UC Berkeley students volunteer in underserved communities over spring break

Nearly 100 UC Berkeley students are participating in service-learning trips this week through the Cal Corps Public Service Center’s Alternative Breaks program. Seven trips spread throughout California and in New Orleans, each consisting of 12-14 student volunteers, are taking place March 20-26.

Each trip focuses on a specific social issue and is led by two student break leaders. The trips for Spring 2010 focus on housing and rebuilding in New Orleans, LA; health, education, and culture on the Campo Kumeyaay Native American reservation in Southern California; migrant farm workers’ rights in the Central Valley; border issues and immigration in Tijuana and San Diego; food justice and sustainability in the greater Bay Area; homelessness in the SF Bay Area; and free health clinics in South Los Angeles.

Break leader Julie Lee, who is co-leading the trip focused on food justice, stresses that “each trip should not be thought of as having a separate entity, but as addressing a grand network of social justice issues that every one of us as students, community members and people of this world should be responsible for.”

Participants on the trip enroll in a semester-long course facilitated by student break leaders who receive extensive leadership training. Even though recent university budget cuts have made trip funding increasingly difficult, this student-run program has been able to make the trips financially accessible to students through fund-raising and soliciting private donations.

Amit Pande, a break leader for the Campo Kumeyaay trip, hopes that “participants will be able to use their Alternative Breaks experience to be lifelong advocates for social justice and create positive change in their communities.”

Alternative Breaks at UC Berkeley started in 2001 with two trips. Its founding idea was to lead teams of college students to unfamiliar environments, as an alternative to conventional college spring breaks. This immersion experience invites students to critically examine complex social issues by directly engaging with the communities involved. Most importantly, the program encourages students to take their experiences from these trips and continue to engage in social action in their own communities at home.