Mount Union Students Serve in El Salvador
March 19, 2012
Members of Dr. Steve Kramer’s social responsibility course at Mount Union spent their spring break connecting with and serving citizens of El Salvador.
For the past 21 years, Kramer, professor of psychology at Mount Union, has taken students to third world countries during spring break in order to give them an opportunity to gain awareness of global issues. Kramer began offering the trip based on his own experience — after graduating from Holy Cross, he spent two years in Baghdad, Iraq as a volunteer teacher.
“I found that to be a great experience,” Kramer said. “It changed my view about a lot of things and made me aware of situations that exist in the world. I found the living conditions under which people live and their attitude toward a lot of aspects of life very interesting. I saw the value of spending a significant amount of time in a different culture.”
Kramer wanted to provide a similar experience to Mount Union students in an affordable way, and so began offering the week-long trips as a part of his class requirements. Each student in the class is asked to pay a portion of the cost of the trip, and the remainder of the cost is raised through various fund-raising efforts.
Prior to going on the trip, Kramer talks with students in his class about what it means to be a socially responsible person. Students participate in a local service project, volunteering this year at the Alliance Community Pantry, a local nursing home and Inter-Faith Child Development Center. Additionally, each student is required to complete a class report on an aspect of El Salvador, such as history, social problems, education, environment, tourism and religion.
While in El Salvador, students worked with rural health organization called ASAPROSAR, which is centered in Santa Anna, El Salvador. ASAPROSAR serves a large area of western El Salvador, and this year’s participants worked in a region called La Magdalena. Students helped to begin building six composting latrines in the area. Composting latrines are communal toilets in which waste can be collected, treated with chemicals and recycled to be used as fertilizer. Previously, students built more basic latrines, but flooding in the area created health concerns so a new model is now being used.
Kramer explained that 20% of families in the La Magdalena region have no latrines, and existing latrines are in poor condition.
“It’s a big health risk that contributes to some of the health problems they have,” Kramer said.
Students did mostly “grunt work” in regard to the latrine project, carrying sand to the work site, transporting concrete blocks, mixing concrete with shovels and laying rocks. Work not competed by students is done by members of ASAPROSAR.
“It went extremely well,” Kramer said of the trip. “Students had their eyes opened. The thing that affected them the most was the relationships they made, with the children in particular. There were a lot of tears on both sides on the final day.”
“My life has been significantly impacted by the people of La Magdelena, El Salvador,” said Mount Union senior psychology major Cassie Durdel of Twinsburg, a member of this year’s social responsibility course. “I've looked into the eyes of mothers and children who have nothing but poor quality shelter over their heads and each other and witnessed happiness and joy. I have no question that my life is extremely blessed and it was my pleasure lending my hands and attention to this community. I only wish I could do more. We should all learn from each other and be gracious that we've been given so much. I won't ever forget this trip and hold it as one of my best memories from Mount Union.”
Bevin Blake, a junior of Strongsville, chose to take Kramer’s Social Responsibility course as part of her psychology major and Spanish minor, as well as for the opportunity to participate in a service-learning trip.
“One of the most amazing feelings in the world was observing how grateful and humble the people there were and how they were open and friendly and willing to share their culture with us,” she said. “The kids were just a blast — even though there was a huge language barrier they were always willing to do whatever they could to get around it.”
“It’s amazing that Dr. Kramer is able to do this trip every year and allow Mount Union students to do something this powerful and life-changing,” Blake continued. “I think that it’s awesome for a professor to be able to say that in the time he/she were at Mount, he/she were able to provide so many students with an experience that is so life-changing.”
Kramer has a number of goals he hopes to accomplish with the annual spring break trip.
“I want students to feel connected in a meaningful way with the world community and life outside the United States,” he said. “I want them to see themselves as world citizens, not just U.S. citizens, and I want them to experience what it’s like to provide meaningful service to other people in hopes that it becomes a part of their lifestyle in the future.”