Students take spring break for public service

While many UC Berkeley students kicked back or headed to the beach for spring break, more than 136 of them chose an alternative. They fanned out into communities near and far to lend their skills to public-service projects — and to get some hands-on education at the same time — through the Alternative Breaks program.

In its 11th year this spring, Alternative Breaks is run by Berkeley’s Cal Corps Public Service Center. This year’s participants spent the last week of March working on projects involving animal welfare, health care, immigration and homelessness in the Bay Area and as far away as New Orleans.

Some mucked out barns and fed chickens. Some cleaned up school gardens, some bagged kale for the hungry, and some painted a shelter for migrant workers, among other projects.

A week in the Lower 9th

Helping the people of New Orleans’ most devastated communities left UC Berkeley Alternative Breaks student Alicia Hernandez with a recognition of common cause with the residents’ struggle for social justice. She writes about her experience here:

One student’s Alternative Break

Before heading out of town, the students spent their semester learning about the social-justice issue at play in the community they’ll be working in. They also explore ways they can learn from that community to benefit the Berkeley campus, as well as their hometown.

Asha Choudhury, who led an Alternative Break to New Orleans in 2011, says the experience helped her recognize “that in examining frameworks and institutions that perpetuate inequities… it is in recognizing how we are engaged in the ‘problems’ that we can ultimately be part of the solutions.” 

Many of the students documented their break with photos and blogposts. Alongside this article, we’ve put some of their photos into a slideshow, pulled from all the projects.

Also accompanying this article is student Alicia Hernandez’s first-person account of her week in New Orleans, still rebuilding five years after Hurricane Katrina.

More information about the program can be found on the Alternative Breaks website.