NCC Students Help Endangered Animals in Puerto Rico
By Myra Saturen,
Have you ever bottle-fed a baby manatee, or spent a day and a night in a bat cave? Students at Northampton Community College (NCC) did this and more on a service learning trip to Puerto Rico during spring break.
Inspiration for the trip stemmed from NCC's Day of Service last year, in which the International Student Organization participated, working on various community projects. The group so enjoyed their experiences that they went on to do regular community service at the Boys and Girls Club of Easton, Pocono Raceway and Gress Mountain Ranch. The club decided to wrap up this year with a week-long community service project involving both international and American students.
Through his contacts at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, Associate Dean and Director of International Programs Dr. Manuel Gonzalez, arranged for the group to assist with research and preservation activities focused on manatees and bats. The trip was sponsored by Student Life and the Student Senate.
Mark Orse, admissions assistant and international student co-advisor, and Alex Lincoln, from NCC's Center for International Education, served as guides.
Matthew Ryan, an engineering major, relished the one-on-one contact with the animals. The students prepared the manatees' food (herbs, fruit, vitamins, and milk, for the infant), cleaned and decorated their tanks, and fed them. The bats fascinated him. "The bats were awesome. There were 300,000 bats in one cave, and we got to hold some and observe them," he says.
Hamdi Selmi, a computer technology major from Tunisia, described catching the bats in carefuly constructed nets. "The project at the university is to save bats and manatees from extinction," he explained. "They are endangered by human activity and by other animals." Selmi wa impressed with the administrators at the Interamerican University, who worked collaboratively with the NCC students on their plans. "The trip was amazing," he said. "I am grateful to Interamerican University and NCC students and staff."
Miroslava Sheregi, a journalism major, loved doing things she had never done before: standing under a waterfall in the rain forest and getting to know manatees. "The rainforest was gorgeous," she said. "I can't single out any one best experience. It was all wonderful--the hostel, the weather and the food. Everything flowed as if it was all just meant to be."
In addition to learning about manatees and bats, Yousaf Muhammad, an emergency management major and International Students Organization president, who is from Pakistan, valued his exposure to Puerto Rican culture and meeting people there. "They are friendly, kind people who welcomed us with open arms," he said. He most valued the interaction between international and American students on the trip. "We learned about each other's cultures. We became best friends. The trip was the greatest experience of my life."
"I am proud of the students," Orse says. "They worked very hard." Plans are in the works to expand upon the trip through further exchanges.