Published: Aug 20, 2007
By Robin Roger
Ashleigh Caldwell from the Isle of Man took hundreds of photos in one
week to capture the beauty of the Dominican Republic, but the most
beautiful thing she saw was the warmth and gratitude of the people she
“Until you’re there, you can’t understand how welcoming
the people are,” she said. “And the kids have nothing, so if you give
them a pencil they thank you so much.”
Caldwell visited the
Dominican Republic with a group of 10 students from People Exploring
Active Community Experience, or PEACE, a student service organization.
There the students volunteered teaching English at Orphanage Outreach,
an educational foundation partnered with an orphanage in Monte Cristi.
Outreach funds the education of the children at the orphanage and
provides scholarships for students who get accepted at universities. The
organization recently purchased a two-room school house and converted
it into an English institute. Any child living in the city can attend
the school, as long as he scores high enough on an entrance exam and
demonstrates a commitment to learning the language.
volunteers from PEACE visited the classrooms and presented their own
45-minute lessons to teach the students English words. When teaching
vegetables, for instance, they had the children draw pictures of their
favorite fruits and then taught them the English words for them.
tourism is such a big industry in the Dominican Republic, the
organization determined that the more English the children knew, the
better prepared they would be to support their families in the
developing economy. Also, children who want to attend college need to
know English. While rich parents can afford English classes or private
tutors, orphans are at a disadvantage.
“There’s a huge
dichotomy,” said Casey Stevens, assistant director of civic engagement
and adviser to PEACE. “There are people who can pay to learn English,
while others wear the same shirt everyday.”
When PEACE visited,
38 children, ages 1 to 18 lived at the orphanage. One child, a
2-year-old, was the son of a fisherman whose wife had left them. Half of
the boys were from another orphanage, a couple of hours away.
children all live in one building, with a boy’s and a girl’s bunk.
There is a kitchen and bathrooms with running water, but volunteers were
asked not to flush the toilets often. When they took showers, they
would turn on the water just long enough to get wet, then soaped up, and
The children shared clothing and went to communal shoe racks to pick out a pair in their size.
volunteers slept in a 2x4-foot structure with a metal roof and metal
fencing for walls. They slept in eight bunk beds, and each volunteer
received a sheet, a towel, a pillow and mosquito netting. Nobody
complained about the conditions, though, Stevens said.
students were shocked to see the world from such a different
perspective, she said. They truly learned the difference between wants
and needs, and realized how much we have in the United States, she
“It’s not about what else can we get, or producing as
much as possible,” she said. “It’s about what do we need to feed
The volunteers also learned about the Dominican
Republic’s history, from Spanish colonialism to today. The native Taíno
people were almost completely exterminated, and remnants of racism
“It’s not just doing and not learning,” she said. “This
helped them put it into the context of the city and the country we were
in.”When not teaching or learning, the volunteers sorted
donations. Each volunteer had brought two large pieces of luggage filled
with donations, including clothes, shoes, school supplies and
toiletries that PEACE had collected in a clothing drive.
In the downtime, they played with the children. They played basketball and the kids played keep away with the volunteer’s shoes.
were bugs constantly eating at us, but that’s part of the adventure,”
said Vanessa Panaligan who graduated from UT this spring. “If you’re
into the mission, you overlook the discomfort.”
the poverty was prevalent everywhere, even in the city of Santiago. Most
recently from the Philippines, she said she had traveled to developing
countries before, but she has never worked with closely with the people.
The government and world affairs major said her most memorable
moment was walking down the street and hearing the children calling out
“I would highly recommend international travel and
programs like this, because adventures create personal development, and
help you learn your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes.”
will hold its annual Into the Streets event on Saturday, Aug. 25. More
than 250 students will volunteer at agencies across Tampa Bay, including
the Lowry Park Zoo, Hope Children’s Home, Seniors in Service and Hudson