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Brandeis students dedicated to service, even abroad

By Albert Reiss

Section: Features

January 22, 2016

Being a student at an elite institution has its benefits. However, we often forget the importance of giving back. This week, The Brandeis Hoot caught up with Takisha J. Edwards ’17 and Natalia Gonzalez ’19. Both Edwards and Johnson are going on a service trip to Belize during the February break. There, they will help to build houses in impoverished areas as well as get a chance to connect with Belizean culture. The sponsor of the trip is Hand in Hand Ministries, a group that “has built more than 180 homes,” said Edwards.

While there are many countries to choose from, Edwards’ choice of location stemmed mostly from the opportunity of going to a foreign country and volunteering. Edwards noted, “I always liked the idea of helping people wherever they need help and really admire the international trips like Global Brigades, for example. I thought to myself, ‘I’m always talking about making a change, but change won’t happen with just words.’ So I just decided to jump on the opportunity. I wanted to put my words into action.”

This altruistic mentality was similarly described by Gonzalez, who previously taught English in Atenas, Costa Rica. Gonzalez described her time in Costa Rica where she “worked on an organic coffee farm, picking and packaging coffee as well as selling the sacks in the local farmer’s market.” Many Costa Ricans lack proper nutrition, and Gonzalez was able to gain valuable experience in the average life of a low-income individual. For Gonzalez, “the experience was very rewarding for both myself and the children [to whom she taught English classes].”

Before being able to attend the trip, Edwards had to fundraise for various expenses. These included supplies for the house-building as well as various travel expenses. Through fundraising, Edwards was able to gain valuable insight into the history and culture of Belize. Edwards talked about how she “learned a lot about the country through fundraising for the trip and from hearing about it from people who are from there/lived there and I cannot wait. I am especially excited to taste the food and see Mayan ruins. Hopefully I’ll come back to the States knowing some Creole or a new recipe.”

As exciting as all of the traveling and volunteering sound, safety questions are also important to ask. As of late, many foreign service organizations have faced scrutiny for a lack of adequate safety measures. This is most notable in the recent story of Columbia University students who were murdered during a service trip to Honduras. In terms of the level of safety provided, Edwards commented that, “I am not nervous about my safety. There is danger everywhere, but I don’t believe that something terrible will happen while the rest of the group and I are in Belize. We have learned and are still learning about the environment in Belize, but nothing really scares me into staying away.”

Given this great opportunity she has, we asked Gonzalez how she would strive to make this service trip meaningful. Gonzalez stated, “Building a home provides a very tangible and long-term solution for the family that will be living in it. This work will be more beneficial and thoughtful than just sending in a check. Hand in Hand Ministries does not aim to slow down positive growth nor perpetuate the ‘white savior’ complex. In fact, I believe it’s quite the contrary. Our group of students has been working very hard not only to fundraise but also in learning to be very culturally aware.”

For any people interested in donating to the trip, Edwards says, “one can go to http://myhandinhand.org/brandeis-university-students-to-build-hope-in-belize/ and fill out the information required to donate. Give as much as you want; we’re grateful for every little bit we get!”

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