UNK student chose to serve rather than be served over spring break

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A spring break trip ended up changing her plan for her future

She wanted to serve people, not to party.

That’s why UNK sophomore Brittany Forbes helped organize a group of 19 students this past spring break and traveled with them to the Amazon to work in health clinics deep in the Colombian jungle, in villages so remote the only way to get there was by boat.

Most of the students on the Amazon trip were health science majors. They worked alongside licensed U.S. medical workers through a health-outreach program called Medical Ministry International (MMI). For most of the indigenous people who live in those villages, the program provides the only medical treatment they ever receive.

“They were real excited for our group to come and help,” Brittany says. “The children were so happy to see us. That was fun. We’d take pictures of them and then tell them to look at it and they would just start screaming and laughing. They were having so much fun.

“To me it was like, ‘Wow, this is what it’s all about. This is how you love people.'”

Conditions were rough. They slept on floors. They got attacked by mosquitos. They saw a huge spider on someone’s suitcase, and knocked it off. It ran into someone’s shoe. They killed it.

“I was glad it wasn’t my shoe,” Forbes said, laughing. “I hate spiders.”

They grew. A lot. Seeing the rough conditions for people in other parts of the world, Brittany says, changed everyone on the trip.

“They just realized that there are so many people in the world who are poor,” she says, “and now they want to help.”

During the students’ last night in the last village, some grandmothers of the Ticuna tribe performed a traditional dance for them. Then the grandmothers brought the students out, and they danced together. The villagers gave them necklaces and fruit.

Brittany is a recipient of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship. As a Thompson Scholar, she’s part of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community at UNK – a shared living, learning and mentorship experience. She organized this trip along with her faculty mentor, Anita Lorentzen, as part of her Thompson Scholars Creative Project. (Lorentzen was the one who actually killed the spider.)

She’s a first-generation college student. (“I don’t know if I’d even be going to school without this scholarship,” she says.)

Last summer, she went on a two-week trip to the Dominican Republic with 30 UNK students for a similar MMI project. She already knew how a trip like this can change you. She didn’t expect this second trip abroad would change her so dramatically. But it did.

In the villages, she noticed how many of the children just roam around after school. No one seemed to watch over them. The ratio of adult to child, she learned, was 1 to 5. One of the project leaders told her and the other students these children are often sexually abused.

“So when he was telling us this, he said, ‘Don’t get frustrated if the children are afraid of you. It’s because they don’t know how to receive the type of loving you’re giving them.’ That was eye-opening.”

She had been a pre-med major. But after interacting with the children in the villages and seeing how rough they had it, she came home and decided to study secondary education in history, with an endorsement in teaching Spanish. She felt this trip was like a call from God to serve Him in the missionary field someday, somewhere in South America. And to serve His children as a teacher.

“This trip was a big deal for me,” Brittany says. “I just feel called to be there now.”

Student support is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you, like the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, would like to help students like Brittany reach their potential, please give online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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