By Elise Fernandez ’13
Ten Siena College students spent a week in the Dominican Republic during winter break. Rather than relaxing on the beach they were working with Franciscan sisters in Santo Domingo as part of a service trip sponsored by the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women. The group worked in health clinics and taught young children in the community of Los Tres Brazos.
“The trip involved spending time with the children, creating lesson plans for the K-4 school, teaching English classes to the slightly older children, volunteering when needed at the medical clinic and pharmacy, and just running around at recess,” said Shannon O’Neil Ph.D., director of the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women. O’Neill said that there are parts of the Dominican Republic that are underdeveloped and suffering financially. The trip provided Siena students and chaperones insight into the conditions others face.
“It seemed unbelievable to see families living in what was essentially a cement room with a patchwork tin roof,” said Padua Hall Residence Director Riane Corter who served as one of the trip’s chaperones. “I think the biggest difference that everyone felt was the undrinkable water. You always hear ‘don’t drink the water,’ but until you are actually brushing your teeth with bottled water, you don’t feel the impact. To think of people living without drinkable water readily available to them is heartbreaking,” Corter said.
What students and chaperones found heart warming, however, was the dedication of the Franciscan sisters. “It’s been an inspiration to see the work that the Sisters do,” said Claire Frank’13. “Experiencing all the positive effects and outcomes of their work makes you realize, ‘wow I really can make a difference.’ It’s amazing to see how much time and energy they give to the people. They are so selfless and so giving and it’s great to be a part of that.”
Amanda Morales ’13 said the trip made her grateful to have the Franciscan background she learned at Siena College. “It has really showed me how lucky I am, what skills I can bring and how much these kids wanted us there and how much it means to them,” Morales said. She was proud to spread the Franciscan spirit and Siena’s mission internationally.
The students brought money and supplies for the Franciscan Sisters to distribute to people in need. They also brought Beanie Babies to give to the children on the last day of the trip. “Their faces just lit right up,” Frank said. “Some of them had never had a stuffed animal and it’s just the best gift you could give a little child.” This trip is something that both the Siena students and the community of Los Tres Brazos look forward to each year. “We try hard to make sure that the Sisters feel really good about the students we have sent down,” O’Neil said. “They rave about our group, so we have a little Siena pride in that the Sisters think very highly of the work the Siena students do and the way the students conduct themselves.”
This was the Bowman Center’s seventh annual service trip to the Dominican Republic.