Upward Bound teens set sights on Guatemala building trip

The Get Fresh Crew, a group of twelve high school students from the UMass-Boston Upward Bound program, will travel to Comalapa, Guatemala, and help to build the Tecnico Maya Vocational School, a building constructed from recyclable material, mainly tires, bottles, trash and earth. The trip, through a partnership with non-profit organization Long Way Home, was originally scheduled for the upcoming April vacation but may be delayed until August, when the Crew has raised enough funds.

“The exciting thing I think about this project is that it’s been so student-driven from the very beginning,” says Terri Slater, UMass Boston’s Director of Programs. “The impetus really came from them.”

The Upward Bound program consists of 120 Boston high school students — 75 percent of whom are Dorchester residents. The average college enrollment rate of program participants from 2005 through 2010 was 97.5 percent. In that same amount of time, the college enrollment rate of Boston Public School students was 57 percent.

Indeed, the Crew works diligently to raise funds for their trip, specifically travel, lodging and food. They created an Environmental Coloring and Activity Book that they plan to sell for $5 each. After snow days postponed two book release parties, the rescheduled date is Mon., March 7.

The Crew also held a Tekken 6 video game tournament and will continue to host a few more at UMass-Boston in the coming months. For a $50 donation, a Tire of Recognition bearing the donor’s name will be displayed in the Upward Bound office. Tires used in the actual construction of Tecnico Maya are “resources” of Comalapa – those that would otherwise be discarded or burned, releasing toxic fumes into the air.

Many of the crew have never been outside the United States. “Culturally, it’ll be a huge sort of shock,” says Erica Pernell, Assistant Director of Upward Bound. “Most are natives of Boston. Most don’t really leave their neighborhood, their sort of block.”

As for the name the Get Fresh Crew, the students emphasize “being as mindful as you can about how our actions as humans affect the environment,” Pernell explains. “Be as fresh as possible and as sustainable as possible. Be as mindful about the environment as you can – that’s what they mean when they say get fresh.”

As part of the Upward Bound program, Pernell asked the students what they were interested in and based field trips around that interest: the environment. After an architecture workshop called Radically Sustainable Building, which demonstrated work done in Guatemala, the students asked Pernell when they could go.

“I thought they meant the next field trip, but they meant going to Guatemala.”

“It’ll give them a really good picture of what low-income means in America and what low-income means in another country as well,” she adds.

Upon returning, the Crew’s goal will be not only to share their stories about their experiences in Comalapa but to continuing teaching people here about sustainability “so it doesn’t just end with us,” Pernell says. Through learning about sustainable building and using their knowledge for a common good, the students, Pernell believes, will take away valuable lessons and embrace change in their own lives as well.

“They’ll look at things that are thrown away differently,” she says.”They’ll see something different in that bottle than what they saw before.”

Get Fresh Crew member Stephanie Lewis of Dorchester has been outside of the United States before but not for a trip such as this one.

“I like helping people a lot and I like learning about how they live,” she says. “I’m really excited; it’s like a new opportunity for me to go to another country to experience the way they live and their environment.”

Upward Bound alumnus and current facilitator of the Get Fresh Crew Angel Ortiz, originally from Roxbury and a current resident of Dorchester, has known some of the group for their entire high school careers and understands that a service trip of this magnitude changes young people for the better.
“They had an idea. They did everything to make their dream, their idea, come true.”

To donate and learn more about the Get Fresh Crew and their trip to Comalapa, visit getfreshcrew.wordpress.com.