In late June, 35 students and six teachers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools flew to the Dominican Republic to lead a summer camp for children at an orphanage in a high-poverty community. To be selected, students had to submit an essay detailing the reasons they would like to attend; they also had to be enrolled in a Spanish course in school. Once selected, they spent the entire 2011-12 school year fundraising $60,000 to travel to the Caribbean country. In the Dominican Republic, students were responsible for teaching classes such as art, physical education and Spanish to 7- to 12-year-olds. This week, we hear about their journey from three student participants: Bryanna Bowden, Brytanni Bowden and Zariah Roy, all 14-year-olds and rising freshmen at North Mecklenburg High.
Arriving in the Dominican Republic proved to be an experience in itself, Zariah said. For the three girls, this was their first time in a different country and they were on edge. It rained upon their arrival and their driver was speedy, swerving and honking to dodge animals in the roads. A quick stop at McDonald’s before driving to Hope of a Child Orphanage in Monte Cristi was one of the only reminders of home.
Still under construction, the three-story orphanage, which would be their home for the week, lacked a completed top floor. Barbed wire lined the property’s fence and armed security patrolled the grounds, Brytanni said. But the three said they weren’t nervous: They were excited to help the children.
Their day started at 7 a.m., waking up the children to participate in the educational camp. Throughout the day, the teens organized and led 10 classes per day. CMS teachers served as observers, sitting at the back of classrooms as their students taught, said Sam Pierce, a teacher on the trip.
(“We teach all year, but they were doing all the work there,” Pierce said. “They were so joyful and energetic. They got an understanding of education.”)
In the classrooms, the CMS teens taught the alphabet and how to name colors. They also did physical activity games and made crafts such as bracelets. They had to speak mostly in Spanish because most of the children didn’t speak English.
“I was surprised how close I got to people who didn’t even speak my own language,” Brytanni said.
Zariah said she had no idea how much her teachers had to project their voices during a typical school day. She lost her voice after the first day of teaching in the Dominican Republic.
But the teens agreed on one aspect of the trip: Small actions, such as playing with a child, can have a major impact on a community. They hope to bring that concept back to the States and teach their peers.
On their last day, the teens said the children gave them hugs and watched them board the bus to the airport. The children of the orphanage chased the bus on its way out, Bryanna said.
Her advice to her peers: “Be thankful for what you have. Not everyone is as blessed.”