Learning in the World: Service Learning Project in the Dominican Republic

Ten students and two faculty visited the Domincan Republic over Spring Break to work with the Mariposa Foundation.

A group of ten students and two faculty spent Spring Break hammering wooden pallets in the hot climate of the Dominican Republic. Together, the members of this nine-day service project built an outdoor yoga platform to promote health and wellness for eighth grade girls.

“It was a lot of a hard labor: carrying the pallets, nailing them together, sanding it down. In the morning we were sweating buckets,” said program director Anny Candelario Escobar, Instructor in Mathematics and Course Head of Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion.

Titled “Global Goals: Dominican Republic,” the trip was one of the Learning in the World programs offered this year by the Tang Institute. According to the Tang Institute website, the goals of this service program are to promote gender equality and eradicate generational poverty.

The program works in association with the Mariposa Foundation, an organization that focuses on women empowerment and the issue of poverty. The foundation was established to support girls below the poverty line in the northern part of the Dominican Republic.

Participants also worked with the girls in small groups to come up with ideas for a museum that the Mariposa Foundation plans to build in the next year.

“It was just amazing to see how even though some [Andover] kids weren’t able to speak Spanish, everyone was able to communicate and get to know each other really well, and we form bonds and we can communicate via common language really well,” said Abdu Donka ’18.

The students on the trip developed close relationships with the girls of the Mariposa Foundation. Shahinda Bahnasy ’20 cherished the personal time with the girls that connected her to the work she did throughout the day.

“One experience with a girl named Liandra that allowed for me to realize that I was making a difference at the foundation was when she gave me a Dominican Republic bracelet… She pulled [it] out of her bag and put it on my wrist and told me, ‘This is for when you leave because I don’t want you to forget about me,’ ” said Bahnasy.

According to Donka, the trip allowed him to realize the value of education and the effects of its inaccessibility. The trip also prompted him to think of his own privilege within education.

Donka said, “I was shocked by how the quality of one’s life can be determined by whether you finish high school or not. You can get married really early and be tied down in a marriage, or you can get an education, have your own job, you can have more economic freedom before you consider marriage. It just made me realize how lucky I am, how privileged we are in the United States, and how I can help out in the future.”

Candelario supported this acknowledgement of privilege that she says happens every year when the students visit the homes of the girls in the foundation.

Candelario said, “One thing is to know that they’re way below the poverty line. Another thing is to actually go to their homes or walk through their neighborhoods and kind of see it. I think that sends a strong message to students. Look at where we are: we’re at [Andover]. What more could you ask for?”

Candelario first connected with the organization while working at Tabor Academy. While in search of an organization in the Dominican Republic, she came across the Mariposa Foundation.

“I always wanted to participate in one of these Spring Break… service-oriented programs, and I could never afford to, so I never went. As a teacher, I made it a goal to fundraise for anyone that wanted to go on a program,” said Candelario.

Upon coming to Andover, where fundraising was no longer an issue, Candelario had more time to focus on the program. The Mariposa Foundation was important to her because of its various impacts on girls.

“They offer classes, academic classes… [and] opportunities to learn skills like sewing [and] swimming, which is surprisingly one of the skills that most girls don’t have, though across the street is the beach,” said Candelario.

“Something I took from the trip is how vital education is and how it’s not easily accessible to everyone in the world. We did a lot of reflecting, and I think that’s something that made it really special,” said Donka.