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Students spend break volunteering, build affordable housing for poor

While hundreds of college students spent Spring Break tanning in the Florida sun, 23 SVC volunteers worked to ensure that those less fortunate have adequate shelter.

The SVC organized trips to Savannah, GA, and Equador to build and refurbish houses in need of repair for low-income residents.


"It gives us a chance to feel that what we're doing is important," said Ecuador trip co-leader Brian White '00. "It's a nice break from Princeton."

Volunteers who travelled on the eight-day Ecuador journey worked at a foundation called "Casa Mojando," which was established to help the impoverished people of the town of Casa Mojandita.

"At the local school, we tore down the ceiling and razed the roof," Ana Quesada '00 said.

"The community is surprisingly tight-knit and well-run," Will Holt '99 said. "The first day we did this project on a house, and we had a 50-percent turnout from the village," he added.

After working in the village, the 12 volunteers headed to the mountains – and a 12,000-foot altitude – to take part in a reforestation project. They planted 474 trees in an area devastated by farmers who cleared the land, according to Quesada.

"I think the most important thing we did was bringing the children up to the reforestation project," Sarah Gaines '00 said.


"It's amazing how happy the children and villagers were, considering they have almost nothing," Ben Runkle '00 said.

Going from those with the least political power to those with the most, volunteers also visited Ecuador's Vice President Rosalía Artega. Pam Castillo '01 said her aunt knows Artega and sent her a letter to set up the meeting.


Volunteers who travelled to Georgia said they, too, felt gratified by what they accomplished over Spring Break.

Participant Alisha Mody '00 said she and other volunteers met with Habitat for Humanity administrators who ran the program in Savannah. She said volunteers painted and placed the finishing touches on two newly constructed Habitat homes that were part of a four-house development.

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"They want them to be in established communities," Mody said. "They don't want people to move in before everyone else in the development has moved in. They wait until it is a community so that a relationship can be fostered."

"These are affordable houses for people in need," said trip leader Kathy Cho '00. "There's no interest on the mortgage," she added. Cho said the Habitat for Humanity program has to rely on volunteers like the group from SVC, which stayed in Savannah from Wednesday through Saturday.

Although they interacted with Habitat volunteers and administrators, SVC workers did not speak with the families for whom the homes were designated, said participant Nita Chatwani '00.

In addition to working on the houses during the week, students went sightseeing in Savannah. Volunteers visited a civil rights museum and a former plantation, Chatwani said.

Because her family lives in Savannah, SVC director Eleanor Harrison '92 guided the trip to Georgia.