Alternative winter break participants engage
with native communities
Karen Obando '13
In the fall of 2010, I had the opportunity through the APPLES Service-Learning program to lead a group of students on an alternative fall break to Baltimore, Maryland to serve and learn about the homeless population. Coming back from the experience, I was reminded of why I do public service and why I find it so important for others to engage in opportunities that challenge the boundaries of their knowledge through volunteer work and social awareness. I returned to campus with new friendships, a better understanding of the political and social implications of homelessness, and most importantly, motivation to continue learning actively through service. Because of my experience in Baltimore, I had no hesitations in co-leading this year’s alternative winter break experience that focused on native communities in Pembroke, N.C.
On December 17, a group of nine students, including myself, ventured to Pembroke for a five-day service-learning experience that would allow us to learn more about the Lumbee tribe, a Native American community mainly concentrated in the cities of Pembroke and Lumberton, N.C. As an out-of-state Sociology major focusing on Latino immigration education and homelessness, I wasn’t very aware of what it meant to be a member of a Native American tribe residing in North Carolina. Speaking with other members of my group, I was struck by our diversity of interests and backgrounds: an ultimate Frisbee player, a former U.S. solider, and a first-year student finishing her first semester at Carolina. I realized that the subject of native communities was relatively new for all of us. As we reflected on this as we arrived in Pembroke, we agreed that our unfamiliarity with current native communities and the desire to explore this subject was one reason we were all there.
Our small, blue student hostel was located next to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s (UNC-P) campus, where we began our learning about the Lumbee tribe living in the area. UNC-P’s Native American Resource Center offered a great starting point for our winter break experience. By touring the museum-like facility, we learned about the cultural, political and historical aspects of the Lumbee community. From a professional and personal perspective, Alisha Locklear, our tour guide and a member of the Lumbee tribe, explained the significance of the art that decorated the walls, narrated the stories that have been passed down by tribe members, and showed us historical documents illustrating how important it is to understand how the uncommonly taught Native American history intertwines with the more well-known events in American History. As a Lumbee tribe member, she was also able to tell us about her personal experiences in the Pembroke and Lumberton communities, emphasizing that Robeson County is currently the poorest county in North Carolina.
As we engaged in different kinds of service throughout our stay in Pembroke we were able to observe the issues that Robeson County is dealing with today firsthand. One of our service activities took place at the Odum Baptist Home for Children where we organized a food pantry where the shelves were filled with countless boxes and cans of food that community members relied on as an alternative to unaffordable grocery stores. At the HOME store , an additional food pantry and thrift shop serving Robeson County’s low-income population, I had the opportunity to speak to shoppers who sought resources that ranged from clothing to table cloths. Many expressed their deep appreciation for the HOME store because without it, they would not have access to many basic necessities. They went on to emphasize that Robeson County was the poorest county in North Carolina; it was a fact that we were repeatedly told by different people, and one we saw firsthand as we met with different community partners.
When my alternative break participants and I first arrived in Pembroke, we focused on how the experience would address native community customs and practices that were completely foreign to us. However, after leaving Pembroke, I noticed how the social issues I saw in Baltimore last year, issues that I continually encounter in our local community today, also exist in Pembroke and Lumberton. Robeson County and UNC-P are historically centers for native communities with a rich culture and different traditions, but they share similar social challenges that a variety of communities struggle with. I am glad I was able to participate in an experience that, for the second time, has given and taught me more than I could have ever contributed.
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Alternative winter break participants organized clothes at the HOME Store Thrift Shop.
Participants for the 2011 native communities alternative winter break.
AWB participant Natalie Wiggins '13 organized the Odum Baptist Home for Children food pantry.
Food ready for sorting at the Odum Baptist Home for Children food pantry.