are those who are young. For they really are the hope of the future.” At that moment, I realized that the older generation places so much faith in us to do better and to take better care of our shared world.

The most physically demanding–and emotionally exhausting–day that we had came on the third day of our trip. Half of the group, including myself, worked from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hippie Kitchen situated in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. This neighborhood, called “Hell on Earth” by some, creates a stark contrast from the bustling and wealthy area of Downtown Los Angeles as you see streets upon streets filled with tents, shopping carts, trash, and items usually found inside a house. When you leave this neighborhood, you can immediately see a completely different set-up of the city: high-rise buildings, fancy restaurants, expensive apartments. As a native Los Angelena, I knew of and have seen this place in person–but only from the outside. Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge. I felt weird and I felt wrong.

Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge.

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

As we rotated jobs once the Hippie Kitchen opened, I found myself serving salad to those experiencing homelessness. At this station, I distinctly remember one moment: One of the regular volunteers asked a regular patron where his wife was. He answered: “She’s in our tent today since she’s not feeling well.” That response hit me hard. In my everyday life, the “tent” would be substituted by “home” or “room,” sturdier and more personal spaces, places that are supposed to provide a comfortable shield from the outside. Hearing this man’s response, I felt a sense of shame. It was shame for being able to find comfort in going back to a comfortable house–with a bed, a heater, running water, a warm blanket–while my counterparts lived in their tents.

A billboard in Downtown LA stating “Homeless Republic,” depicting the California flag’s bear as a man outside of his tent– his home.

Before we started our shifts, we came upon the volunteers praying in a circle, holding hands. When they saw us (Middlebury students standing outside the kitchen), they opened up the circle and invited us join the prayer. The prayer, I faintly recall, was a prayer by St. Vincent de Paul–a priest who has dedicated his life to serving the poor. The prayer talked of our duties to the poor–that it is our duty to help them and even when they disrespect us, we must treat them with more kindness. I deeply respect all of the volunteers; their belief in the word of God drives their selflessness in serving the community in Skid Row. I respect those experiencing homelessness as well. Despite their situations, some of them come to the Hippie Kitchen filled with hope and gratitude. It is another day that they are alive and another day that they can eat and for that they are thankful. 

A wall in the Hippie Kitchen says “Make Beans, Not War.” The Hippie Kitchen, whose official name is actually Lost Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Hospitality Kitchen,” makes food (including beans) three times a week for those who need it.

There is so much that we did on this trip–so much learning, engagement, reflection–that one blog post would not be enough to talk about all of it. I’ve highlighted these two days of the trip because they contained the most impactful moments for me. While the first experience shows the direct connection between climate change and religion I experienced, the second experience shows that solving the climate crisis cannot stand in isolation from creating broader social justice. Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter? This trip has made me realize that climate change is not just this abstract, global problem but a systemic problem–those who are not in the top 5% wealthiest parts of the population are the ones who experience most of climate change’s effects, but those with the most wealth are responsible for creating and maintaining most of the systems of dependence on, and actual emissions of, fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses that are causing the problem in the first place. The marginalized hold some of the fewest choices for taking personal action, too. People who need jobs must take the jobs available, even if they are in places like oil refineries. Those experiencing homelessness use single-use plastic because they don’t have access to sturdier containers. All of these complex problems are part of climate change.

 Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter?

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

Although these issues seem so big and unsolvable–believe me, I was feeling hopeless for a while–the communities that we have seen in action are all doing their part to try to fix the system from the ground-up. Faith communities as well as normal neighborhoods are all working with the people in their communities to tackle the climate crises–the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Hippie Kitchen are just two of these examples. Because of these groups, I have hope that we can work together to change the world for the better. 

Celebrating International Education Week at the CCE

Every year, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education celebrate international exchanges and education through their join initiative called International Education Week (IEW). This program is meant to “prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences” (iew.state.gov).

Here at Middlebury, we are committed to bringing global perspectives into one space as well as developing intercultural experiences through many ventures. Some larger educational opportunities include study abroad, language schools, and language classes. The Center for Community Engagement also supports ventures that allow students to explore new cultures and share their own cultures within the Middlebury community and beyond. Some of these are the Language in Motion (LiM), domestic and abroad MAlt trips (Middlebury Alternative Break Program), the Cross Cultural Community Service (CCCS) fund, Japan Summer Service Learning Program, and Academic Outreach Endowment grants.

We’ll take this International Student Organization’s (ISO) International Week as an opportunity to highlight three of these internationally focused programs!

Language in Motion (LiM) connects students who have a cross cultural experience through Middlebury’s international, study abroad, and upper level language programs with Addison County high school and middle school teachers, students, and classrooms. After training and with guidance from CCE staff, students provide lessons that promote global awareness, cultural competence, and world language acquisition. 

I love Language in Motion because it makes me think about my experiences as a bi-cultural person who grew up in both Thailand and the US, and how that impacts how I see my two cultures, the world, and also a new language and culture (Spanish/Hispanic culture) that I was introduced to when I was 15. It is always an exciting challenge to think about how to relate my experiences (and make them accessible) to different age groups, whether it be 3rd graders, 6th graders, or high schoolers, and the opportunity to go off campus to present is always a welcome break from the Middlebury College bubble.

Pim Singhatiraj ‘21.5, a Language in Motion participant teaching Spanish and Spanish/Hispanic culture
Pim Singhatiraj ’21 conducting a reflection session about global perspectives for students from the Addison County area

The MAlt Program allows Middlebury students to design and plan six trips during February Break in both national and international destinations. The goal of these trips is to allow students to engage with outside communities by providing service when and where it is needed and learn from these engagements.

Being from the Caribbean, I didn’t quite know what to expect from my MAlt trip. I had only been to Trinidad & Tobago, an island that I related to and knew as a second home. The Dominican Republic showed me a completely different side of the Caribbean, where people spoke Spanish, ate Mangú and listened to Bachata. My MAlt trip taught me that there are never-ending perspectives no matter what your expectations might be.

 Melynda Payne ‘21, a participant in the Dominican Republic Alternative Break Trip
Melynda Payne ’21 at the Dominican Republic MAlt trip with a view of the natural landscape of the country
MAlt participants in the Dominican Republic spend time with Dominican students, doing crafts and participating in student-led lessons

The CCCS Fund (CCCS) supports international service-learning and community-building internships and/or related volunteer service opportunities for undergraduate students. These internships and service initiatives may be student designed while preference is given to those opportunities in a culture distinctly different from the applicant’s background, usually outside of the U.S. Since 2009, the CCCS fund has supported 315 student-led projects, in 70 different countries!

My time in Nosara provided me essential context for my studies at Middlebury, as well as real-world experience in what can often be a stale research-based field. I was encouraged more than ever to pursue my goals of teaching English abroad after I graduate, in the many forms that this might take.

Spencer Royston ’21, supported by CCE’s Cross Cultural Community Service Fund last winter to work with a library in Nosara, Costa Rica 
Spencer Royston ’21 engaging in the Nosara community

Besides LiM, MAlt, and the CCCS fund the CCE has other programs that are also focused on global engagement and perspectives, and you can explore them via their websites linked here: Academic Outreach Endowment, Japan Summer Service Learning Program, and Jiran

We encourage students to engage in communities beyond of our Vermont Middlebury experience, through the many connections offered here. As we can learn from students’ experiences described above, global experiences can expand our perspectives within our increasingly interconnected society. The numerous opportunities that the CCE offers are meant to do just that!

Easter Egg Hunting on Chipman Hill

Over the years, many of my blog postings have described runs on, or including sections of the Trail Around Middlebury, aka, “The TAM”. And why not? The TAM is the most frequently traveled trail in Middlebury, and the blog is, after all, “The Middlebury Trailrunner”. If the TAM is the gold necklace around our town, Chipman Hill is its diamond pendant. This gem, right at the edge of town, offers a roughly 500 ft vertical climb – making it a convenient place for local endurance athletes to train.

When I first moved to Middlebury, in the mid-1980’s, Chipman Hill was only minimally developed as an outdoor resource. The old paved road over its twin summits, which was closed to vehicular traffic 30 years ago, a trail along its base on the east side, and a smattering of rarely used mountain bike trails constituted the “development” of this refuge. Over the years, many more, well constructed trails have appeared, many of them laid out by mountain bikers. The rise of the the Middlebury Land Trust has led to some further trail improvements, and somewhat heavier use than in the past.  But that said, on a pleasant late August evening, I passed about 8-10 other people, enjoying the hill as runners, walkers, or mountain bikers, and there is plenty of solitude up there still.

Some Chipman Hill newcomers might find the maze of trails, some maintained, and some not, confusing and daunting.  The old road over the top is easy enough, starting from High Street (the street running behind the Swift House Inn), and ending on Spring Street (the highest driveable point on the south side of Chipman Hill).  The trails, on the other hand can be somewhat confusing in places, some of them even confusing me, even after three decades of exploration.  There is no need to worry about getting lost however.  My usual rule of thumb when I get disoriented, is to simply hike to the top of whatever mountain I am on, and get my bearings back – most mistakes in route finding happen on descents (as some of my hiking and running partners will attest).  Fortunately with Chipman Hill, if you don’t know where you are, you can always run away from the hill, and surprise – you will be somewhere in Middlebury when you hit a road.

On most of my posts, I give a somewhat detailed trail description, but other than the simple run on the road over the top, which I actually did describe once a few years ago, the whole point of running on Chipman Hill is to try new trails, and see where they take you, and what points of curiosity you might see along the way.  So, I am going to set up this route, by simply telling you where I started (In the Marble Works, and getting onto Chipman Hill from the end of High Street) and how I got back (the same way), publish the contorted and complicated route map on Google Earth (more for the sake of humor than actual direction) and show a few pictures from along the way.

Some of these pictures are of locations on the hill which are well known, and others, on more obscure trails, are a little harder to find.  I am putting them up in the order in which I took them, making a bit of an easter egg hunt for friends who might want to explore the hill a little bit more than they may have in the past.  I apologize for the general darkness of the pictures – a 6 pm run in late August can get that way, even on a clear day!

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

The first well known landmark I came to, was the old ski jump hill. It is easy to see, as the runout is still mowed a few times each summer. Chipman Hill was used as the site of the Middlebury College Winter Carnival races during World War II, and a small ski facility was built on Chipman Hill to accommodate the racers and jumpers. I suspect that the road over the top may have once been a ski race trail, but I have no proof of this.

Wildlife sign

Wildlife sign

A little later, I came to this curious sign, generated by the “Leave no Trace” organization, on a relatively obscure side trail. What was curious about it? Well this was the only sign of its type I saw, and it seems odd that the only “trace” on this part of the hill, was the actual sign.

Western Overlook

Western Overlook

On the western side of the hill, there is a park bench with views of the Adirondacks, carved out of a small clearing. Curiously, starting right behind this seat is a concrete pylon, and 8 more of these pylons extend up the side of the hill, in a straight line, more or less evenly spaced. I have always been curious of these pylons – at first I suspected that they might have been used as part of some sort of ski lift in ages past, but why would they need so many of them, for what could not have been more than a pulley for a rope tow? And besides, descriptions of the ski trails used during the war never make mention of any lifts, although one friend claims to have seen a photo or sketch of Chipman Hill with a rope tow in it, although I have never seen this. If anyone knows what these pylons are for, I would be intrigued to hear.

Summit Communications Tower

Summit Communications Tower

This is another easy find, as it can be seen from almost anywhere in town – the tall communications tower, on top of the highest point in town. I was also curious, on this run, to see if I could find any sign of the old, much shorter tower just to the east of the summit, but all the hardware associated with the older installation has apparently been removed.

Old Gravel Pit

Old Gravel Pit

There is a rather substantial abandoned gravel pit on the lower, eastern slopes of the hill. This was much more pronounced in the 80’s, but has become somewhat overgrown in the last 30 years. Then, as now, it appears to be used for campfires (and presumably illicit outdoor underage parties), much like it was 30 years ago, as evidenced by at least 3 different fire pits. The gravel pit can be easily made out in the Google Earth projection of Chipman Hill at the end of this posting.

Dumped Fridge

Dumped Fridge

Here was an unpleasant surprise near the gravel pit – For the first time in my life, I noticed a long abandoned refrigerator, which was surprising in light of the fact that most of the hill is completely litter free, and it must have been there for a long time, as it has been decades since the gravel pit had routine vehicular traffic needed to dump off an abandoned appliance.

Crooked Tree

Crooked Tree

This tree just looked cool, and was on a lesser used trail, so I guess this will be one of the more challenging Easter Eggs!

Lonely Fire Hydrant

Lonely Fire Hydrant

This fire hydrant, which I had never noticed before caught my attention, as it was on a closed, seemingly abandoned stretch of road. Who knows, maybe there were once plans to build homes on this part of the mountain? It also looks like it has unexpectedly grown since it was planted, as the hydrant itself was well above the ground line. I also noticed a bunch of bunny rabbits with their little white tails running around nearby – appropriate for a blog on Easter Egg hunting. They did not pose for pictures however.

Old Reservoir

Old Reservoir

This muddy, algae-infested pond is what I have heard referred to as the old village reservoir. I don’t know the full history, but I for one am glad that we aren’t currently drinking from it.

New Reservoir

New Reservoir

Just uphill from the old reservoir is – surprise – the new reservoir! I am comforted by the fact that it is actually enclosed.

Trail Sign

Trail Sign

Coming up from the Springside Rd. access point, this well-designed map was posted – I am glad that I saw it at this point, after running for roughly and hour – who knows, I might have been lost all along and not known it? A copy of this map, which has the road, and most, but not all of the heavily used trails marked out, can be found online at the excellent MALT website.

Cairn

Cairn

Finally, shortly after coming off the trails, and onto High St to conclude my run, I noticed this small cairn in a yard by the road – I have always rather enjoyed these little rock piles for some reason, and once again, in keeping with the Easter Egg theme, one can imagine a stack of chocolate eggs and jelly beans forming them?

Concluding the run, I returned to my car in the Marble Works, finishing a slightly more than 6 mile run, where I basically didn’t do anything other than run around in circles. Although the altitude gain between the Marble Works and the summit is “only” about 500 ft, with all the ups and downs, I estimate I climbed and descended close to 1200 ft in the course of this run, making for a rather substantial hill climb run, without having to leave the village. If you are a newcomer to running on the local trails, and want something a little more challenging, give this hill a try. If you are an experienced runner, see if you can explore the trails more thoroughly, to see if you can find any of the sights mentioned here that you are not familiar with. There are quite a few more trails, that I never even got to on this run, so perhaps in a year or two, I will include those to find some new Easter Eggs to share.

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Language, Cultures, and Students in Motion – A Spring Break in the Kingdom

Kyler Blodgett ’17 writes about his experience on a LiM-Mini-MAlt trip this spring break to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with four other Middlebury students.

Middlebury Students at LRHSMiddlebury Students

“The five of us piled into the van early on the Tuesday morning of Spring Break, wondering if we had remembered all the USBs, international candies, and travel knick knacks for the next three days. We were headed 100 miles north of campus to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to deliver interactive presentations focused on global awareness and cultural relativity to students in the area. The Kingdom, as it’s called locally, is known for beautiful scenery with a low population, even relative to the rest of the state. Social services and employment options tend to be limited, but prospects of moving out of the area are low.

With this context in mind, we had spent the previous two weeks preparing our presentations. Trained by Kristen Mullins, director of the Language in Motion program on campus, we all based the presentations in our personal experiences living or studying abroad. The countries in our group included England, Ireland, France, Germany, China, and Cameroon.

As it is with many short service-learning trips, we hit the ground running. Our first afternoon in the Kingdom we presented at Brownington Central School, a K through 8 school with about 15 students per grade. There was a nervous energy among us as we met the principal and were given a tour of the small building; though many of us had worked with kids previously, the prospect of being handed the reins of a classroom either in pairs or solo was still daunting. We didn’t reconvene as a whole group until the school day ended two and a half hours later, but the nervousness had clearly vanished long before that. We shared stories of the students’ perceptiveness, and anecdotes of way the young kids focus on the most unpredictable details that is equal parts lovable and frustrating to a teacher.

Over a homemade dinner, we reflected on our gratitude that the kids were not hesitant to ask questions or show interest in the topics, a “too cool for school” feeling we had expected. We wondered if we would get such an enthusiastic reception at the neighboring Lake Region High School the next day.

IMG_1116Wednesday morning had a similar feeling of anticipation since it was the fullest and least centralized day of the trip. We met with Lake Region guidance counselors before the first class, a conversation that quickly turned towards the respective stereotypes the students have of internal cliques, foreigners, and often themselves. Though this knowledge made our presentation topics feel even more relevant, it gave us a pause to consider how we’d be received.

Much like Tuesday afternoon at the Brownington, we were collectively surprised at the level of the kids’ engagement. By second period, word had gotten around that college students were in the building and kids would often enter presentation classrooms and whisper excitedly. We saw little trace of the non-engagement counselors had warned us about; rather, students were very curious about our travels, and enthusiastic participants in simulations and discussions. In some of our most interesting moments, we were able to talk with the students about ways they thought outsiders stereotyped the Kingdom, and use that as a springboard to conversations about cultural relativity. The students brought an energy to activities that was contagious even when our own fatigue began to catch up with us in the afternoon.

Our group met up after the last bell rang with grins on our tired faces. We’d had two early mornings in a row, but the learning wasn’t done yet. We were lodging at the Old Stone House Museum not far from the schools, and the museum director gave us a tour that afternoon. She walked us through the fascinating history of the Old Stone House as a progressive boarding school run by Midd alum, Alexander Twilight, from 1829 to 1847.

 Before driving back to Middlebury on Thursday, we met with the director of the Teen Center at NEKCA (the Northeast Kingdom Community Action association), a hub of local social service providers. In a conversation that was both lively and frank, director Allyson Howell talked to us about the realities of running the Teen Center on a shoestring budget, and the difficulties facing youth in the Kingdom. These included the location as a notorious drug highway from New York City to Canada, homelessness, and rural transportation obstacles.

We each reflected on the trip in different ways. For some, it confirmed that secondary education would be key to their future career path; for others, the exact opposite. For many of us, the trip raised questions about how we can engage with a new community in such a short time and allow learning about experience living in the Kingdom to supplement or contradict our background knowledge. For all of us, I think, we appreciated the chance to broaden our view of Vermont from the slice of Addison County that we see regularly. We’re extremely grateful to all the people on campus who made this trip a reality, and for the students and educators we met for their patience, enthusiasm, and willingness to share a moment of their lives with us.”

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Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Breaks Trips at go/MAlt and about the Language in Motion program at go/LiM.

 

Alison Haas ’16, CE Communicatiosn Intern

What Happens When 50+ MiddKids Go on MAlt Trips

This past February break, six groups of Middlebury students escaped the wintry Vermont weather, traveling as many as 3,000 miles to six respective locations around the globe. Middlebury Alternative Break Trips, affectionately referred to as MAlt trips, are service-oriented experiential-learning trips. This year the 50+ MAlt participants traveled to Guatemala, Washington DC, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York City, and addressed issues ranging from permaculture to privilege and poverty in vastly diverse local communities.

“The trip was eye-opening and life-changing […] I intend to try to lead a MAlt trip myself, motivated by how powerful and influential and rewarding this trip has been,” one MAlt Washington DC participant said.

Returning to campus, many students remarked that their MAlt trip has left an enduring mark on them.

Another student who participated in the Building Communities trip in Guatemala, working with Constru Casa and Tecnologia Para Salud (TPS), noted that “[…] it was more than I ever imagined and will have lasting impact on me. It taught me the power of active learning. Moreover, it taught me that it is not enough to be ‘book smart’.”

As students reflected on their rich experiences and personal growth, they also explored the ethics of service and development work. What role does service play in a community? How can we responsibly contribute to a community that is not our own? What is sustainable service and development? How can we unpack our own privilege in relation to certain communities based on identities of race, class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, and so on? How can we best learn from each other?

Read on: MAlt participants will answer these questions, explain the ins and outs of travel in-country and abroad, talk small group dynamics and new friendships, and tell of the challenges and lasting benefits of volunteerism and service.

Over the course of their trips these Middkids kept quite busy. Elsa Avarado ’18 of MAlt Miami, a group that worked at a schools, wrote in, “Some of the projects that we did for the school included: spreading wood chips all over the playground, re-planting the garden, etc. Our days were very packed.”

Dylan Gilbert and Mariam Khan, both class of 2017, wrote about their trip to Mexico and the opportunity it afforded an unlikely group of students to get to know each other. Dylan Gilbert is an Art History and Russian double major from St. Peters, Missouri and Mariam Khan is a student of Math, Religion, and Education Studies from Waterville, Maine.

They wrote, “MAlt trips really have the ability to bring together a variety of students from across campus that would most likely never intersect otherwise. Our trip was no different. We had an extremely diverse group of 12 students (including us). Every class year was represented. Majors ranged from Physics to Art History to Women and Gender Studies to Math, and even geographically our participants came from all over the United States and even the world. All of our participants were exceptional individuals that each contributed their own unique perspective and experiences to the group dynamic.”

Dylan, Mariam, and other MAlt Mexico participants also reflected upon certain challenges that the group faced, from linguistic capabilities to the politics of international tourism.

“In addition to working with children at the daycare, our group also explored issues of inequality and poverty in San Miguel de Allende, a town known for its expat communities and tourism. Our goal was the offer a caring hand to Casa and a critical eye to privilege as we engaged in our work at the center […] Not everyone on our trip knew Spanish, which was challenging but encouraging since everyone was still able to engage equally […] The town of San Miguel itself has a problematic history with tourism and expats, and through this trip, we were able to observe and analyze the complex nature of the community while still recognizing our own role in the broader narrative of San Miguel. Overall, our experiences in San Miguel de Allende provided able opportunity to physically engage with our work and each other and also to better understand the effects of tourism on the local populations of San Miguel.”

Similar to the reflections of MAlt Mexico participants, a MAlt Puerto Rico participant noted that, “This trip was useful in informing me on culturally-appropriate service abroad.” This learning, however, certainly came with challenges, even if small ones. On the MAlt Miami trip, for instance, showering at night in an outdoor shower and staying in a low-income neighborhood posed an adjustment for some of the participants.

As far as community partners goes, the reviews of the Middkids were extremely positive. Jessica Towers of DC Central Kitchen worked with the Washington DC trip focusing on issues of privilege and poverty. She said, “The Middlebury students that came to work with us were awesome! They were friendly, helpful, and hardworking.” Community partner Cale Johnson of Casa de los Angeles, a non-profit in Mexico that provides a safe haven for single mothers and their children, writes, “We were really pleased and impressed with all of the students in the group. They came willing and enthusiastic to help and as such left a great impact on our organization.”

The students in turn expressed their appreciation for the community partners and organizations with whom they worked. MAlt Miami wrote in, “I would most definitely recommend ICO to other MAlt leaders because they truly made us feel welcome and they were so grateful for our help. Even though we were so grateful to be part of the team!” MAlt Puerto Rico also chimed in, “Working with Plenitud was a very symbiotic relationship.”

Indeed, many trip-goers said they would recommend the organizations they worked with to future MAlt participants. Despite the challenges they encountered, participants found that they made a difference in and learned from the communities they served thanks to moments of reflection, communication, and hard work. In the words of one MAlt Guatemala participant, “Service is possible by team work and willingness to learn.”

So, what do you say? Will you be next? Will a life-changing MAlt trip be part of your 2016 or 2017?

Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Break Trips at go/malt and view photos from this year’s trips on Facebook.

 

~Alison Haas ’16, CE Communications Intern

Fredy on MAlt in Ferguson

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Below is a reflection from Fredy Rosales ’17, a student who took part in the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break Trip. Fredy was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant to attend the trip.

As I bend down to pick up a fugitive piece of trash from the road in North Florissant Rd in Ferguson, Missouri, I try to observe and absorb the reality of this environment and my situation. It’s not what I expected. I don’t mind the physical work even after an exhausting day of traveling, because after all, I knew my Ferguson Alternative Spring Break was a service trip, but I wonder if this is the best way to help the movement and specifically chaos-invaded Ferguson. I also wonder why this place is so similar to my home town. When will we see the riots, protests and chaos that the media so insistently portrays? Where are the burning buildings? The streets closed by police or by activists? I’m sure many of the other college students with me are wondering the same, but it is not until later in the day, after having indeed seen some destroyed buildings, that we really start to make sense of the reality of Ferguson: it’s just like any other suburban town in the country, at least on the surface.

Throughout the rest of the week we learn more about the reality of Ferguson. We learn more details about the Police Department’s racial profiling and over-policing. We learn about the problems with the local judiciary system, the political scene, and the constant struggle that people of color go through every day in this community. But more importantly, we learn from the community members and activists. During one of our community service activities we ride the metro and converse with people. We learn that it is unsafe for two black men to walk together on the street, because they might “fit the description.” We learn about families that have been broken up by accusations without realistic evidence from the police. We learn that people feel afraid of the police. But still this place feels too normal. By the end of the week we had all learned and confirmed that Ferguson is not an exception to the norm in the country –it is the norm. Things like this happen to people of color everyday all around the States. The Ferguson Police Department was just one that “got caught”, but the media insists in depicting this as an isolated issue–it only happens there. It’s sad to think that the media has found some success in influencing the general public.

But the positive, valuable lessons that I took from my experience in Ferguson outweigh the negative ones. One such lesson I learned was the power of effective organization to affect real change and I witnessed first hand through Operation Help or Hush.Operation Help Or Hush. In only a matter of months, the organizations’ co-founders, activists Tasha Burton and Charles Wades, along with many collaborators, have implemented a series of programs that are already changing Ferguson, and that are cementing the bases to further long term changes. These programs include a Transitional Housing Program (which evolved from their earlier work to provide safe-stays for activists) that provides safe housing for those struggling financially free of charge for 90 days; Ferguson Food Share which provides several low income families with healthy food; funding the Faces of the Movement initiative; and of course, the Ferguson Alternative Spring Break which for 5 weeks brought together college students from all over the country to learn more about and support the movement. When you consider that OHOH has only existed for less than 9 months, and that it started with a twitter campaign to raise funds, their accomplishments become all the more impressive, and their story quite inspiring.
And inspired we were. During my week in Ferguson I met many intelligent civic-minded college students that were eager to apply what they had learned in Ferguson in their own communities. I think that one of OHOH biggest successes during this program was that they transformed us in a way that sent us as waves throughout the country, as sparkles willing to ignite to change our communities. (Many were already planning to organize ways to address issues such as over-policing before they had even left Ferguson). More importantly, they created a network of individuals who no longer saw themselves as “saviors” but as allies willing to work effectively to affect change.

 

-Fredy Rosales ’17

Hannah on MAlt

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     When I first applied for the 2013 MAlt trip to New York City, titled “Examining a Broken Justice System,” I didn’t really know what I was applying for. I thought it would be something different, something far more meaningful than my usual Feb break pastime of sitting on the couch at home (not that that would be hard to beat on the “meaningful” scale). The topic really stuck out to me, too. I’d lived my whole life just miles from the oldest running prison in the state of Massachusetts, yet I would drive past it twice a day without a second thought, my only knowledge of what stood behind the concrete walls and glass-enclosed watch towers stemming from one curious Google Maps exploration.
 
     Turns out, I wasn’t wrong about the trip – our activities and discussions were eye opening, thought provoking, and educational. However, the most long-lasting memories from that week came not from the planned component but rather from the interactions and conversations we had as a group. In all honesty, I cannot imagine any other time when this unlikely group of people would have interacted, especially on campus at Middlebury. We hadn’t before, and we haven’t since, really. It was hard, too – we faced many challenges at times, particularly in regards to group agreement on certain issues. For the most part, however, we also became incredibly close during that week – sharing hours of extremely personal and emotional details through “My Life” stories, laughing until our stomachs hurt (or someone peed…not naming names, though), getting in heated debates, and shoveling snow so that we could actually make it back to school after a surprise blizzard hit. Most things didn’t really go as planned during the week, and in many ways it was a disaster – but on other levels, that brought us even closer together.  While we’re not all suddenly best friends, and most of us don’t interact besides the passing “hey,” that week will always remain an often-unacknowledged but ever-present connection that we both share.
-Hannah Reeve ’15
 
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