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Volunteering in the Dominican Republic

May 25, 2015


Teaching in the Dominican Republic

We want to thank Taylor for her inspirational letter to the Marshall Dental Clinic.  Taylor traveled to the Dominican Republic and volunteered teaching kids in grades 1 through 7.  She also took along some toothbrushes, toothpastes, floss and mouthwash donated by our office.

Her story is below:

My Experience Teaching in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Bruce Marshall & the Marshall Dental Clinic,

During March Break, I went on a 10 day long service trip to a rural community called Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. Our group of West Point Grey Academy students, 18 in total, worked with the non-profit organization Outreach360 to teach local children English through an immersion program.

After returning from my trip to the Dominican Republic, I felt changed and overwhelmed by the incredible experience. I took some time to digest and process my emotions and thoughts so I could properly share my amazing experience and fully express my gratitude for your contribution and involvement in my trip. Thank you.

Our WPGA team planned and prepared for our trip starting in early October. We met on a weekly basis to plan fundraising events, to learn about Dominican culture and history and to practice preparing lesson plans. On top of that, to get practice teaching we helped teach younger grades in our Junior school (grades 1-7) during our spare classes and lunch hours. All of this experience was vital in helping me prepare for the trip, but none of it could compare to the reality of teaching in the Dominican Republic.

Our journey began with a bit of a slow start. From Vancouver, we drove to the Seattle airport then flew to Newark, New Jersey. During our 3-hour layover, most of us were so tired from our first flight that we ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport. We got a few strange looks, but this was a good introduction to one of Outreach360’s concepts which is “leave your cool at the door”. From New Jersey, we flew to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. We all hopped into a little bus (that didn’t have any seat-belts!) and drove to Monte Cristi which is near the Haitian border. In total, our journey there took over 28 hours! But, that didn’t stop us from immediately jumping into the incredible experience.

The drive through the Dominican Republic was a bit of a shock for me. I was expecting to see poverty but not quite to such an extreme. For the most part, the houses were made of sheet metal and plywood and some were even held together by barbed wire. Rabid and injured dogs roamed the streets. Garbage and broken glass was strewn all over the cracked sidewalks. It was very different from the city and life I’ve grown accustomed to here in Vancouver.

During our first few days in the DR, we received orientations on how to lead a classroom and toured Monte Cristi. We were also introduced to Outreach360’s guidelines:

  • Acknowledge yourself
    You are Outreach360
    It’s not about you
    This is it
    Communicate love
    Poco a poco (little by little)
    Jump right in
    Serve, don’t help
    Be flexible/creative
    You are responsible

These guidelines really resounded with me and the rest of my group. We often found ourselves quoting them if we were having a hard time or if something was going really well. Since returning, I have incorporated these little tidbits of wisdom into my daily life. I am trying to be more flexible and creative, communicate love and take things one step at a time (or poco a poco).

My experience teaching was absolutely and utterly phenomenal. Initially, I was nervous to teach and run a lesson but my fear of failure quickly dissipated. The 18 of us, were split into three groups, each group would rotate and lead the classes for that day. Those of us who weren’t directly leading in front of the class would help the students with one-on-one teaching. At first, I was shocked when I realized that all 18 of us would be in one tiny, little classroom with 20+ students. But, this was actually an incredibly effective teaching method because each student received one-one-one teaching and we really bonded with them. We would go back to the same class each day and work with the same students. I got to see their progress and enthusiasm as they learned the new concepts.

We taught grades 2 through 7 about emotions and the weather. Their English abilities are very minimal so we actually ended up teaching the same curriculum to all grades.

We wanted the lessons to be as fun and engaging as possible. We would start with the daily routine (we introduce ourselves, discuss the date, sing the alphabet, and count to at least 10). We would spice things up a bit by doing things like singing the alphabet really fast or in a funny voice. We would then move on to our actual lesson. Each lesson started with a quick introduction or review of vocab words and the class would repeat what we would say. Then we would work one-on-one with the students and do things like worksheets, bingo (which they absolutely loved although didn’t quite understand) and drawing, writing and discussing the new topics. We would end each lesson with a fun song. They loved “If you’re happy and you know it” and the “Banana song”! We even made up a few songs about the weather!

It was an amazing experience. The kids would light up and loved learning. They weren’t embarrassed or frustrated when they didn’t understand a concept, they just tried again until they got it. Their perseverance was inspiring.

What was probably most impactful for me was teaching the grade 7 class. Grade 7 is the last year that Dominican children are required to go to school, but by this point many of them have given up on school and skip their classes for work instead. Anyway, in the grade 7 class there was a group of students in the back row who refused to listen. On the first day, they were whispering and giggling to each other the whole time. They refused to answer in English whenever we spoke to them. My friend Maddy and I were finding it hard to get through to those students. We kneeled patiently beside them and tried to find something they wanted to talk about. “Do you like sports?” “No” “What about clothes?” “No”. “What do you like to do?” “No”. “No” seemed to be the one word they knew in English.

Maddy and I decided that it was our mission to teach these students some English but every time we tried, they would laugh at us. It was definitely challenging. We tried acting out words, drawing pictures, asking them questions but nothing seemed to work. The only response we got was laughter and whispers. But suddenly, we made a connection and they opened up and tried to speak English. I think they were shy and nervous about making mistakes. None of them wanted to embarrass themselves in front of their friends. I guess they realized that we were acting silly and “leaving our cool at the door” so they could too. By the end of the week they knew how to talk about the weather and their feelings. We even taught them how to say “I’m laughing” and “That is funny”.

My experience in the DR gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the hard work of teachers. Also, the children in the DR taught me the importance of making the best of each situation, regardless of the circumstances.

I am so grateful that I was able to go on this trip and see a different part of the world. Thank you so much for your generous donation of toothbrushes, toothpastes, floss and mouthwash! It was hugely appreciated! Now, the kids in the DR will have cleaner teeth and good dental hygiene thanks to your wonderful donation! Through school bake sales and concessions, we raised money that we used to buy additional supplies that we brought down with us in our checked luggage. We filled 9 duffle bags full of supplies! There was a whole bag devoted to dental hygiene and medical supplies! On top of that, I ended up raising over $950 through donations and our WPGA team raised a total of $22,700!

Thank you for your contribution to my trip. The trip was truly life changing. It is something that I will never forget. I have included some pictures of the school, community and our WPGA group. I also brought back some local coffee for the entire clinic to enjoy!


Taylor B.


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