Winter Immersion Project trips give students a new understanding of the meaning of service

This story originally appeared in the Gettysburgian, Vol. CXV, No. 1, Jan. 26, 2012

by Katie Cheyne '15

This winter break, 38 students participated in four different Immersion Projects that took them across the country and around the world.

A group of students worked together with the Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL) to improve community development in Nicaragua. PGL was founded in 1986 and was started to help support community projects in and around Leon, Nicaragua.

The main focus of the students and faculty that traveled to Leon this past December were on issues involving land, agriculture and the landscape of the community.

Leon NicaraguaThe first project they worked on once they arrived in Nicaragua was the solar oven project. The group built solar ovens for the rural community of Santa Rosa de Los Parrales so they would have a more sustainable way of making food.

The students also worked with SONATI, which is an environmental education organization in Leon. Together they teamed up with Taller Artistico Xuchialt, a Nicaraguan school devoted to the teachings of art and dance lessons, to plan and participate in a cultural event, which also took place in the community of Santa Rosa de Los Parrales.

But students didn’t have to leave the country to experience the power of community development. Other projects focused on service within the U.S.

On the western side of the country in Arizona, another group of students and faculty traveled to an Indian reservation in San Carlos. They learned from and served the Apache people.

San CarlosWhile they were there, students and faculty also participated in many Apache practices and rituals including a basket weaving demo, musical presentations, and a social dance that is common among the reservation, allowing them first-hand experience with the Apache culture.

Much like the Nicaragua trip, the students that went to the San Carlos reservation also learned about the environmental concerns from the Forestry, and Recreation and Wildlife departments.

A nature walk was led by an ethnobotanist who explained the importance in the relationship between the Apache people and certain plants on the reservation.

The final part of the San Carlos trip consisted of the faculty and students participating in service events at the Older Adult Center and in schools on the reservation.

The participants in the Civil Rights trip looked deep into Southern culture during their journey through historical sites in North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Alabama Immersion Trip
Alabama participants visit the home of Amelia Boynton Robinson in Tuskegee to hear about her life and point of view as an activist in the Civil Rights movement

“Our trip was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating and inspiring,” said project leader Professor Buz Myers.

Stops included The International Civil Rights Center and Museum that houses the actual lunch counter where four African American college students first protested segregated lunch-counters in 1960, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church which was bombed by white supremacists in 1963, and Tuskegee University and airfield.

During the trip, students had the opportunity to meet Tuskegee students, as well as Gettysburg alumni and friends of the college who are current civil rights activists, and it was those people and others who, according to Myers, made the trip so powerful.

“These gracious people extended to us hospitality. They opened their homes to us, they prepared meals for us, they answered our questions, and they told us their stories.”

These stories, Myers said, gave the students a new perspective on the Civil Rights movement.

“While we learned much about the leaders of the Movement--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rosa Parks—what struck all of us is how many persons played key roles in this historic movement, persons who never received the credit that they deserve. While it is all too easy to attribute success to the efforts of one person, the true success of the movement was due to the efforts of many.”

The final Winter Immersion Project that took place was the Voices of Resistance in Washington D.C. which was led by Jeffrey Rioux, Immersion Projects Coordinator, and his colleague Kim Davidson, who is part of the Center of Public Service.

The group began the trip with being trained by Radio Rootz in collecting people’s stories using a hand held recording device. This was inspired by Deepa Fernanades, an award winning radio producer and journalist, who was the guest speaker at the fall convocation this past year on campus.

Gia Galatro and Talia Conception
Gia Galatro and Talia Conception interviewing a Iraqi war vet at Occupy Congress

From there, the group also visited Occupy Congress and learned what their motivation was for being there. The group also received training on how to lobby representatives in Congress and were able to meet both Senator Toomey’s and Senator Casey’s staff who talked about immigration legislation.

After such successful trips this break, the Center for Public Service has a full lineup of projects for the second semester. There are four more Immersion Project trips coming up this spring, and there are two tentatively scheduled for May.

According to Rioux, it is trips like these which give “us all a comprehensive picture of what social change looks like,” and more importantly show us that “there are many ways to influence change in our society.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Tue, 31 Jan 2012

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