Howard University > Alternative Spring Break 2012
By Alyssa Heard
Howard University News Service

Ubuntu: My Alternative Spring Break Experience

Alyssa Heard interviews Howard's First Lady Paula Whetsel- Ribeau who serves as the coordinator for alternative spring break.
NEW ORLEANS -- Before I stepped foot on Howard University’s campus I decided that I was participating in Alternative Spring Break: New Orleans. As an overly excited incoming freshman, the idea of volunteering with Alternative Spring Break was one of the deciding factors that brought me to this great university.

So, this year, I spent spring break 2012 volunteering and covering the amazing works of a group of dedicated Howard students and it has been the most beneficial and rewarding spring break that I have ever had.

The entire ASB program sat in Cramton Auditorium listening to Howard’s First Lady, and the Director of Alternative Spring Break, Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, tell us that “you are the people that are going to make a difference, not only in America, not only at Howard, but in the world.” This was the moment that I fully understood that this experience was going to reward me with more than I could ever give back to the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. I then looked around at my friends, our huge carry on bags, the bags under their eyes from the stress of the week, then finally at my empty notebook; and in a completely cliché moment I knew that I could get through the week that would test my patience, expand my mentality, and send me back to Howard a changed woman; and I did.
The mentally exhausting 22-hour bus ride to the lower ninth ward of New Orleans was only the beginning. After sitting next to a sick stranger the entire ride and surviving the old love movies that our team leaders had for us, we took a walking tour of the Lower 9th Ward. Seeing the devastation in their community, seven years after Hurricane Katrina, is still heart breaking. It astonishes me that even after fund after fund, these citizens were still left stranded and abandoned. Yet, they persevered. The community has so little yet has so much character. Everybody that we passed warmly greeted us with a huge smile and the characteristic phrase “Welcome to New Orleans baby” with their beautifully unique accent. After the tour I was excited to make an impact, even in the smallest of ways.

I was a part of the “Ubuntu” team in the Village. My team composed of our incredibly enthusiastic team leader Natalie, the hilarious duo Allek and Kristopher, the beautiful ladies, inside and out, Victoria, Martiea, and Imani, and myself. My team was the best, period. They taught me that complaining about things you can’t change won’t make the week go by faster, getting up for breakfast wasn’t that big of a deal, and that as long as you have a great attitude everything can be an amazing experience. Even though Team Ubuntu gave me hilarious memories, a unique nickname, and the opportunity to meet a great group of people that I wouldn’t have met elsewise, my team’s positive impact on my life wasn’t the defining moment of my trip.

During my stay I visited a local school and experienced the best moment of my entire trip. I had the pleasure of watching the Fannie C. Williams Marching Warriors practice. You’d question why this was the highlight of my trip, and the only reason I could give you was that the kids were truly inspiring. The young musicians came in, took out their instruments, and got right to the business of rehearsal. They didn’t complain, they didn’t fuss, and they didn’t even have a band director. Yet, the determination and pride in their organization led them to do the right thing. As my old band director would say, these kids had integrity and that is something few adults in this world have today.

I asked Earnest Jackson, a sixth grade tuba extraordinaire, what his favorite part of band was and his simple response was “everything.” Some of these children’s families are still recovering from the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina, and to see Earnest gleam when he talked about his tuba was nothing less than inspirational. In his own way Earnest taught me that no matter the situation there is always hope, there is always courage, and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s in the base line of a middle school marching band.

Spring break was one of the hardest weeks that I have ever been through. I slept on a cot in a room with at least twenty other students. I was up before the sun to catch a lukewarm shower.  I worked late into the evening only to tiredly talk about my feelings and experiences with my team. I was pushed mentally and physically by this opportunity. However, if the applications for next year’s break were released tomorrow I wouldn’t think twice about reapplying. My amazing team leader made us chant “Ubuntu” at the end of our meetings. It comes from the African Bantu language meaning “I am not as good as I am without my other brothers, and we make other people better.” This is what I took from Alternative Spring Break: New Orleans. Ubuntu.
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