aB South Africa: Team ready to begin its journey

Nine members of the university community made FIU alternative Breaks history April 30, 2013, when they departed for South Africa to work with children and adults with HIV/AIDS. Theirs is the first aB group at FIU to travel to the African continent. FIU News will be following the team’s journey, beginning with this first-person piece below provided by the group members.

aB Africa in post

My name is Melida Ortega, I am one of the co-site leaders for the FIU Alternative Breaks (aB) South Africa 2013 service trip. aB will be partnering with International Children’s Outreach, a non-profit organization facilitating aB trips nationally by founder Onica Charles, an FIU and aB alumni. I have been involved in aB  for two years, and it has given me the tools, and now an opportunity, to be a part of the global community.

MelidaThis summer I will be taking a journey alongside six FIU students and two faculty/staff members to Durban, South Africa. While in Durban, we will be engaging in direct service that will help to improve the facilities of the organization we will be working with, the Blue Roof Foundation. The Blue Roof Foundation, a private facility built by international organization Keep a Child Alive, provides care and treatment to persons of all ages who are affected by HIV/AIDS. We will also engage in conversations concerning the quality of care provided through private and public clinics. As part of our trip, we will visit a public clinic in order to gain a wider perspective of the local issues affecting those with HIV/AIDS.

As we begin our journey to Africa, the feeling of anxiety and excitement overwhelms me; the thought alone is actually very terrifying. I’m hoping to put a smile on the face of those I meet, but I am aware that I will most likely learn more from them than they will from me. I say this because I believe that their struggle is far greater than anything I can ever imagine.

I am certain I will be changed and I will not come back the same. My experience in South Africa will give me a deeper appreciation for life itself. In struggle there is beauty, and in struggle there is something to learn about the human will to live and survive through adversity. In essence, I am looking forward to becoming a better version of myself and hope to grow not only as a person, but as a citizen of the world. I also hope that as a group we are all inspired to continue a life of service and find meaning in everything we do.

— Melida Ortega, Political Science ’13, student site leader

Below are statements from other members in the group. In the week ahead, all of them will be providing updates to the FIU community on their amazing journey of hope.

TracyTracy Argueta, Psychology & Criminal Justice ’14: I hope to gain an unforgettable service-learning experience through which I will be able to make raw, genuine human connections and develop a better understanding of the human condition. I hope to gain renewed perspectives through which to understand life with HIV/AIDS, health, community and the world we live in.

Whitney BaumanWhitney Bauman, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies: I hope that this trip will allow us to help children and families affected by HIV/AIDS deal with the existential and psychological toll that comes along with the disease. Unfortunately there is much stigma associated with HIV/AIDS that creates an even more difficult situation for individuals who must live with HIV/AIDS.  I simply hope we can help out in some small way.

Christina SalemCristina Salem, Finance ‘15: Going to Africa has always been a dream of mine. Without even departing, I feel as though I have already accomplished so much. I hope to come back with a wider understanding of what is happening in other countries, with more passion to help others and a stronger fuel to continue making a change.

ValeriaValeria Paz, Biology ’14: Being able to share this experience with nine amazing individuals and knowing our efforts are going to make an impact where help is most needed is truly a blessing. This is going to be an experience of a lifetime.


Rosemarie SalemRosemarie Salem, Finance & Economics ’14, student site leader: I expect to gain a sense of appreciation and humility from the family members we intend on working with. I know I won’t be able to change their lives or circumstances, but I already know that they are going to change mine.

DontayDontay Proctor Mill, Political Science & Public Administration ’13: I know that the stigma around HIV/AIDS makes be me a bit uneasy. This has changed as I have become more knowledgable about the virus. I’m not sure how I will react during my interaction with individuals that are positive, but I am looking forward to learning more about people (both positive and negative) that have to live with the virus daily. I believe that the stigma of the virus puts people further at risk so I look forward to learning about how to combat the stigma and raise awareness. I have never been out of the country, so it will be interesting to experience a new culture and how they deal with an issue that millions of others around the globe battle with.

Amanda GarciaAmanda Garcia ’12, FIU Community Relations & Special Events Coordinator: This trip to Africa means genuinely being able to say I have been an active participant in trying to make a difference. It is easy to preach for reform and progress, but being able to physically put my time and sweat into such an important cause is an opportunity I simply cannot miss. I hope to be submerged into the South African culture and absorb as much knowledge and insight as possible.