A large part of what makes the University such a special community is its continual commitment to serving others. Being on winter break didn’t stop many Villanovans from seeking opportunities to serve others all and abroad, from South to Central America. Through involvement with mission service, Villanovans were able to make a difference all over the world.
Working with Outreach 360, one group of 15 students and their adviser traveled to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic to fulfill the organization’s mission of giving every child a life of opportunity through an English-language education. Outreach recognizes that most employment opportunities for children in the DR, particularly in the popular tourism industry, require knowledge of the English language. Outrage seeks to bring this education to the children through the aid of dedicated volunteers, like sophomore Caroline Keefe.
“Those of us who knew some Spanish had an advantage in explaining things to the kids. Otherwise, it was a lot of hand gestures, miming and repetition,” Keefe says of teaching the local first- to fifth-grade students without the help of a hired professional teacher. “Our emphasis was on teaching them applicable, practical phrases instead of simple words.”
The school where they worked was one of a few in the area that offered a full day and lunch program for its students. Keefe and her group members were surprised at the apparent lack of resources and emphasis focused on the school systems in the region.
Seniors Rosaria Altomare and Brendan Shea led a different group of students to Mount Sinai, Ecuador, to provide assistance to a Catholic volunteer organization, Rostro de Cristo. This organization focuses on the ministry of presence, aiming to both see the face of Christ in the people of the community and be the face of Christ through mission work.
Each day, a few group members went to the local market to buy bread for breakfast and food for lunch and dinner. After breakfast they would head out to the worksites, which included an elementary school, an after-school program and a clinic for people suffering from Hansen’s disease.
Altomare cites working at the Damien House clinic as the most meaningful experience of her trip. Due to the stigma surrounding Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as leprosy, many of the patients had been abandoned by their families. Many people are afraid of the disease because they do not understand its nature and how it is spread. At the Damien House, the volunteers entertained the patients with activities such as playing cards, singing and sharing stories. Each night ended with a chance for the group to reflect on the day’s work.
There certainly was a degree of culture shock for the volunteers in each location. Yet both Keefe and Altomare can attest to the welcoming atmosphere of their respective countries.
“People invited us, strangers, into their homes with a sincere interest to both share with and learn about us,” Altomare says. “One of the neighbors that we met, Jessica, even prepared dinner for us one night. Another neighbor, Monica, told us that the community of Mount Sinai looks out for one another.”
One day, the Ecuador group even played a game of soccer with the children of the neighborhood, solidifying their growing sense of community.
Similarly, Keefe recalls that the community in Monte Cristi felt safe and pleasant, from the live music playing on the street to the friendly, appreciative strangers who would wave at them from their porches.
Perhaps the best opportunity that comes out of a break trip experience is the chance to immerse oneself in a completely new culture. Opportunities to explore the region beyond volunteer work made the experiences so much more fulfilling for everyone involved.
The Dominican Republic group hiked up a mountain to enjoy sweeping views of the island’s blue beaches. They also took a trip to the bustling border of the DR and Haiti, where they observed swarms of people from both nations trying to sell their goods in an international market.
Right off the bat, the Dominican Republic group had faced a 12-hour delay in their arrival flight and the Ecuador group had a 23-hour delay of their own. Group bonding had been well underway since day one. Yet in each shared experience, the teams grew even closer.
For Keefe, her second break trip was very different than her first break trip experience last October in Oklahoma City, but it was equally rewarding.
“When you work with Habitat for Humanity, you can step away and say that you built a wall of a house,” Keefe says. But what you’re seeing here when you’re teaching English is that the impact is not as tangible or measurable.” However, it is certainly just as meaningful.