UK program looks to expand to India for student service work

Special to the Herald-LeaderApril 6, 2014 

An interdisciplinary medical group wasn't the only Lexington entity represented in India over the University of Kentucky's spring break. The university's Alternative Service Breaks program sent Belen Hermosillo to evaluate the area as a possible future ASB site.

ASB, recently named the American College Personnel Association's Program of the Year, does such "exploratory" trips to scope out possible volunteer service trip destinations. The program offers trips domestically and abroad, doing anything from refugee resettlement to education.

Hermosillo, the current ASB vice director and next year's director, traveled with UK's medical brigade to determine issues in the Mayasandra community that ASB could help solve through a future service trip.

While in Mayasandra, Hermosillo met with community leaders, the local school and several groups dedicated to the betterment of women to determine what struggles the village faced.

Many community members wanted help with trash cleanup, but others thought women's empowerment groups would be helpful, too.

"During my meetings, we discussed if women in a small rural community had the desire or need to communicate with each other and meet regularly to connect," Hermosillo said. "Talking with Dr. (M.N.) Subramanya, he said they would be very open to having us there to facilitate group discussion among the women so they can go over the day's stresses or even just gossip to get them out of their shells."

An ASB brigade would potentially split into two groups within Mayasandra, where participants would choose a "track" based on their interests. UK students interested in female empowerment would lead a group dedicated to that.

The second "track" would focus on the community's infrastructure: cleaning up the mountains of trash littering the streets and clogging the water supply, while also educating children about the importance of waste management.

"They have some government-led initiatives in the village, but a lot of them are just big plans that haven't been executed," Hermosillo said. "That's where ASB comes in. We're the physical labor that can come in and get things done."

An ASB trip to Mayasandra could come as early as the 2014-15 school year. Interest in ASB has escalated since its inception in 2007-08, with student participation quadrupling in seven years.

"This year we had more students apply than we could take," said current ASB director Jason Schubert. "We had to turn students away. ... There's definitely a lot of excitement and we're making a name for ourselves."

That enthusiasm has increased for international trips as well, inspiring ASB management to consider adding another international program to its current lineup including Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Ghana. That's where Hermosillo's trip to Mayasandra came into play.

"Belen's trip to India is really an affirmation of our program's motto — 'You've got to go there to know there,'" said Sarah Hermsmeier, the director of civic engagement in UK's Office of Student Involvement. "Truly you've got to go to a place and be face-to-face with the people to understand their experiences. That's why Belen went to India, to prepare our program for the future."

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