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Bishop Smith students moved by experiences in the Dominican

By Celina Ip

After engaging in a humanitarian mission trip in the Dominican Republic, a team of local students have returned to Canada with entirely new perspectives.


The group of Grade 11 and 12 students, nine from Bishop Smith Catholic High School and seven from St. Joseph’s High School in Renfrew, were led by teachers and coordinators Tara Crossman and Mark Conrad.

While most Canadians picture the tourist resorts, legendary beaches and aqua blue water that the Dominican Republic is best known for, the participants had the chance to immerse themselves within the country’s true environment.

They spent one week, from Feb. 5 to 12, in and around the village of Yamasa, where they engaged in a variety of efforts such as distributing medical supplies (that they brought with them from Canada) to the village’s free medical clinic, delivering food kits to the poor, engaging with the residents and painting houses.

An average day would see them get up around 7 a.m., then spend the morning rotating through the different activities. After lunch there would be more rotations, followed by the chance to learn something about the local culture.

“Some days were physically exhausting and other days were mentally exhausting depending on the day,” said Crossman.

Crossman commented that while many of the students were expecting an “eye-opening” experience, they still weren’t fully prepared for the reality.

“They found it hard to believe that nice middle class homes were right next door to shacks, and that was all around them,” said Crossman. “And they don’t have clean water over there, so they needed to brush their teeth with bottles of water because it’s not safe to drink the tap water.”

Grade 11 Bishop Smith participant Emma Hebert pointed out her shock that the residents have such strong faith and positive spirits despite being challenged by unstable living conditions, poverty, unsanitary water, limited medical care and a lack of food.

“When we were delivering food kits it made us realize how much easier we have it out here in Canada. For us, it’s so easy to go buy groceries or something while they rely on these food kits every three weeks,” said Hebert.

Emma Neville, another Grade 11 participant from Bishop Smith, gave an example of a powerful moment that will stay with her forever.

“Something really eye-opening for me was witnessing a man who had a broken foot but he said 'it's OK, God will heal me' and he had such strong faith. They’re in such terrible situations but they have so much faith and trust in God so much even though they have so little,” said Neville.

“They’re definitely ahead of us in terms of spirituality and connectivity,” said Brandon Cliche, Grade 12 Bishop Smith participant.

When the week ended and it came time to return to Canada, the participants found it emotionally difficult to leave the village and say goodbye to their new friends.

While this was Crossman’s fourth time participating in the mission, it was the first time for all of the students. Upon returning home, Crossman shared how the students experienced a second major culture shock as the inequality between the two countries became ever more apparent.

“Instead of just hearing about it they were able to witness the poverty firsthand. And now that we’re back in Canada, they’re sharing their experience with others and encouraging them to do their own part to help out,” said Crossman.

Many of the students are still reflecting on the eye-opening experience of the trip and coming to grips with the effects of those culture shocks.

Neville shared how the Dominican mission taught her to appreciate what she has and to not take anything for granted.

“Now I find that I second guess myself and rethink everything. Like I’ll be complaining about my mom wanting me to do dishes but then I stop as I think that at least I have dishes to wash. Or if my mom wants me to help cook supper I think that at least I have something I can eat instead of having to rely on people to deliver food to me,” said Neville.

Hebert expressed that the experience taught her to no longer live in excess but instead to know the difference between a want and a need.

“It changed me in a way because it made me realize that I don’t need all of the stuff that I have, like excess amounts of clothes and makeup. It made me realize that I can live with just simple necessities,” said Hebert.

Cliche said that the resounding culture of appreciation and steadfast faith within Yamasa offered him a significant reality check about his blessed life in Canada.

“It’s crazy to go from the Canadian lifestyle of so much excess and then to be in a place with so little,” said Cliche. “Now I find that I don’t complain nearly as much as I would about my first world problems but I just push them to the side as I think of the reality that some people face day in and day out.”

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