The Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
Four less fortunate countries located in Central and South America who are much in need of schools, houses, or easier access to water and bathrooms.
These countries listed above have been the destinations for the past four years of the annual Builders Beyond Borders community service trips over February and April breaks. High school students set out with adult and parent advisors to work alongside locals to build something that will improve a community’s conditions.
Deciding each year’s location is a very long and difficult process. The directors who lead the program spend many months and hours of their time preparing for the rewarding, 10-day long service trips.
“We typically look at about 25 potential projects in each country and select five with one or two additional contingency projects,” explains Amy Schroeder-Riggio, the executive director for the past five years and a volunteer for the organization since 2001. “Safety is always our number 1 concern. For each possibility, we check with the United States State Department, the Peace Corps, and other organizations that can speak to the relative safety of a country.”
According to the students, this is never a problem.
“I’ve never felt unsafe or nervous on a B3 trip. They are really good at picking places that not only need our help, but are extremely safe environments to work in,” said Corey Werner ’13.
Besides safety, cost is also a very important factor. The trips are expensive and the participants earn and raise a large percentage of the money, which is mostly spent on building materials.
The idea of working at sites in the United States has often been presented to the organization. However, this option proves to not be as easy and cheap as some think it to be.
“Building materials here are so much more expensive than in Latin America where food, housing, buses and sometimes even airfare is cheaper. Most work sites in the US require students to be at least 18 years old too, which would cut out the majority of our students,” said Schroeder-Riggio.
After extensive research about the safety of a country and the areas students and advisors will be working at is conducted, the information is presented to the Board of Directors, a group of adults who serve or have served as advisors and volunteers on numerous trips. The board must approve the destination and projects before it is officially announced.
There is also a student board, though they do not have a say in where they will visit, or the type of community service they will be doing. However, most of these board members don’t mind that they are not included.
“I don’t know enough about all of the countries in South and Central America to have an opinion on which countries we should help. I’m happy to leave that decision to the experts,” said Werner.
Another factor looked at closely is the lessons and impact it will give to students.
“We look for countries that have a rich history and culture,” explains Schroeder-Riggio. “The country and community we serve should give our students opportunities to not only learn about themselves but about their place in a bigger world.”
Very rarely does the organization face problems with the areas they choose for the trip. Back-up plans are always created in the event that the planned trip poses safety issues.
“We have moved projects as we are landing in a country. Our first priority will always be safety, and we will do nothing to jeopardize this,” Schroeder-Riggio said.
Nevertheless, the amount of time and effort spent on arranging each year’s trip is very worthwhile and extremely appreciated. Builders Beyond Borders never fails to produce and bring an extremely enjoyable and rewarding experience to the students who serve community service with the organization.
“I love the connections that I have made with the local people and with the members of my team. I think it’s really unique that we are able to bond so closely in 10 days,” said Elena Adams ’12. “I also really like doing the physical work. I think it’s pretty relaxing, and so enjoyable when working alongside the locals.”