During spring break, Claribel Alcantar ’23, got a special opportunity to connect with her family’s roots. Alcantar, a biology major from Culver City, California, joined eight students and staff members on an Alternative Breaks trip to El Savador, where her family roots are. The trip focused on learning about women’s rights and climate migration in partnership with CRISPAZ.
LMU organizes AB trips to domestic and international destinations every year for students and in the post-pandemic environment this was the first time in several years that AB has included international destinations. For Alcantar, she had heard about the amazing and life-changing stories that came from past AB participants and, as a senior about to graduate from LMU, “I wanted to be able to experience this trip myself and enhance my education in this aspect.”
As a Salvadoran American, Alcantar’s most memorable part of the trip was seeing the monument at Parque Cuscatlán that is dedicated to the civilian deaths during the war. “Seeing all the names of families that were impacted by this war really impacted me, considering my own family lost family members as well,” said Alcantar. “I was able to create this deeper connection with my family history. But overall being able to see the other students on this trip connect with the community, open up, and just grow from the beginning to the end of the trip truly filled me with so much joy being able to see an AB trip to a country where my family is from had such a great impact on many students that I consider my friends.”
The trip started with learning about the Salvadoran civil war that occurred between 1979 and 1992 and visiting the home of Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, more commonly known as Monseñor Romero, who was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. During his time as the archbishop, he witnessed human rights being violated and spoke out on behalf of the poor and victims of the civil war. In 1980, he was martyred at his church’s altar for his nonviolent advocacy and his death provoked international outcry for human rights reform in the country. The students also visited José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), a private Catholic university operated by the Society of Jesus in San Salvador, El Salvador.
During the trip, the team also met with organizations like Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz Association, the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), and COFAMIDE, which both advocate for women and labor rights, as well as helping to find family members who have died or gone missing from immigration. The team also spent two days in Guarjilla with host families to learn about their livelihood and experience during the civil war. “One lesson I took from this trip is to truly cherish the people we surround ourselves with and the connections created,” said Alcantar. “The love and strength Salvadorans have for and with one another is something I truly admired and wanted to be able to bring back here in the LMU community.”
Alcantar is involved with several areas at LMU including participating in the Espérer service organization and with Christian Life Community Campus Ministry. She also works as a research and teaching assistant in the Biology Department at LMU. It’s through these organizations where Alcantar has found connections. “I honestly enjoy being able to be part of all of these organizations, each and every organization I am part of has helped me to feel at home and welcomed at LMU,” said Alcantar. “As a student, I have found success in people. The faculty, staff, and students have all allowed me to feel like I can excel in this environment through multiple ways. Whether it has been through the service organization community to research, I have always been supported and because of that continuous support and guidance, I have been able to succeed and accomplish my goals in different areas at LMU.”
For Alcantar, it was a combination of the opportunities LMU offers to students and her passion that led her to be involved with multiple organizations and hold leadership positions. “I love being able to be there for other people and doing that through service or research that granted me the ability to meet many amazing people and to grow in learning what I am personally passionate about as an advocate and a student researcher,” said Alcantar.
This trip was made possible through a partnership with CRISPAZ, an ecumenical faith-based organization dedicated to building bridges of solidarity between the Church of the poor and marginalized communities in El Salvador and communities in the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries through mutual accompaniment.
LMU students also participated in other AB trips to Appalachia, Belize, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico during this year’s spring break. The next AB trip is scheduled for May 8-18, when LMU students will travel to Morocco through a partnership with the Moroccan Center for Arabic Studies and will focus on dialogue and community around human rights, especially as it pertains to the Islamic culture and refugee communities in and around Morocco. Activities will include learning about the French influence in Morocco, including taking French classes, while understanding the intersectionality of current refugees in and around Morocco through human right activists and NGO guest speakers.
LMU’s Alternative Breaks program is a member of Break Away, the national alternative breaks organization and is hosted by the Pam Rector Center for Service and Action. LMU’s AB program received honorable mention for the national Alternative Breaks Program of the Year Award in 2010. The program started sending students on AB trips in 2003 and has been growing ever since.