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Published: June 09, 2016
The PEACE Volunteer Center works to educate students to be active citizens who make their community a priority in every decision they make and work to better it.
The PEACE Volunteer Center works to educate students to be active citizens who make their community a priority in every decision they make and work to better it.
As part of a UT international alternative break, the students trekked through the Amazon learning about the ecosystem and the conservation efforts crucial for survival, and they used machetes, axes and hoes to help with traditional farming and replanting guayusa trees.
As part of a UT international alternative break, the students trekked through the Amazon learning about the ecosystem and the conservation efforts crucial for survival, and they used machetes, axes and hoes to help with traditional farming and replanting guayusa trees.
When the group of 15 UT students arrived at their destination, an hour outside of Quito, Ecuador, they were greeted in Spanish and the native Kichewa, and “were immediately overwhelmed by the reality that we would be spending the next two weeks in one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world,” said Jessie Beckett ’17, a psychology major.

“Everywhere we looked, we saw green.”

As part of a UT international alternative break hosted by the PEACE Volunteer Center , the students trekked through the Amazon learning about the ecosystem and the conservation efforts crucial for survival. They used machetes, axes and hoes to help with traditional farming and replanting guayusa trees. And they absorbed as much as they could.

“All of us went into the Amazon rainforest with open minds and left with them completely filled with memories,” Beckett said. “We hiked for hours, we played with children, we drank Guayusa (their native spiritual tea) and fell in love with the Amazon.”

One of the main reasons UT’s PEACE office offers alternative breaks is that they help give perspective and a frame of reference to the sometimes overwhelmed collegiate brain.

“When I come back from an alternative break like this, I feel like the world makes a little more sense and that I'm a little more connected to it; it grounds me,” said Daniel Holahan ’18, a business management major who lead the trip with Beckett. “I learn a tremendous amount about myself, the community I live in or that's thousands of miles away, and I hope that I can make a fraction of the positive impact that the people in these communities have on me.”

It can be hard, especially during the summer break, to integrate the experiences shared on an alternative break back into their daily life, said Holahan. So he and Beckett had the participants write letters to themselves about their experiences and three things they want to make an active effort in changing or improving in their life based on the trip. Later in the summer, the letters will be mailed to the students as reminders of the experience.

“In PEACE, we often reference active citizenship and what it means to be an active citizen,” Holahan said. “It's someone who makes their community a priority in every decision they make and work to better it; I have no doubt that all of these students will do the same.”