South for the winter: SUNY-ESF’s Baobab Society plans service trip in Fiji for winter break

Illustration by Andy Casadonte | Art Director

The Baobab Society will take its first overseas service trip this Winter Break when eight students and a faculty adviser go to Fiji for 15 days to volunteer and explore the island.

The students will spend the first half of the trip constructing a water catchment system, which harvests rainwater, in the small village of Nailega, said Yasmeen Bankole, a junior in environmental studies and president of the Baobab Society. The mission of the society is to promote cultural consciousness on campus, she said. They run multi-cultural events, provide support for international students and do community service.

On the trip, the group will also be painting and refurbishing classrooms, working with children and teachers and teaching English, she said.

“The second half of the trip is more of an adventure,” said Meagan Pepper, program coordinator for community service at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. It will combine volunteering with exploration and learning about the culture. The students will go sightseeing, snorkeling and kayaking, while also educating the community about forest sustainability and planting trees, she said.

Pepper said she always wanted to go on a service trip but never had the opportunity as an undergraduate at ESF.

“When they first approached me about this trip, I was intrigued,” she said. “I was really attracted to the unique program and the relationship with individuals in the community. I’m excited to get to know the community members that we’re affecting. ”

Bankole, who planned the trip, said she modeled it after trips taken by other student organizations, such as the Society of Conservation Biology at ESF who went to Costa Rica this November. Wanting to try something new with her organization’s project, she said she researched Fiji and learned that about 50 percent of the country lacks access to clean water. She said she spent three weeks researching different organizations before she finally decided to go with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad.

The trip begins on Dec. 28, and students will be staying with host families — two volunteers per family — for the first week, said Sam Buzash, a junior in environmental studies. “I heard that it is the friendliest culture on the planet and they treat guests like family,” she added.

During the second week, the volunteers will stay in hotels and resorts around Fiji, she said.

Each student is paying his or her own way, Buzash said, who had to take out loans in order to go on the trip. The out of pocket cost is about $4,044.69 per student, she said.

 The club has received funding from ESF president Cornelius Murphy’s personal account in the President’s Office, the ESF College Foundation and co-sponsorship from the Undergraduate Student Association, Buzash said. It also held a fundraiser with Syracuse Crunch Hockey and a cartridge collection on campus, she added.

But Buzash, who has always wanted to go to Fiji, said she thinks the experience will be worth the price tag.



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