Elgin Academy Service Trip to the Dominican Republic
Step into Edwards Hall while on EA’s campus and you see Upper School students and faculty members donning t-shirts that read Release the Hero Within or Outreach360. Ask any of these people to explain the slogans and you will hear, “This is the third time I’ve gone.” “I look forward to going again next year.” “It was a great experience.” “I missed going this year, but I’ll be back next year.” “I learned so much from the kids.”
These comments are from Upper School students at the Academy who spent part of their spring break at an orphanage in Jaibon, Dominican Republic serving others and learning from others. Outreach 360 is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers to, quite literally, Release the Hero Within. The mission of Outreach360 is to reach out to disadvantaged communities in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, serving those less fortunate with basic opportunities, especially education and health. The goal is to create self-sustaining communities.
The purpose of Elgin Academy’s service trip to the Dominican Republic was to donate time and talent to serve those less fortunate. What was received in return from those they served was priceless. Liam Phelan, who has gone on the trip three times, said “You teach and learn. This is an experience you do not for yourself, but for others.”
Students relay personal stories about what they learned from orphanage kids. “We went there to teach, and we were taught,” commented Martin Diaz de Leon and Samayra Siddiqui. Martin and Samayra taught together in a classroom. The school that de Leon and Siddiqui taught in was designed for a maximum of 200 students. The reality is there are more than 700 students that attend every day. Mandatory education in the Dominican Republic is offered for Kindergarten through 8th grade only. Though 8th grade is the highest level offered at school, the ages of children range from 5 years to 18 years old. Small rooms, crowded with students and offering little ventilation and no air conditioning, coupled with sparse teaching materials and kids whose knowledge and abilities ranged from low to high, were challenges that EA Upper School students faced. Señora Rusniak and Ms. Williams, EA faculty who have organized this trip for the past seven years, remarked how hard the Upper School students worked. “Our students were actively involved every day in every way. They taught the kids in the morning and afternoon, planted banana trees to help the orphanage become more financially self-sufficient, organized orphanage supplies, and interacted with the kids playing pick-up basketball games and other activities during afternoons. Not once did they complain about living conditions such as cold showers or a week without favorite electronic devices. They truly enjoyed serving, and reaped rewards that will last a lifetime. Every year it is awesome to see the impact this experience has on our kids’ lives. That is why they return year after year. ”
A group of 40 EA students accompanied by 18 Elgin Academy parents and faculty, as well as Elgin community medical staff, traveled to a small village in the northwest part of the Dominican Republic. Some of the adults in this group included Elgin Academy alumni Michael Cooper, John Cain and Kacy Rauschenberger. The busy week consisted of primarily teaching English as well as other academic subjects to children at the orphanage. Almost 10 adult members of the group donated their dental and medical talents. Some EA students worked with this health team, which included Dr. Jon Kaufman, Dr. Cindy Rauschenberger, Dr. Maria Faklaris, Brenda Mattes-Sica, Bernadette Taylor, Megan Padding, and Alejandra Godinez. In keeping with the mission of Outreach360 to create self-sufficiency and promote health awareness, EA’s dental team focus for the week was saving teeth through teeth cleaning and performing root canals.
Another feature of the D.R. trip was for students to witness a market day at Dajabon, where the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti opens for Haitians to sell their goods. “We saw people pushing wheelbarrows, carrying baskets on their heads, crossing the bridge or even wading through the water,” said EA students Liam and Martin. Señora commented how people would be selling shoes, but they themselves arrived shoeless. “This was an eye-opening experience for many students.”
Next year’s Elgin Academy Upper School service trip with Outreach360 is already being planned. In the summer, the Upper School holds a used book sale, with proceeds that go toward establishing partial scholarships for Elgin Academy students to use for the cost of the service trip. “We make sure every student in the Upper School has the opportunity to be part of this life-changing experience,” said Williams.
For more information about Outreach360, visit their website: http://www.outreach360.org