For Natalie Parra, a week in Haiti taught her not to take for granted the simple things we have access to, such as private bathrooms.

Senior biomedical sciences major Parra traveled to Mare Brignol, a small village in Haiti, last spring break as part of UCF’s Alternative Break Program, a Volunteer UCF organization that provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in new cultures and lifestyles, to become active participants in communities and to help them develop an open mind toward different social issues that are often neglected.

As co-coordinator for ABP, Parra joined the International Medical Outreach organization for a week to provide certified medical care to the village and to plant moringa seeds — an immune-boosting plant full of vitamins, protein and nutrients — to help improve the major issue of malnourishment.

“We were literally forced to go to the bathroom outside and shower with a small bucket of water,” Parra said. “It was like stepping into another world.”

ABP gives students a chance to serve others and learn about themselves.

According to its website, ABP sends teams around and out of the country to engage in community service and learn about a large variety of social issues.

In the last three years, through her volunteer work with the ABP and other organizations, Parra said she has been able to help generate awareness of major social issues and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

Students interested in going on a trip with ABP are encouraged to apply on the program’s website.

Participants are selected at random when ABP conducts Lottery Knight, an event where all names are drawn out of a random list generator. This gives students a fair opportunity to choose a trip to volunteer in.

This year, nearly 300 UCF students gathered at the event with a common goal: to make a change.

With a total of 16 trips and teams of eight to 10 participants per trip, students and coordinators get ready to embark on a life-changing experience.

Ileana Garcia, a sophomore elementary education major, will be traveling to the Dominican Republic this spring break on a Women’s Rights and Humanitarian Relief Work trip as a co-coordinator.

“I feel like it is a great opportunity to make a difference in the Orlando community with VUCF, [and] now we have the opportunity to go outside of the country and represent UCF and make a difference somewhere else in a community that needs our help,” Garcia said.

Students can find more information on how to get involved with VUCF and ABP at the Office of Student Involvement in the Student Union.


Kami Hernandez is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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