Puyallup: News

Pierce College students visit Nicaragua as part of new alternative break program

Pierce College student Chris Sanders takes a break from his hard work of planting coffee bean plants to pose for a photo with a local.
Pierce College student Chris Sanders takes a break from his hard work of planting coffee bean plants to pose for a photo with a local. Courtesy

Instead of the typical college break backdrop of sunny beaches and raucous hotel rooms, a group of Pierce College students opted for a completely different experience to kick off their summer break.

As part of Pierce College’s new Raiders Serve Alternative Break program — which works with Panorama Service Expeditions, a nonprofit which allows colleges to participate in already existing projects in communities — 10 local students sacrificed nine days out of their summer volunteering at a small community of coffee farmers in the rural community of Santa Julia in Nicaragua.

Pierce College is hoping to organize more trips like this to help students get involved in servant learning experiences. In collaboration with Panorama, students and faculty planted more than 3,500 coffee bean plants during their weeklong stay in Nicaragua.

“The alternative break program is one of our contributions to community engagement,” said Becky Anderson, the college’s community engagement coordinator. “When you think of breaks, you think of girls in bikinis, and drinking on the beach, but we really wanted to break away from that model.”

One of those students who gave up precious days of his summer break, Chris Sanders, said his outlook on life has changed since returning from Nicaragua last month. Sanders went through an application and interview process, and was ultimately selected along with nine of his peers and three faculty members to live out Pierce College’s legacy.

The crew of students and faculty woke up at 7 a.m. daily, left their hotel at 8, hopped on a bus down what Sanders called “a never-ending dirt road,” to work the fields all day by planting coffee plants, only to go back to the hotel to sleep and do it all over again.

“Now that the coffee plants are in the ground, they have hope,” Anderson said.

“It changed us for the better,” Sanders said. “It was an experience that changes you that you just can’t get in America.”

While those who Sanders and Anderson met didn’t have much of anything, both agreed that all that their team came into contact with had one thing in common: They weren’t looking for charity, and their seemingly hard lives are the norm.

“It was really a humbling experience,” the 23-year-old Sanders said. “They didn’t have much of anything, and they were still able to bless us just as much, if not more than we blessed them.”

As a business management major, Sanders has a goal of owning and operating his business one day, but after serving in Nicaragua, the U.S. Army veteran says he hopes to continue servant learning past his graduation next summer.

“I really want to open my own business, and hopefully get so big that I can open a nonprofit of my own, or at least help out Panorama,” he said.

While community college students may have more limited financial means than other college students, students at Pierce College still sacrificed nine days of their summer to put their blood, sweat, and tears into giving back, Anderson said.

“It’s a legacy that Pierce College should have,” she said.

“You can go down the street and serve at a homeless shelter, and come home and do the same things you were doing before you went, but a trip like this changes who you are from the inside out,” Sanders said.