Hundreds of students transformed by DREAMS experience
A project that originated from an animated discussion on poverty in Paul Morrison’s Religion class is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Over the years, hundreds of St. Mary students have participated in DREAMS (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support), bringing hope to their Dominican brothers and sisters, and being transformed by their experience in the process.
In this anniversary reflection, St. Mary Chaplaincy Leader Don Hall describes the program’s impact on the students who have travelled to the Dominican Republic, and the communities they have served:
At St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, in San Jose de Ocoa, in the Dominican Republic and in Brazil, we are blessed to see the fruit of what has happened twenty years after seeds were planted. Students in Mr. Morrison’s Religion class wanted to do much more than study about poverty; they were inspired to make a difference with and for the poor in the Global South. Through the combined efforts of administration, staff, students and parents, St. Mary’s DREAMS was born and the rest is history. During the past twenty years, hundreds of St. Mary’s students, staff and chaperones have built a school, a teacher’s residence and 60 homes in the mountainous area surrounding San Jose de Ocoa. As DREAMS alumni Camryn Majander commented: “While in the Dominican Republic, you not only build a house, you build friendships. You not only mix concrete, you mix cultures. You not only lift bricks, you lift the hearts of others while they lift yours.”
We are forever standing on the shoulders of giants. Without the vision, inspiration and support of Fr. Lou Quinn and John Labatte, where would DREAMS be today? Our St. Mary C.S.S. community owes a debt of gratitude to both Ms. Filomena Tassi and Mr. Paul Morrison for co-founding DREAMS.
At the same time in South America, Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado and his wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado have spent the last twenty years planting a 1,750-acre forest to transform a barren plot of land in Brazil's Minas Gerais state into a tropical paradise. When Salgado returned from a traumatic trip covering the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he was shocked to find his family's former cattle ranch in a state of natural degradation. Inspired by Lélia’s idea, the couple started by planting 100,000 trees with the help of local school children. As a result, hundreds of species of flora and fauna now call the former cattle ranch home, including nearly 300 species of trees, more than 170 species of birds, 30 species of mammals, and 15 species of amphibians and reptiles -- many of which are endangered.
Is there something more in common than the fact there are more homes for poor families in the San Jose de Ocoa region of the Dominican Republic and more trees and wildlife in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais? In both cases, God didn’t call the experts to bring about the needed transformation. The grassroots groundswell began with students and everyday people doing what appeared to be impossible at the time. As St. Mother Teresa reminds us “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” While our St. Mary’s DREAMS commitment over the past twenty years has brought hope to the people in the San Jose de Ooca region, the reforestation in Brazil has brought hope to the world that we can do something about deforestation, climate change and renew the face of the earth. Never underestimate what you can do to make a difference with the grace of God.