This post by University of Maryland senior, David Botwick-Ries, was originally published on the Maryland Hillel blog.
As a college student, skirting around the phrase “Social Change” has become outright impossible. Every campus group and organization incorporates “Social Change” into its agenda in one way or another, and community service is now viewed as one of the primary pillars of a well-rounded college education. This shift in consciousness is magnificent, but I fear that we are forgetting some important aspects of the process of bonafide “Social Change.” Rather than viewing community service and social justice as an entity outside ourselves, we must consider the cyclical relationship between the service and the servicer, just as the dance and the dancer are intricately connected. So just as the dance itself could not become the ultimate manifestation of the choreographer without the dancer changing themselves, Social Change follows the same model. We must look internally and alter our own conceptions and judgments of the world, as without our personal change, Social Change will remain as a bullet point on a meeting agenda.
Inevitably the question becomes, how can we change? Compiled with an introspective journey within, which takes a great deal of time, energy, and the utmost patience, Alternative Breaks are an ideal place to begin this 1000 mile journey of Social Change. The atmosphere of an AB trip is unparalleled, and living up to its “Alternative” title, the experience will truly alter your thoughts and give you valuable insight. This past Winter Break, fifteen other students and I had the unbelievable opportunity to travel to Orlando,FL and volunteer with an non-profit organization by the name of Give Kids the World. GKTW provides accommodations and attractions for families of children with life-threatening illnesses, providing a “Cloud Nine” of ice cream sundaes, carousel rides, and pure unbridled joy. Everything seemed hunky dory on the surface, as what could be better than serving ice cream to adorable and appreciative children? However, we had fallen into the trap of viewing Social Change as separate from ourselves; and this directly affected our personal bonding, but most importantly the volunteer experience itself. By looking within, we reflected on ourselves, our identities, and our genuine feelings about the true meaning of our presence at Give Kids the World. In turn we changed as a group, from a collection individuals to a unitary whole, and understood ourselves and the objective of service on a whole new level.
Social Change is not a light switch that will be turned on; moreover it is an instrument that must be played constantly, and we are the musicians. Alternative Breaks provide the chance for a shift in awareness that will allow for true Social Change, the kind that stems from the inside and nowhere else. It is time to not only think different, but to be different. We must truly listen to Mahatma Ghandi and embody his timeless quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Social change can only be achieved if we are the ones to change, understanding that looking anywhere else will lead us further away from this common goal of justice we all share.