When an earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, a group of students from the country approached Lynx Alternative Breaks coordinators about sending students on a trip there to help affected residents. In December 2016, with the State Department travel advisory lifted, the first trip finally happened. CU Denver teamed up with a Nepali tourism company with nonprofit connections to send a group of students to the recovering nation. In December 2017, they went again.
Through Lynx Alternative Breaks (LynxAB), students engage in community-based service projects and cultural exchange during academic breaks. This immersion in diverse environments enables students to experience and understand social issues in a critical way, ultimately moving students to make a positive impact in their own communities.
“It’s really neat to see the students take that leadership, and then we as staff just support the logistics and risk management aspects,” said Megan Frewaldt, assistant director for community engagement in the Office of Student Life & Campus Community.
On the Nepal trip, students spent the first two days visiting cultural sites, including temples in Kathmandu and along the India-Nepal border. They took buses on mountain roads so bumpy that just 50 miles took all day. Then, for the remainder of the two-week trip they visited small villages – some affluent, others impoverished. In one town, some people died of hypothermia while they were there due to the cold temperatures and the lack of housing after recent flooding. In another, teachers asked for school books so they could keep teaching. In another, they waded through waist-deep flood water.
In every village, they learned a little more about life in Nepal, and they learned from the locals what they needed to get by.
‘There was sadness, and then inspiration and hope.’ – student Grecia Portillo
“We went through a roller coaster of emotions,” said participant Grecia Portillo, who is also president of the CU Denver Student Government Association. “Getting there, we were curious and excited, and then in the communities we felt it pulling at our heartstrings. There was sadness, and then inspiration and hope. Experiencing all of that over the course of two weeks was draining.”
The trip to Nepal was student Mahir Omeragic’s second LynxAB experience. He returned motivated to help the inhabitants of one of the villages the students visited. The village is prone to flooding and recently experienced a flood that killed livestock and children as they tried to escape to higher ground.
“The village elder comes up, and he’s just shaking, and he looks me in the eyes and says, ‘People are hungry, we’re dying and we need something from you,’” said Omeragic. “It really hit home, especially when a grown man looks you in the eye and tells you that.”
Omeragic and two students plan to establish a GoFundMe fundraiser to help the village in the short term. In the longer-term, they plan to recruit students in the College of Engineering and Applied Science to create a warning system to help the villagers better survive floods in the future.
That kind of inspiration and action is the key to LynxAB. Students return with firsthand knowledge of what others face and can look for ways to build up their own communities.
“Everybody can take something away from these trips,” Omeragic said. “Everyone contributes in one way or another. They don’t need to ‘save the world,’ but even just giving a dollar to a legitimate organization is a contribution.”