Many students spent their spring breaks relaxing after a difficult quarter. However, some compassionate students forgo relaxation and go abroad to help those in need. While attending a top university in a developed country, it can be hard to imagine a life without access to basic human needs. At Cal Poly, one can walk minutes to get filtered water for free; in many countries, children and women have to walk hours to get water, which is often times contaminated.
A documentary in the Dominican Republic
Journalism senior Erik Engle spent his spring break filming a documentary about water access issues in La Descubierta, a village in the Dominican Republic.
“The reality of it is 80 percent of the world has a poverty issue,” Engle said. “We forget about it a lot because water is so accessible to us here.”
Engle is documenting La Descubierta as a way to spread awareness about the global water crisis.
According to Water.org, one in nine people their lives without access to clean water. That’s 844 million people across the globe.
This lack of access to clean water not only affects the health of individuals, but it also disproportionately affects women. Every 90 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness. Women often suffer most since they are often the ones getting the water for their families. On average, woman and young girls spend six hours per day traveling to get water. This takes time away from school, families and work, trapping many in poverty.
Although Engle is trying to spread awareness about this topic, he also wants to emphasize the happiness that radiates from the inhabitants of the Dominican Republic, even without access to safe water.
“I find that many documentaries tend to emphasize the bad parts of life in a developing country. However, when people walk hours everyday to get their water in the Dominican Republic, they don’t appear upset,” Engle said. “They seem very happy, even with their most basic needs not met. It’s a social event to get water; they use it as an opportunity to hang out. I’ve noticed the individuals there manage to find enjoyment in the simplest of activities.”
Spring Break wasn’t the first time Engle visited La Descubierta. Having traveled there six times since he was 14 years old, Engle has found his second home and family in the Dominican Republic.
Engle began going to La Descubierta with an organization called ‘Una Vida,’ started by one of his high school teachers. Through high school, he worked with families to build houses for poor families.
“It is truly amazing to witness a family with 10 plus people going from living in one room with a dirt floor and one mattress, to living in a house,” Engle said. “There is something extra rewarding about helping someone that would otherwise not be able to have a home.”
Engle said doing community service work in La Descubierta helped him discover a great deal of who he is; the lessons he learned there have been some of the most important educational experiences he’s had. His past experiences in the Dominican Republic play a big role in terms of motivating him to film the documentary.
“Some of best people I’ve ever met have come from situations that people in developing countries have gone through. I’m excited to continue to make a positive impact on the people that live there,” Engle said.
A Mission trip to Tijuana
Civil engineering sophomore Kelsey Nickel also chose to give back during her Spring Break.
Nickel went to Mexico for the first time during spring break in 2013 with Visalia First Church of the Nazerene Youth Group, and it changed her life.
“When I told my friends I was going to Mexico for spring break they would say ‘Oh like Cancun or Cabo?’ to which I replied, ‘No, southern Tijuana’ locally called The Canyon,” Nickel said.
Those living in Tijuana experience extreme poverty. Since Nickel and her mission group stayed host families as opposed to in a hotel, they had to be extremely conscious of their resource usage, especially water. In Tijuana, the cost of a shower is equal to the cost of a meal, so the group did not take showers for the entire five days they spent with their host families in attempt to use as little water as possible.
Nickel described the incredible impact that her mission group had on the children, and what a true joy is was to worship with the Mexican children. They had so much love to share with her mission group. She observed that their culture was incredibly focused on spreading joy and happiness throughout their community.
“Even across a language barrier, love can be translated so easily,” Nickel said. “Coming on the trip we all thought that we were going to teach the kids about Jesus, which is true and it did happen, but the kids also taught us so much about what it means to be genuinely loving.”
Because of her profound first mission trip in 2013, Nickel returned to Tijuana this Spring Break. She reflected on her past trips before leaving.
“The reason I go back is because I love what mission trips do for the people on the team and the people in Mexico,” Nickel said. “I now have another family in Christ in Mexico, where God is abounding in love and weaving together friendships across linguistic, cultural and physical barriers.”
This Spring Break trip was the seventeenth time Nickel has been to Tijuana in the past five years.
“Every single time I’ve been to Mexico, I see this change in my life and in my friends from there and in my friends on the mission team; this is why I continue to return,” Nickel said. “Just because one mission trip may change you forever, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have more room to change yourself and others. We are imperfect people after all.”