Buchler: Making a difference through community engagement

March 13, 2019

For most students, spring break represents a welcome reprieve. After spending the first half of spring semester drowning in assignments and trying to keep up, nothing’s better than a well-deserved break.


A lot of students escape the stress and cold Toledo temperatures by traveling. I definitely wanted to travel somewhere new, but I decided I wanted more out of my spring break this year than just a trip.


During fall semester, I applied to spend my break on a service trip to Jamaica with the Jesup Scott Honors College and was accepted, along with nine other students.


Over the course of the past year, I have become obsessed with experiencing as many new places and cultures as I possibly can.


I have also developed a passion for humanitarian causes, so this trip presented a perfect blend of the two. I couldn’t wait to go.


The JSHC partnered with International Samaritan, which is based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for both of its spring break service trips, as it has for the past several years.


IS works to change lives through service and advocacy work in garbage dump communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.


On Sunday, our first full day, we acclimated ourselves to Jamaican culture by spending a day in the resort town of Ocho Rios. We visited Dunn’s River Falls and had a blast climbing up the falls and swimming in the Caribbean Sea.


But, we weren’t there to be tourists. We were there to accompany the people of Riverton (a community outside of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica) and provide aid.


Our trip coordinators, Dan and Tavian, took us walking through Riverton on Monday. Almost as soon as we had started our trek, Dan informed us that the Jamaican people are not as averse to interaction as those in the United States—they expect to be greeted when walking by.


As someone who avoids eye contact and uses a smartphone as a means of avoiding social interaction, I found it difficult to address people freely. However, as the week went on, it became second nature, and I felt increasingly more comfortable in the Riverton community.


Our group also visited the garbage dump on our first day in Riverton. Seeing what these people go through on a daily basis broke my heart. They pick through the garbage for scrap or recyclables to make ends meet, and sometimes even that’s not enough.


Every day, they risk infection, disease, injury and other dangers of the dump not because they are lazy or unwilling to work, but because of the vicious poverty cycle and the lack of opportunities available to them.


Reading about people’s experiences from afar is one thing, but actually visiting a community and witnessing the hardships they face provides an in-depth perspective.


As the week continued, our group engaged the community by delivering care packages to elderly residents. They welcomed us into their homes and were willing to share their stories and wisdom with us.


Some of these interactions were more difficult than others, especially when residents were visibly emotional or ill. But, we were still able to make those connections and, by the end of the week, the people of Riverton became family.


We also ran workshops for small-business owners to share some best-practice tips. Although these workshops represented a different type of engagement, it still gave us a way to connect with the people, one of the most important aspects of our trip.


Spending a week in Riverton allowed our group to begin to understand what it takes to become global citizens, but we have to do the work to maintain those relationships and continue to support Jamaica.


Since the trip, Honors students have discussed establishing an International Samaritan chapter at UT.


One of the functions of this chapter would be to sponsor students in the Riverton community and provide them with opportunities to further their education.


We met some brilliant kids in Riverton, and I know that they will go far in life if given the means to do so.


I’ve visited many places in my life, but those trips were just that—a visit. Immersing myself in the culture and getting to know the community members instilled a desire in me to extend my reach beyond just one trip.


Additionally, while it is so important for me to retain those ties to Jamaica and stay as involved as possible, those principles also translate to having a positive impact on the Toledo community.


The situation at home may not be as dire as those in foreign countries, but there are still people in need who could benefit from compassion and support.


No matter how small, any act of goodwill can change a life. So, open your eyes and your heart and look for chances to help others.


It will make a difference, both in their lives and in yours.


Kristen Buchler is a third-year English major with a minor in environmental science.


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