Michigan students on Alternative Spring Break in South America.
For many students, this year’s spring break was more about tikkun olam, repairing the world, than partying on a beach.
Last month, more than 150 students from 12 schools traveled to South America for Alternative Spring Break programs. North American student groups participated in week-long alternative breaks in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, spending their time learning about the local community, doing hands-on community service projects and connecting with Jewish young adults.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, students helped make the Jewish Community Center more welcoming and efficient. They cleaned and painted the library, hung shelves and organized more than 500 Yiddish, Spanish, Ladino and Hebrew books. They also spruced up the halls of the center, working together to create a mural in the main hallway of the building.
Michigan State University junior Scott Shatzman was struck by how his time in Buenos Aires affected him in multiple ways.
“What a rewarding experience it was to observe Jewish culture in a different country,” Shatzman reflected, “while at the same time giving back to the community.”
Students visiting Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, teamed up with local students to tackle poverty-related issues in the community. The students worked at a community school in the impoverished community of Pavão, building a solarium and a recreational outdoor space. With these projects, the students helped to fulfill a long-time goal of the school.
“Building this solarium and recreational space has been a dream of our school for 16 years,” expressed school director Isabela Maltaroli. “The work that you’ve done has made an amazing difference to us that will last for many years to come.”
The experience was equally rewarding for the student participants.
“This trip has been ne of the most eye-opening experiences of my life,” said University of Michigan public policy major Matt Wald. “I’ve learned so much about the favelas [slums] and the political and social issues of Brazil that have contributed to the poverty. Knowing what I know now, I feel like I have the power to make a difference and bring real change.”
These experiences were echoed in the Uruguay program. Despite rain in the program’s first week, 36 students from Vanderbilt University helped make a dramatic impact in the Montevideo community by constructing four houses alongside the families who now live in them.
Hillel Uruguay’s alternative break coordinator Jay Krefman shared, “The blisters that formed on our hands from digging holes in the ground to lay the foundation for each house seemed like nothing in comparison to the fact that some of these families would no have even had a roof over their heads had it not been for our work. I’d be hard pressed to think of a more satisfying way to spend spring break than what we accomplished this week.”