By Lauraine Genota, for the Mitzpeh, @laurainegenota
A group of 13 to 16 students will head to South Dakota this spring break to learn more about and connect with the Lakota people on the Hillel Alternative Breaks program.
“We mainly hope to learn more about the Native American community that we are visiting,” said Daniella Berger, one of the students leading the trip. “We feel that our school systems have failed to educate us at all about an extremely important population in our country. Most of us know nothing about Native Americans.”
The group also hopes to make progress building a house for a family in need, Berger said. They are partnering with the Tipi Raisers, a nonprofit organization that aims to share Lakota culture through collaborative projects, according to the Tipi Raisers website.
Berger, a senior double-majoring in history and government and politics, said she went on an Alternative Break trip to Las Vegas during her freshman year and loved it. Because of her experience, she looked for a way to get more involved in Maryland Hillel’s social justice programs. She decided to apply to be an Alternative Break Fellow last spring and initially did not get chosen.
But, Hillel’s Director of Student Life MJ Kurs-Lasky said, a huge demand to be part of one of Hillel’s four Alternative Break trips — two in the winter and two in the spring — called for a fifth trip to be added: South Dakota. He then asked if Berger could lead the new trip.
“I could not turn down the opportunity, and I am so excited!” Berger said. “We had no idea at first where we were going, but we picked the theme of Native American community.”
Hillel’s Alternative Breaks programs usually take place during winter and spring breaks, Kurs-Lasky said. The breaks are service-learning trips that connect students to different communities across the nation and the world where they engage in active service to address urgent issues.
This spring Hillel has three different trips, each focusing on a different issue. In South Dakota, the focus is on Native American issues; in Mississippi, students will focus on rural poverty; and in New Orleans, they’ll focus on the criminal justice system.
Kurs-Lasky said that the amount of students who stay involved after the trip, either by being an Alternative Break Fellow, or by doing other service-learning activities, is a “nice testament” to the success of the program.
Around 70 students participate in the different Alternative Break trips each year. Kurs-Lasky said that sometimes students coordinate their own service-learning trips. A group of students went to Israel to work with Volunteers for Israel on a student-organized trip this past winter.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to meet a new group of people, to get down and dirty and explore an issue,” Kurs-Lasky said.