***image1***Spring break looked a little different this year for nearly 1,000 students from Department of Defense Dependents Schools – Europe − no wild parties or days at the beach; no countless hours on a video game system or chilling with friends.
Instead, these 1,000 youths devoted their spring break to helping the impoverished nation of Slovakia. They spent the week digging holes, building playgrounds, renovating school houses and investing their lives in the Slovak children.
After grueling bus rides − some 26 hours long − groups of eager youths began pouring into their cabins. For four days they worked in groups of about 50, each doing projects to help improve the conditions of various schools in the surrounding area.
The construction projects ranged from renovating communist-era school buildings to constructing playgrounds for the children. In the midst of the work efforts, a strong emphasis was placed on interpersonal relations between the DODDS students and the Slovak children. These relational ministries included running a Vacation Bible School, cheerleading camp, and basketball clinic. Soccer and friendly wrestling bouts also broke out between the students and children. Rebecca Breedlove, a senior at Ramstein American High School, said the best part for her was cheerleading and getting to know the girls there.
***image2***“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” she said.
special “club time” at the close of every day was a highlight for the students. It was a time when all of the students and leaders came together in a wonderful 200-year-old church to worship God, led by a band from California named 330 Plan. The building was filled with the energy of 1,000 people pouring out their hearts.
Walker Nikolaus, a junior at RAHS, said club time was awesome.
“The band really put us in a mood to worship God and focused us on what we were there to do, which was to help the people of Slovakia,” he said. “The songs we sang like ‘May the Words of My Mouth’ and ‘Everyday’ were an incredible reminder of how we should live life daily, not just on this trip.”
The week’s events culminated with one final celebration at each of the worksites. Children, teachers, parents and American students met one last time for an afternoon of games, candy and fellowship.
The Slovakian children thanked the DODDS students with certificates, skits and dances; and the children who had participated in the basketball or cheerleading clinics gave a demonstration of what they had learned.
The teams that built the playgrounds unveiled them that last day amid cheers of thanks and squeals of delight.
“As I watched the students throughout the week, I quickly observed that the more they gave their lives away and served through helping other people, the more life they received,” said Juliana Law, a leader at Ramstein’s youth group. “I can say with confidence that the students who boarded that bus were not the same when they came home.”