By Sue Botos
Spring break for most college students conjures up visions of lying on a beach by day and partying by night. But for one Rocky River High School graduate, the time off from traditional studies made for a life-changing experience.
Samantha Reinbold, a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., chose to forego the traditional beach scene for an “alternative spring break,” which took her to Phoenix, Ariz., to participate in the “The Lost Boys of the Sudan,” a class-based trip that focused on refugees and genocide.
“When people think of genocide, their mind immediately goes to the Holocaust; but there are so many others taking place now. This really opened my mind to it all,” Reinbold, a 2008 graduate of RRHS, commented in a recent phone interview.
Reinbold, a sociology and communications major, her 11 classmates and professor Aaron Noland have been blogging about their experience all semester, journaling their thoughts and feelings before and after the trip, which took place March 3-10 (http://eraseindifference.wordpress.com).
Reinbold described her decision in her blog.
“When I first saw this class on ecampus (online course summaries) and its description, the thrill and enthusiasm pulsated through my body as I began furiously typing an email to Aaron on my iPhone saying ‘how, how, how can I get into this class???’ that I wanted in, I needed in! Just the other day, a girl asked me why I would want to take a class like this … Why take such a numbing course as genocide? My answer … why not? Why not dig deep and open ourselves up to the endless privileges we ourselves hold here at JMU by learning about what privileges other lack.”
Once Reinbold signed up for the class, planning for the journey began. “There was a lot of fear involved. We were so worried we would ask the wrong questions. But Aaron erased all of our concerns,” she recalled, referring to the fact that while this was the first time Noland had taught this course, he had participated in the “Lost Boys” program before.
Feb. 17: “I believe the thing we most fear is insulting one of the lost boys, or making a story seem less significant only because of the way we react to it. I choose to remove all fear, for it will get us nowhere in this world if we fear what we don’t know.”
In Phoenix, Reinbold said her group worked with Catholic Charities as well as the “Lost Boys,” the name given to groups of more than 20,000 boys displaced or orphaned by civil war in Sudan during the 1980s and ’90s.
“With Catholic Charities we did a lot of different tasks,” recalled Reinbold, who said her group raised more than $1,000 before the trip to purchase personal care items, which were divided among seven families, including a family of 10 from Congo. “It was such an amazing experience to step into someone’s home and listen to their stories. It was so emotional. They would have tears in their eyes and so would we. It was one of those moments that opens you up and changes your life,” she continued.
Reinbold said she was especially impressed with the stories of the “Lost Boys,” some of whom became pharmacists or earned master’s degrees.
“These were young children who lost family. Some walked about 600 miles,” she said, adding that many arrived in the United States through the Red Cross, beginning programs like the one in Phoenix.
March 12: “One major modification made by me by this trip was the way it washed the lens through which I view ethnicities. We, as white Americans, whose primary language is English, have no idea what refugees go through when they are misunderstood or judged by the public eye of criticism. We cannot speak their language and they, by far, outweigh us in strength and determination to learn a new language, some learning English as their 4th or even 7th language.”
One of those people was Ayom, a 64-year-old woman, who told a mostly nonverbal story of how she was attacked by a snake. “It was so amazing that she understood what we were saying. She understood what the word snake meant and told a personal story. We really opened ourselves up,” said Reinbold.
It was this openness, which included living in a hostel and sharing meals and conversation at a round dining table, that Reinbold initially worried about, but eventually embraced.
March 12: “Myself, being one who needs her personal time…being one who strives to be an independent woman…was forced to do the opposite all week. I learned there are two ways to enter situations; either you open yourself up to it or you close the doors, close yourself and your mind off to the experience.”
Reinbold, who plans a career in nonprofit work, said she was inspired while taking classes from Shari Caruso at RRHS, and that her “alternate spring break” solidified her plans. Summing up her adventure she wrote on March 12,
“What did I do over spring break? I transformed my looking glass on life. I formed a new family. I gained a new network to care about. I learned. I lived. I created memories that no time could erase. The indifference will be erased, one day it will be gone, but the memories of this trip, they stay ingrained in my mind.”