By Kim Klieber
Over spring break a group of seven Lawrence Tech students traveled to the Jarabacoa region of the Dominican Republic for a service-learning experience with Escuela Nacional Forestal University, a local Dominican women’s association, and representatives from the Peace Corps. The experience proved to be an authentic and meaningful service experience for Lawrence Tech students and the groups served.
LTU Leadership Programs Director Jim Jolly led the students, who were all enrolled in his Leadership Models and Practices course. In preparation for their service trip, students read “Lincoln on Leadership” by Donald Phillips and “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink, participated in discussions, and wrote papers on applying leadership theories expressed in the books. During their service, students were presented with situations that required their understanding and use of leadership skills as well as skills learned in their academic disciplines.
The LTU group spent five days volunteering in Jarabacoa alongside Peace Corps volunteers and students from the Escuela Nacional Forestal University, the local women’s association, and a youth group called the Brigada Verde (Green Brigade). During the five days spent with the local community, the LTU students learned of each group’s aspirations for their community and environment. Their work included reforestation efforts, trail planting, invasive species removal, deck construction, path restorations, seed and sapling planting, roof construction, soil preparation, and seating construction.
Upon arriving at the site a few students recognized opportunities to implement their individual skill sets. Mechanical Engineering students Dewight Moyer and Dario Dipaola collaborated to fix a thresher that had been broken for several years. The soil mix that the University uses on site requires a certain amount of wood chips. By repairing this machine, the labor time was cut down immensely to prepare soil for seed and sapling planting.
As a civil engineering student, I was able to utilize my knowledge to help in completing a bamboo and rock-lined swale to deter water from washing away downhill steps that lead to the banks of the Rio Jimenoa river. Large volumes of surface water runoff were being channeled down the manmade steps and causing erosion that resulted in an unsafe descent to the river.
In addition to the physical labor, there was also an application of the students’ leadership education. The students made a presentation to the women’s association in Jarabacoa about leadership and organization. The women started the association as a way to empower themselves and other women in their communities by creating something to be proud of that also supplements to their families’ income. Most of the women have little education and only have experience raising their families. They can begin to accomplish their goals when they are empowered to utilize the skills they have like cooking, sewing, arts and crafts.
Ideas from the books assigned in the course were adapted to the culture and dynamics of the people in the Dominican Republic. Personal experiences in organizations at Lawrence Tech also helped the students provide advice on how to better run the women’s association. All three schools came together and provided the women’s group with a plethora of suggestions and knowledge.
The LTU students also toured the historical colonial district in Santo Domingo that includes many sites that were truly historic like the ruins of Hospital San Nicolás de Bari, the first hospital in the new world. The central public space of the district is Parque Colon, a square that borders the 16th-century cathedral.
The LTU students also went white water rafting down the longest river of the Caribbean, Yaque del Norte. Students faced many rapids and each rapid had its own name like “Mike Tyson” and “kamikaze.” Teamwork skills were essential in overcoming the rapids safely, and all of the students executed them well.
After days of hard work, the student volunteers were invited to a goodbye celebration in their honor at the Escuela Nacional Forestal University where they learned how to dance the merengue and bachata.
Reflecting back on the experience, Sarah Britain said, “The Dominican trip was the most inspiring and life-changing experience I have had. Being able to see major cultural differences and the way many people live in a developing country opened my eyes to the infinite amount of ways I can make a difference in the world.”
Bailey Terrell said, “If I could describe the Dominican trip in one word, it would definitely be unforgettable. I met people and experienced things that I have learned so much from in such a short amount of time and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go.”