April 27, 2010
Alternative Spring Break group teaches skills, experiences life at orphanage
MARYVILLE, Mo.- Twenty-three Northwest students experienced a spring break they might never forget when they traveled last month to the Dominican Republic and worked with Orphanage Outreach.
The members of Northwest's Alternative Spring Break organization spent the week of March 20-27 working with children at orphanages in Jaibon and Monte Cristi. They taught basic English and public health classes, and completed various maintenance projects, while staying on a 20-acre compound. The group was led by Amy Nally, Northwest's director of volunteer, service learning and civic engagement.
"My expectations were surpassed on this trip," said Brittany Curtis, a senior elementary education major from Des Moines, Iowa. "I expected we would see the children on occasion and teach them some English words, but I never expected to have so much time to connect with the children, and to be able to spend recess with them, and get to know them on a more personal level."
Added Nicole Jay, a junior elementary education major from Filley, Neb., "The entire trip was an eye-opening, life-changing, exciting adventure and I will never forget it."
Each day, the Northwest students gathered for a breakfast at 8 a.m. before teaching English and health from 9 in the morning until noon. Another school session went from 3 to 6 in the afternoon.
English lessons consisted of simple language skills, including basic verbs. Health lessons taught body parts, such as knees, ankles and elbows. The classrooms contained all levels of students, from 6 to 18 years old.
ASB members discovered quickly that the school system in the Dominican Republic is much poorer than the one they're used to in America. In the Dominican teachers are accustomed to earning just $100 a month, or $200 if they teach both the morning and afternoon sessions. Many of the children decide when they want to go to school and drop out altogether by the time they reach fifth grade. Some children live at the orphanages simply because their families cannot afford to care for them.
Still, the children that regularly attended class sessions were always eager to learn, ASB members said.
"As an education major, it was an amazing feeling going into a classroom and teaching students how to say things in English and seeing them learn the words right in front of you," Jay said. "Seeing how excited they were to learn it made you feel great about what you were there doing."
The poor living conditions, however, didn't faze residents, who always appeared friendly and content. Many ASB members said they realized the importance of living "in the moment."
"So many people sit outside and hang out together," said Brooke Mansfield, a senior biology and psychology major from Blue Springs, Mo. "They share more, and it seems to be a less selfish culture than in America, where here it is all about trying to meet your individual needs and desires instead of putting others before yourself."
The students also got a firsthand experience of living in the region. They stayed in cement compounds with open air flowing through them and a gravel ground. They slept in bunk beds, and their water supply sat on a cement block with a PVC pipe that distributed cold water to the bathroom and kitchen. The days were dry and temperatures averaged 90 degrees.
"It was very primitive, but yet it was beautiful because it was mountainous behind us," Nally said. "It made you appreciate what we have."
Nally also said the group's experiences helped them bond.
"None of the kids used a stitch of electronics while we were there," she said, noting other volunteer groups brought computers with them. "We didn't use anything, so they interacted with the orphanage boys every night, and they played games with them or played games amongst themselves, or read."
Alternative Spring Break is a student organization founded at Northwest in 2006 that focuses on projects involving environmental and disaster relief, Habitat for Humanity and humanitarianism. ASB previously has provided disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La., and partnered with Give Kids the World to help children with life-threatening illnesses in Kissimmee, Fla. This year's trip to the Dominican Republic to work with Orphanage Outreach was the organization's first outside the United States.
ASB's service-learning trips are paid completely by fund-raising projects throughout the year.
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