This Alternative Break has opened my eyes in more ways than one, from surrounding ourselves with such remarkable children to experiencing the beautiful culture Saint Lucia has to offer. I chose to put together a group of 6 from my hometown of Eagle Pass, Texas. Although the six of us attended different universities in Texas, having the same Spring Break worked out perfectly and it was decided we’d be going to Saint Lucia. Our days were spent at Canon Laurie Anglican Primary School in Castries, along with the Saint Lucia Crisis Centre. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this group volunteer trip, and looking back now, it was far from anything I could have ever imagined, and far more exhilarating. I’m so glad that we decided to take the steps to make this trip happen, and I could not be more proud of the girls I traveled with. We achieved various projects at both sites, and spending our break giving to others has been the greatest undertaking I’ve ever been a part of.
Arriving to the primary school on our first day, we were able to beautify the school by painting and adding sidewalk games to their schoolyard. We drew out hopscotch outlines, obstacle racing courses, and a triangular tossing game. It brought such joy to us as the kids arrived to school the next day, excited as they saw the transformation. Being able to witness such a different education system than what I’m used to in America, yet such a similar yearning for schooling, was such a powerful thing. When spending a couple of hours in the classrooms throughout the week alongside the teachers, I was able to observe and interact with kids from grade 3 to grade 6. Whether I was helping a crowd of students study for a geography exam or simply having a conversation about their home conditions, spending my time with the kids was, by far, my favorite part of the entire trip. Getting to see a group of students represent and compete at the National Science Fair in Castries was another weekly highlight, because their talents and intelligence shined brightly as they explained their model to us, and I was proud just knowing them. Sharing stories over lunch and learning new hand-clapping games or their reactions to us serving them ice cream and handing them sport balls we purchased are just some of the countless extraordinary revelations I experienced on this trip. Tears fell on the last day, yet I think our volunteers, along with so many of the kids, knew some way and somehow, we’d be seeing each other again.
Serving the crisis center was the other part to our charity trip and working there made me wish our week was never-ending. We painted their concrete flooring and various walls in the center. Getting to come up with pictures for the walls was awesome and the girls I led did a breathtaking job on drawing/painting (finger panting the majority) things, such as the solar system, aquatic life like octopuses and fish, and a tremendous sunset behind mountains. We were able to put together donation bags for the kids at the crisis center and spent our afternoons breaking off into groups, based on age, to talk about several diverse focuses. Our group was able to exchange stories and create bonds we never thought were possible in just a few days. From playing games to eating dinner with them, we became a small little family: a family that was very tough to leave when our time was up. I feel fortunate to have met these kids, because they truly altered my way of thinking; before this trip, I think I was oblivious to the way some people live and the circumstances some have, yet that they are still so determined. They became an inspiration to us. I was humbled and enlightened. During our group discussions, we continued to try to establish different values and principles for the kids we interacted with, yet every day, we learned a little something about ourselves. It didn’t make me feel privileged; it made me aware of my ability to give and conscious of the fact that I want to continue giving throughout my college career and the rest of my life.
It was so hard to say goodbye to all the children at the end of the week; they made such a profound impact in our lives in such a short amount of time. People talk about what a blessing our group is by giving up our week to spend time with children in another country, but the kids we met are the true blessing. They somehow gave us a reason: a reason to do better and give back. Deciding to spend my spring break with ICO is the best decision I’ve ever made. Growing with my childhood friends in the area of volunteering as we worked directly with Onica Charles, founder of ICO, has definitely been an experience of a lifetime. Besides accompanying the wonderful kids, we were able to explore the island of Saint Lucia on a boat tour and walk the town on our time off. We got to see local markets and even drink out of a coconut, along with so much more in between! ICO made sure we made time for the chance to see things that the island had to offer. We truly achieved the best of both worlds. I left Saint Lucia knowing I was leaving a little piece of my heart behind. As the site leader for this group, I know we went to donate our time, yet we received far more than I could have ever imagined in return. ICO did a fantastic job accommodating our group and making certain we were satisfied throughout our entire week, from the first day of pick-up to the last day of drop-off. I can’t picture spending my Spring Break any other way; ICO will definitely be seeing our group again. Thank you Onica Charles, and thank you ICO!
Karina Yebra, Texas State University
2016 Site Leader, Saint Lucia