Repair the World believes in the power of taking a break – an alternative break, that is! That’s why we’re committed to sharing the stories of alternative breaks that focus on service and volunteering. Check out how Ali Schumacher, a junior at the University of Maryland, spent her winter break serving in Croatia with University of Maryland Hillel and SOS International:

“Do my actions actually impact others?” This is a question I often ask myself when I volunteer or donate money, but do not see the direct impact of my service.

With this question in mind, I decided to attend an alternative break trip with the University of Maryland Hillel and SOS International, a Jewish organization that organizes educational travel experiences. I wanted a combination of Jewish learning and service as well as the opportunity to share a meaningful experience with students with similar interests, and this seemed like a great fit.

So, this past winter break, I and twelve other students traveled to Croatia to visit and help strengthen the small Jewish community there – a community that had been drastically impacted by the Holocaust, but is striving to maintain a Jewish lifestyle.

We visited the Lauder school (a Jewish school) in Zagreb, Croatia’s capitol, where we gave a presentation about Jewish life in America. The students wanted to hear more about our experiences in college and viewed us as Jewish role models. Afterward, their school let us know that the students wanted to Skype with our group once a month, to continuing building that relationship.

While there, we had the chance to attend a bris, the tenth bris in the community in recent years. The night before, I ended up staying late at the Lauder school with the Rabbi, his wife, and three other students on the trip to prepare food. We made challah for the bris itself and 60 mini challot to leave for the students and staff at the school. It felt amazing to be taking initiative and completing this extra act of kindness; we were doing something that the school would really appreciate.

We also spent time at the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik, Croatia. There, we sang and danced with the children, did karaoke, taught them a few English words, and learned some Croatian words. We even all did the Gangham Style video dance together! Although we shared little language in common, we were still able to connect and have a great time together.

SOS International builds long-term relationships with the communities they strive to help. Keeping in touch with those in the community will reinforce our lasting impact. As a group, we are planning on pursuing different hands-on service opportunities this coming semester, rather than just donating money. The actual acts of kindness create the connection and leave an impact on both individuals involved. It is important to find the Jewish community, connect with them and make them proud to be Jewish. Human connection and human help are irreplaceable.

Teaching and acting as role models for those younger than me was an incredible leadership opportunity. And being present for the bris meant so much to the family and community. I have realized the more I give, the more I get.