Break Away Blog | Read + Act Weekly

A Note for the Summer

We’ve been quiet for a little while. Of course, the parts of us that love you hope you’ve noticed, but the parts of us that feel guilty for our silence hope you haven’t. We’ve been away because our humble team has been busy as we diligently prepare for the 2018 ABCs. We’re back for a moment to bring you a final note for the summer before we depart for our two-month excursion across the country and back.

For those who aren’t familiar, the ABCs are week-long conferences based (no surprise here) in an experiential learning model where students, staff, and community partners convene from across the country for all things alternative breaks and active citizenship. (It’s arguably our favorite time of the year.) We are joined by Programs Interns who breathe a bit of extra energy - and style - into our team, we witness dreamy friendships form between breakers once strangers, and we delve deeply into four different education topics as varied as organizing for workers rights to using art as a form of placemaking.

Though we’ll be on hiatus (virtually), rest assured we’ll be bringing posts to you that will highlight the best of what we’ve learned, and what we think you’ll want to know too. We’d be thrilled if you’d 1) let us know if you’ll be in the area of one of our four conferences so we can (officially) invite you to visit us, and 2) keep up with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We’ll be back in August but until then, we’d love to engage with you on all things social media, and will keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see you somewhere along the way!

The Ethical Volunteer (Part 1): Engaging on Site

If you’ve heard of the 8 Components of a Quality Alternative Break, you know that the focus of education, orientation, and training (the Learning Components) is vital to the experience. It deepens our knowledge, makes topics easier to talk about, and creates a more tangible understanding for a participant. However, the language and theory we’re learning can prove harmful when the academic perspectives are placed on experiences within the community or on community members themselves.

Consider this example: A group of breakers travels to Baltimore, Maryland to work in an after-school program geared toward middle schoolers. One of the days, the participants of the trip choose to wear their AB shirts on site so they can get a group photo. The trips have their program’s logo on the front and the list of the program’s trip titles and locations on the back - including Protecting Vulnerable Youth: Dismantling the School-to-Prison-Pipeline, Baltimore, MD. Though the intentions are harmless, the impact is clear. What is the message sent to the students reading your shirts?

We believe in education and looking inward in order to be aware of the privilege you bring into a space. We become educated, oriented, and trained to give context for the institutional, societal, and historical underpinnings of why service-work is necessary, not to cloud a volunteer’s vision with stories of needs, deficits, and diagnosis. We do it to de-center ourselves.

How can we be better? By treating people like people and focusing on building real relationships with individuals and organizations. By engaging in authentic (not voyeuristic) conversations with community members - hearing and sharing stories. Embodying humility as guests in spaces that aren’t our own.