Rotoractís ready to act in Tarpum Bay
Students to spend their spring breaks performing necessary service to country in Bahamas
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By Natalie Gray  March 14, 2014 12:00 am

Where most Sonoma State students are most likely crossing off the days on their calendars as a countdown for their quickly approaching spring break, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to relax and avoid responsibility, 11 members of the local Rotaract Club are preparing for what they are calling an alternative spring break.

This trip, though, will be anything but relaxing. Rather it will be the exact opposite, with eight days dedicated to rigorous volunteer work. Saturday, March 15, the Rotaract students are leaving to Tarpum Bay on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, where they will work towards what they hope will help and improve the local community. The students are bringing with them instruments that include trumpets and even a piano to donate to the settlement. Among the traveling students are music majors and players who plan to teach locals the instruments during their stay.


Representing Sonoma County well

“I think that these students are giving Sonoma County a really good representation,” said Rotaract advisor Dr. Mary Graves.

Students have been planning this trip since October of 2013, but preparations really began in 2011 when the first wave of SSU Rotaract students crashed over the Tarpum shores. According to Graves, the spring break volunteer work began simply when the 2011 club members decided they wanted to spend their break not relaxing but helping others.

Traveling to Tarpum Bay was suggested to the students by Graves, who had been traveling there for volunteer work of her own. According to Graves, the island is uncomfortably close to what could be considered “third-world” status, with unemployment rates at a dizzying 70 percent.

The 2011 project was for the then-seven students to renovate an old schoolhouse, abandoned after a couple of bad storms and years of neglect, and turn it into a new cultural center. Graves admitted that most of the work was completed by locals after the students left but said the community reportedly was grateful for the help.


Returning to the island

Now, three years later, SSU Rotaract is returning to the island and the cultural center, which will be the location of their music lessons and the new home for the donated piano. The music lessons will be headed by Rotaract member and senior music major Merissa Rolley. The students hope to form a band amongst the locals, so they can continue to build and practice their musical skills and community.

Music isn’t the only lesson the Rotaract Club plans to teach during their stay. Members Jarod Salinas and Emily Chen will host workshops on KIVA, an internet-based program that allows for people to lend money to underprivileged entrepreneurs in more than 70 different countries. Patrick Maloney will be fronting a workshop on small business development. Members Sara Dinari, Andrea Aviles-Cigarrostegui, Michelle Sevu and Emily Chen will lead cultural workshops introducing Tarpum locals to the culture of their respective home countries of Iran, Peru, Taiwan, Kenya and the United States. In return, members of the Eleuthera Rotary Club and locals will host a cultural workshop of their own, to teach the SSU visitors about their heritage and culture.

“All the students said they felt spiritually connected,” said Graves, referencing notes taken from students during previous years’ visits to Tarpum Bay. “Not in a religious sense, but connected in the quiet and low key nature (of Tarpum Bay and with) being in another world without technology.”

The SSU Rotaract Club is a subsidiary of the Rancho Cotati and Santa Rosa East Rotary Clubs and some sponsorship and donations for this year’s trip also came from the Petaluma Rotary.  

Instruments were both purchased with donated money and given to the club by the SSU Music Department.


Graves staying back this time

Graves won’t accompany the students on this trip but will instead visit the island after their return to interview locals on the students’ performances and help and thus decide on the grade they will receive. Students attending the trip are to receive two units of college credit for social entrepreneurship courses, taught by Graves and Dr. Robert Girling.

The students will return the following Sunday. Though the eight days will be busy and filled with workshops, classes and volunteer work, Graves thinks it might be possible for the students to squeeze in just a little bit of beach time on the Bahamas shores.

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