Instead of the typical beach vacation most college students embark on for spring break, Volunteer Without Borders (VWB) had a much different vacation. VWB typically organizes three service trips a year, pairing each trip with a unique focus, such as homelessness, rebuilding and environmental causes, amongst others. This time, the focus was to educate students on the effects of coal mining in the United States.
21 student volunteers, with at least two from each undergraduate class, spent two days cleaning garbage from the sides of roads and rivers in West Virginia. As part of the experience, the students also visited abandoned towns and watched mountaintop removal mining take place.
“West Virginia is not a community like Madison…it is hard to have access to landfills and places to dispose of trash,” Bri Rooks (‘22), VWB’s president of the organization for two years, said.
“The entire community is focused on coal. It is like something you have never seen,” Rooks said.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, relying on coal has risks, like causing acid rain and respiratory illnesses, among others.
Abbey Sutzko (‘24), who traveled with VWB, said she was shocked coal mining was an ongoing process and supported by the residents of the state, especially due to the pollution and illness it causes. She explained that during the trip, they had seen broken down trailers posted with signs saying “Coal keeps the lights on.”
“These people support this [coal mining] just because that’s what’s keeping them alive,” Sutzko said of the eye-opening experience.
VWB’s outreach trips are not closed to members of the club but open to the entire Drew community. According to Sutzko,she was not a member before the trip, but is now considering joining the program. Sutzko said one of her favorite parts of the trip was bonding with her peers over homemade breakfasts and nights around the campfire.
“It was like being a weird, big family,” she said.
Although the trip is over, Rooks doesn’t want the work to stop. She said, “Currently, we are working on creating a student newsletter with reflections from everyone that travels with us on the trip. We want to spread awareness about mountaintop removal.”
Their next trip will be to Mississippi, from May 14 – 21. All students, even those graduating this spring, are invited to apply.
If you are interested in traveling with VWB, you can join their mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or following them on Instagram and The Path.