“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” This quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, speaks directly to the team of 18 students and staff that took part in Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School’s DREAMS trip to a poor, rural region of the Dominican Republic.
The DREAMS (Dominican Republic Educational and Medical Support) program allows students from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board an opportunity to perform acts of mercy to our global neighbours in one of the poorest regions of the world. The group from Bishop Tonnos was privileged to purchase building supplies and to assist in the construction of a home for a family in the mountainous town of El Naranjal. The home will provide shelter, but more importantly a sense of dignity for Jesus and Margo, the recipients of the home. Jesus and Margo will live in the home with their son and four grandchildren.
Under the leadership of BT staff Jeff Zwolak, Chaplain Kim Pastak and Carla D’Elia, the students did an amazing job digging a foundation, securing it with cement and steel rebar, and building walls from cinder blocks to fortify the house for the hurricane season. All materials for the home were purchased through the students’ fundraising efforts that started in September.
Trading in their cell phones and first world luxuries for shovels and pick-axes, the students amazed themselves and their teammates with their physical strength, determination and teamwork.
“The physical work was hard but rewarding,” said grade 12 student Makayla Barresi. “I was sore at night, but you quickly forget about the physical soreness because you remember that what you’re doing is for a good cause.”
While the trip allowed the students to give to a needy community, the beautiful aspect of the DREAMS program is that the students feel they took more from the community than they gave. During daily evening prayer and reflections, the students commented on how humbling the entire experience is.
“While the people of El Naranjal may have been materially poor, they were very rich in so many ways,” said grade 12 student Naomi Lancia. “The community is full of love and happiness. Every day, neighbours sit outside their homes and just talk with each other, something we don’t do enough of in Canada.”
Many of the students witnessed the beauty of true community togetherness whether it was seeing children playing stickball in a field, or seniors in the community sharing a coffee and chatting.
Now that they have returned, the students will share their experiences with the greater school community over the next few months through presentations at the school’s Ash Wednesday service and through the annual THINKfast event held in the spring.
“The entire experience was truly inspirational and a testament to the great young women and men our school produces,” stated teacher-advisor Jeff Zwolak.
“The students involved have very bright futures ahead of them. They will go forward now with a greater sense of empathy and gratitude because of the DREAMS experience.”