Ten Siena students traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic with Assistant Professor of Spanish Marcela Garces, Ph.D., and Assistant Director of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center Valencia Constant for a service trip last month. The expedition spent a week teaching English to students of all ages, from pre-kindergarten to adults, and visiting the infirm. This is the eighth year that the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women has sponsored this service trip to work with the Bernadine Franciscan Sisters. Jenna Schlefman ’15, Hansel Salcedo ’14 and Joanna Bebber ’15 share their experiences below.
Jenna Schlefman ’15
Biology and Spanish Double Major
My experience in the Dominican Republic was a defining moment in my life. I found almost immediately that I could not hide behind my shyness. I would have to break out of my comfort zone and never look back, which would in turn lead me to learn even more about myself than I could have ever imagined. Throughout the week, I transformed into a leader, a teacher who (might I add) spoke fully in Spanish, a playground buddy and a friend. I saw how excited the children were when we arrived. These kids did not ask for much, just a few minutes of our love and attention. You would be surprised how far a hug, a smile or a piggyback ride could go in the daily lives of any of these children. They did not care about how my Spanish was far from perfect (and that’s putting it gently); they simply let me hug and tickle them until our stomachs hurt from laughing and our faces hurt from smiling. It was this overwhelming sense of joy, of community, and of hope that I will forever take with me.
As we walked down the streets and visited their homes, I gained a greater awareness of the poverty that surrounded me, yet also of the spirit of community. Regardless of how little they had, these people were happy, simply happy. I also had the rare opportunity to visit the sick individuals in the community. Despite their pain and suffering, these families were all understanding, welcoming, and more than anything, grateful. Michael, a precious ten-year-old boy with cancer, will hold a special place in my heart forever. I stood there, not knowing what to say, wishing there was something that I could do. I felt helpless and knew that I never wanted to feel that way again. In that moment, I promised myself that I would work to become the best person and doctor (hopefully) that I can be, so that one day, I can help a child just like Michael. Michael will be my motivation.
I went into this trip expecting to see the differences that would exist between my life here and life in the Dominican Republic. However, what I found were the things that tie us all together, the things that unite us as a family. After all, we are all human and we all want the same things: happiness, love and a place where we belong. The people of the Dominican Republic will forever hold a special place in my heart. What I have gained from them is priceless. They have opened my eyes to a world of new experiences and inspiration.
Hansel Salcedo ’14
Social Work Major
As a native of the Dominican Republic, I was extremely honored, pleased and privileged to take part in this year’s Dominican Republic Service Trip. As a social work major who seeks to learn about various populations, the context of individuals’ experiences and the influence that many factors have on human behavior and daily life, this experience allowed me to interact with many people from different age groups.
We worked with children in the morning, young and older adults in the afternoon, and I sweat as if I was working out at the gym during recess with the children at the Centro Misionero Franciscanas Bernadinas in Los Tres Brazos, Santo Domingo. Visiting families of the children who attend the Center’s school and learning about its mission helped me to better understand the financial struggle and health difficulties that community members experience.
Speaking the dialect of the country allowed me to connect with a number of people in unique and memorable ways.
Joanna Bebber ’15
Social Work Major
Franciscan Service and Advocacy Minor
Certificate in Community Development
Thanks to Siena College’s Women’s Center and the Ours To Do: Woman Leading the Way Scholarship, I experienced a once in a lifetime service trip opportunity in the Dominican Republic. Each day was packed with extraordinary experiences that I will never forget. There were many challenging moments and rewarding ones as well. One of the most challenging moments for me was visiting members of the community who were ill. It was a very emotional experience, however, despite their serious physical ailments, the people had a refreshing sense of peace.
My favorite memory from the trip was on our last day of teaching. We handed out stuffed animals to each of the students. As we left the school building, I peaked through the window and saw the kindergartners screaming with joy as they danced around and threw their new toys up in the air. The pure simplicity of their amusement is something so rare and special.
My trip to the Dominican Republic was my first experience abroad, and I could not have asked for more. The people of the community showed us immense kindness and hospitality everywhere we went. I am so thankful to everyone who supported me as I prepared for this trip as well as the amazing group of people who shared the experience with me. I hope to one day return to the community as well as continue serving across the globe.