Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their stories through Voices of ASB, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from site leader Juliet Wu, a sophomore majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience and minoring in Spanish.
My freshman year, I applied to Alternative Spring Break because a lot of my peers in my learning community were talking about it. I applied to the HIV/AIDS trip because as a student that was focused on being pre-med, I thought this was a great way to explore such a medically related topic. I was aware of all of the stigma that was attached to HIV/AIDS, but I never knew how much I would learn about myself and social justice in just a weeklong experience.
Our group traveled to Samaritan House in Fort Worth, Texas. Samaritan House provides housing for people who are afflicted with HIV or AIDS and are chronically homeless. They also provide meals, shelter, counseling and a close-knit community. I went into the trip thinking that the entire week would consist of us helping the organization through manual work such as organizing things or painting walls. We did do these things, however none of these activities were as rewarding as interacting with the residents and hearing their stories. Meeting and interacting with these people was a service within itself. There are a lot of things that you hear about or learn about, but nothing affects you as much as hearing stories directly from the people themselves. Hearing people’s stories put faces to stories I had heard about struggles with through discrimination and rejection because of HIV/AIDS. Some of the residents also shared with us the different ways that they were empowering themselves whether it was going back to school or helping others. This empowerment was very inspiring to me and it was so heartwarming that a place like Samaritan House could help them regain control of their own lives. The interactions I had at Samaritan House impacted me more than I could have imagined. I learned that service-learning is not simply about helping others, but connecting with people and learning lessons that will affect you for the rest of the life. As a group, we may not have made a big impact on them through a week, but this experience definitely had a huge impact on us.
The reflections that my site leaders led every night also contributed greatly to my personal growth. Everyone lives busy
lives, and it is really hard to take a step back and make tim
e to discuss important social justice topics. ASB gave me the opportunity to see things in a different light and learn through other points of view. I learned that every person has their own unique, complicated story and a deeper side to them. I learned a lot from each reflection, but one reflection stood out the most. After a day of hearing stories, we sat down to discuss what we had experienced that day. As we spoke about the discrimination and the huge inequities that the residents experienced, I started getting angrier and angrier. I was angry at the level of discrimination these people faced, I was appalled at the lack of resources there were for homeless people, and I was angry at the stigma that still surrounded HIV/AIDS and homelessness. I was angry that just a few mistakes or bad situations could cause someone to end up so hurt, isolated and judged. But amidst all this anger, was a realization that maybe I could take this anger and utilize it to help people. After that reflection session, one of the participants on the trip pulled me aside. He told me that he saw my passion in social justice issues, and thought that I should explore public health as a career. I didn’t even know what public health was, but after speaking with him, I realized that it was something that I was extremely interested in and wanted to add to my path of becoming a doctor. I have always been a person that likes to have plans for everything, so I had come into college with the solid plan that I was going to go to medical school straight out of undergrad. This trip however, made me realize that I should be open to new experiences that could completely change my perspectives. I realized that plans are good, but sometimes you need to be flexible and make room for new ideas in such an ever-changing life.
This trip impacted me so much that I wanted to become a site leader to create a trip that could impact others the same way it impacted me. As a site leader, I am still constantly learning new things about the complexity and intersectionality of social justice. I hope to employ the myriad of things I learned from ASB to help my own participants to promote their own learning. And no matter how cliché this sounds, I hope that I can help my participants to have an experience just as life-changing as mine was.