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This time for Africa

Eight UW-L students travel to make a difference

By Hannah Kepros
On February 14, 2012

  • Karen Bressi is throwing a vase in her studio store-front. Karen had been working as a nurse in New York for more than 20 years, creating pottery on the side in her basement before she opened Generous Earth Pottery here in La Crosse. She enjoys her studio space by the window so she can feel more apart of the La Crosse downtown community. KaWai Hui

While most college students head home for winter break, some unique individuals decide to travel across the world.  This past J-term eight University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students traveled to Nakura, Africa to volunteer in local communities for three weeks.

What these students endured was not a completely glamorous vacation.  These eight individuals learned the harsh realities of the lives in third world countries and got down to earth, literally, with the experience.

 The communities were mainly filled with huts, so one of the projects the students got involved with was helping pack mud to make bricks for construction.  While they were there they also donated numerous items including clothes, shoes and school supplies, which were mostly collected during The Nearly Naked Mile on campus.  These eight UW-L students even helped erect an entire elementary school within their short time there.

The most challenging part for these eight wasn't the food; the culture shock or the miles away from home; for them, it was not being able to stay longer and help in more ways.

Rachel Mueller, UW-L Sophomore said that the fact of not being able to help more people hurt the most.  With only eight people, their abilities were limited, but any help was better than none.  

Brianna Manguson, junior at UW-L said the experience in itself outweighed any of the challenges.

Manguson said, "Something that will always be close to my heart was when I met a little girl named Naomi.  We brought her back and gave her a new pair of shoes, toothbrushes for her family, a beanie baby, and a few new sets of clothes that we had been given as donations.  As I walked her up to the gate that day, she told me [through translation] that I had ‘touched her heart and I would be her friend forever'.  This brought me to tears."

Although they were eight complete strangers, with different interests and outlooks on life, at the beginning of the excursion, by the end, they were a group of people that shared a firsthand experience that they will never forget.

This group is in the works of becoming officially affiliated with UW-L with hopes of making this trip annual.  If anyone is interested, please visit the website" or contact Mike Wilson at his student email.  

They will also be selling T-shirts within the next few weeks. Keep an eye open on campus if you would like to purchase one.  Half of all the proceeds will be directly donated to the communities and individuals in Africa.  

All eight agreed that anyone is welcome to join the group, and in no way will they regret the experience.

"There is no doubt in my mind that I would recommend this for any college student! It is such a life changing experience.  Not only does it change your perspective on things, but also you feel gratitude knowing that you have helped other people.  You would be surprised what little things can go such a long way," said Manguson.

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