By Alexandra Moscato
Nothing could have prepared the 11 volunteers from Algonquin during reading week for what they were going to see while teaching English in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic for an alternative spring break.
The students and staff traveled there as part of Outreach 360, a volunteer program which encourages participants to “jump right in,” including having to stay up for almost 24 hours of travel and then be ready for Monday’s busy schedule.
Monday was the most difficult since it was the first introduction to all of the students. But as the week progressed, “the kids were so open to us and willing to share,” said Katie Perro, an Algonquin medical radiation student.
Within just a day, there was so much progress and it was, “Awesome to see how willing they were to learn and how appreciative they were.”
They taught children from kindergarten through grade five in teams, four times a week from Monday to Thursday. Activities involving the repetition of everyday basic words and phrases were practiced.
“You say home and there’s 20 little voices saying home,” said Steve Marchment, residence life co-ordinator.
In the morning they went to a community school funded by a church, where they were only the second group to teach English there, compared to in the afternoon at the learning centre where the children had been learning English for over a year. Nevertheless, “the kids were phenomenal,” he said.
The Dominican community was welcoming. Walking through the streets with the Outreach 360 shirts made them appear as teachers, since the program has been known and prominent in Monte Cristi for years.
“You’re recognized and respected as the people of the community walk past with warm ‘holas’ and ‘hellos,’” said Chris Brown, police foundations student.
In their culture it’s important to value and acknowledge the people even if it’s just a quick wave, they see it as disrespectful if someone wouldn’t. “It’s really impressive how far a big smile can go,” said Marchment.
One of the things that stood out to them was their experience at the Dominican-Haiti border. Some saw it as an exciting experience; when the reality was that the border was a prime example of struggle and survival. The border is only open for a short period of time a couple of days a week. Most people go across to trade, buy, and barter. They sell necessities such as toilet paper and food, and there’s nothing in the market that doesn’t help their life.
“The border gives life. If someone doesn’t go there when they’re supposed to it can negatively affect not only themselves but the people in the community they had to provide for,” said Marchment.
They also got a chance to walk through the market where Marchment felt like a fly on the wall, “Witnessing everyone walking through, not even acknowledging your presence, just rushing to go from one side to the other to get supplies to provide for themselves and their families.” They didn’t go to the border to be a tourist, “You’re going there to observe and take in the reality of the situation that is their life,” said Brown.
Another Outreach principle the group applied was “poco poco,” meaning little by little, which resonated with the volunteers.
“We’re not going there to change the world and teach the whole English language in a week, we’re there to assist them and give them the opportunity they might not have otherwise,” said Brown. And they plan to continue doing so as the three volunteers have said they all have plans to return in the future.