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Howard students from across nation spend spring break helping needy in New Orleans and Panama.

Photo by Justin Knight
Students toil in New Orleans during the Alternative Spring Break mission to assist with the Post-Katrina recovery.

By Capstone News Network

NEW ORLEANS -- For the third straight year, hundreds of Howard University students skipped the beaches of Mexico and the Bahamas or even going home for relaxation during spring break and instead went to some of New Orleans’ poorest neighborhoods.

They are here this week helping victims of Hurricane Katrina who are still struggling to pull their lives together more than two years after tragedy struck.

The students are spending the week helping reconstruct homes, repair structures, tutor students and volunteering at government facilities.

Meanwhile, other Howard students are in Panama helping residents there as part of the Engineers without Borders.

The more than 500 Howard students are spread out in make-shift facilities at shelters, schools and universities while they volunteer on various projects.

Victoria Kirby, 21, who is visiting New Orleans for the first time, is tutoring at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School.  She said she has been impressed with the students’ eagerness to learn.

“They’re really smart, and they do their best to stay focused on getting their education,” said Kirby, a senior majoring in speech and applied communications from Brandon, Fla.

The students left Howard University’s campus on March 14 for the 22-hour bus ride to New Orleans and will return Friday, March 21.  They raised $60,000 during a 12-hour radiothon on WHUR-FM, the university’s radio station, to help underwrite the trip.  The university added the additional funding needed to transport, feed and house the students.

Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert said the university supports the annual trip because of the need to continue to focus the nation’s attention on the plight of the thousands still suffering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina, which left tens of thousands homeless when it hit in Sept. 2005 and forced many residents out of the city.

Other Howard students are doing their part to help the afflicted, but in a different part of the world.

Nearly 20 Howard students and their advisors are 2,000 miles away in Coclé, Panama, 71 miles west of Panama City, to restore and enhance Hogar de Niñas de Penonomè orphanage home. The effort spearheaded by Howard University’s chapter of Engineers without Borders, the only historically black university with such a chapter.

Photo by Kerry-Ann Hamilton
L-R Jomari Peterson, vice president of the Howard Chapter of Engineers without Borders, and DeLaine Anderson, team leader for construction, work on a vegetable garden at an orphanage for girls in Cocle, Panama during spring break.

The shelter houses children ages seven to 18, many who have been removed from abusive and incestuous homes. The students traveled under the institutional umbrella of their partnering organization, Global Business Brigades.
The volunteers, whose majors range from business to engineering, tackled several projects, from building a rain cover for the home to fixing washing machines and enhancing the girls’ esteem through a “Make me Beautiful” campaign.
Alexandria McBride, a 21-year-old junior chemical engineer major from Atlanta, is leading the delegation.

“This has truly been a learning experience for me,” said McBride, president of the university’s chapter of Engineers without Borders. “We planned extensively prior to our trip and had several ideas as to how we could help the orphanage, but this week we took the time to listen to the girls and assess their needs and respond to them.”

Iverson Bell, 21, an electrical engineering major also from Atlanta, is working to forge a partnership between the University of Panama and the orphanage.

“After talking with many of the girls, they have ambitions to become lawyers, doctors, and teachers, but no money to further their education,” Bell said.

“Our goal is to change things that so the girls can achieve their full potential.”


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