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Giffen Combines Community Service & Tropical Vacation

Apr 28, 2016 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Giffen is in the middle row on the right (in the light blue hat)

Bellingham’s Samantha Giffen and eleven of her fellow students from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams recently combined a vacation in the tropics with helping a community in need when they spent an alternative spring break in Belize, Central America. In addition to helping build a medical center in the small, rural village of Mahogany Heights, the students explored caves, climbed Mayan ruins, canoed the Sibun River, swam with sting rays, snorkeled on the Belize Barrier Reef, and visited the Belize Zoo.

“It was an experience like none I had ever participated in before,” said Samantha Giffen, a psychology major who graduated from Bellingham High in 2014.

“I wanted a spring break to remember, where I could combine my loves of community service and traveling across the world. This was the perfect opportunity,” said Chelsea Valentino, an English major from Oxford. “I thought it would be exactly right for me. My ideal career is working with children in some way, most likely through a youth services or children’s advocacy role”

Marra DeJesus, a business major from Scotia, N.Y., loved visiting Belize, and particularly enjoyed the peaceful beauty the country has to offer.

“We explored caves, animals and the underwater world. Snorkeling was an extraordinary experience,” DeJesus said. “Our guide for the snorkeling activity has a cute bond with sting rays. It was amazing to watch him swim and play with them!”

DeJesus continued, “We have so many memories to treasure. From learning how to hammer a nail, canoeing, and exploring nature’s wonders, I was truly inspired.”

Upon her arrival at the health center, Valentino was surprised to find that all of the students could fit into the small, trailer-like structure. Over the next few days, they helped to measure and cut the wood that made up the framing and walls of the center.

In addition to using the center as a clinic, residents of the village set up a sewing classroom and a computer center inside the facility. With the new walls in place, two or more activities now may happen at the same time.

The group also interacted with kids from the community and organized activities with them, such as soccer games, and an activity organized by a local church, where they played games with the kids that go to that church. One student said that her most important take away from the experience was “Take less; give more.” 

“The most challenging part of the trip was accepting the reality,” DeJesus said. “There are people out there who struggle to get the basic necessities. That’s hard to take in.”

Giffen added, “The most valuable part of this experience was the interaction we had with the residents of this community, and seeing how something that seemed small to us meant so much to them. It really made us reevaluate the life we live.”





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