Community Engagement Nixes Belize Spring Trip for Appalachia
by Nicholas O'Toole on Friday, November 18th, 2016
The annual Community Engagement trip to Belize has become something of a Milton tradition. Every spring break, a handful of students get up early in the morning for a flight to Belize City via Miami, and then a ferry ride to Caye Caulker. After their arrival, students spend a week volunteering on the island, building classrooms at Ocean Academy, teaching at the local primary school, eating meals with families from the island community, and relaxing with snorkeling around the coral reefs and some sea kayaking. Dozens of Milton students have spent parts of their spring breaks on the beaches of Belize touring around the island with local students and escaping from the Massachusetts snow to help out another community. For many, the trip remains a defining feature of their Milton experience.
This year the threat of Zika virus infection made working in Belize too dangerous for students. Instead, the trip had to be rescheduled to the coal country of West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of America. According to the Census Bureau in 2014, the median income in West Virginia, $41,576, is more than $10,000 lower than the median income for the entire United States and nearly $25,000 dollars below the median income per year in Massachusetts. Moreover, while the poverty rate is already high, Massachusetts’s being about 11.5% and America’s being 13.5%, nearly one out of every five West Virginians lives below the poverty line of about $11,000 for a single person or $24,250 for a four-person household. The head of Community Engagement, Ms. Geyling-Moore, explained that in West Virginia students would be working with struggling people. This year, rather than building a school, students will help locals rebuild their homes and learn more about life and culture away from the relatively privileged enclaves of New England and coastal America.
Students had mixed reactions to the relocation of the trip. Henry Claudy (I) felt that while “any service is good service,” it would be “hard to replicate [the Belize experience] in Appalachia.” Most understood, however, the need to relocate the trip. Many referenced the Zika virus as a personal concern and worried about how the communities they’d worked with would be able to get through the health crisis. Desi Rosas (I) pondered about how the students she’d worked with would get through the mosquito season but is glad that there is “another location rather than just cancelling it.” Similarly, Ceci Strang (I) is pleased that students will be able to help fellow Americans as well as “learn about communities in Appalachia.” She adds that most Americans don’t think about or interact with Appalachian communities often, noting that, “we have poverty and need [in America] too.”
On the whole, students seemed open to the idea of heading to West Virginia for Community Engagement and enthusiastic about the possibility of working to give back to the community in the United States. While many people expressed disappointment that they couldn’t go back to some of the places they had visited before, everyone seems interested in the possibility of helping out people in need closer to home. As Ceci noted, “The saying is, ‘think globally, act locally’ in order to make a change.”
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8488