Alternative Winter Break Inspires Student Volunteers

Ellie Hawkins  Journal Staff

Suffolk University’s Alternative Winter Break program traveled to El Salvador in the first week of the new year in order to help those in need.

“The best part about this trip is how such a small amount of time can change me and someone else’s life,” said Kirstin Mulvaney, a senior, majoring in English at Suffolk University. She explained how the alternative winter break to El Salvador changed her perspective on life. Mulvaney said she never understood what it meant to be poor until she was able to witness the conditions people were living in during this trip.

Mulvaney first went through an application and interview process. Once she was cleared to participate on this trip she signed up for a four credit, once a week, class that helped her, along with other students, learn more about El Salvador’s culture and history, including the war from 1980 to 1992. She was surprised to learn that an estimated 75,000 citizens of El Salvador were killed over those 12 years and that United States had helped finance the government there because it was in the U.S.’s best financial interest.

“It amazes me how no one knows much about it even though we were so involved,” Mulvaney said. After learning these interesting facts and completing the class the group of students headed off to El Salvador.

This alternative break  was ten days long, from Jan. 2 to Jan. 12.

“The first image I have is how packed the airport was and how welcoming everyone was,” Mulvaney stated, “the people were so willing to share what they had no matter how little it was.” The group consisted of nineteen students and they stayed in Centro de Arte Para La Paz in Suchitoto, El Salvador, translated to Center of Art for Peace.  A Catholic nun from New Jersey, Peggy O’ Neal runs the community center and helped welcome the students into their new surroundings.

The students worked with Habitat para la Humanidad in a mountain town called La Palma. Mulvaney helped build a house for a family that was originally living with another relative. The family that planned to live there consisted of three members: Mauricio, Sonia, and Kathryn, their daughter. The students worked on this house for three days. They were supposed to work on it for four, but were unable to cross the bridge on the fourth day due to a war veteran’s protest on the bridge. The Suffolk students helped clean up an auditorium for a festival that was coming up instead.

Along with helping build this house the students were able to do some sightseeing, hear testimonies about the massacres, and hike Mount Guazapa. This helped them get a better feel about what the civilians did to try to reach safety during the war in El Salvador.

Mulvaney said that it is sad to think that some of the people she met still do not know what happened to some of their family members, and this makes her try to treat people better.

“Many of the people from El Salvador came to the United States during the war and that is why I try to be more kind to random strangers on the streets, because you never know what their story could be.” Mulvaney said that if any Suffolk student is signed up for one of these breaks already, great; and if a student is thinking about participating they should just go sign up; they will not regret their decision.

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