“It really made a difference for the students. It lit a fire for them.”
–Susan Ambrose, Group Chaperone
Group Chaperone Susan with students from the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School
School Group: Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School
Campus: Ghent, NY
Number of Participants: 15 Students and 2 Group Chaperones
Transformational Experience: Dominican Republic: Spring Break Service Adventure
Taking 15 students to another country for a service-learning experience is not a part of the standard curriculum for many high school educators. But as chaperones Susan Ambrose and Abraham Madey discovered after taking a group from Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School to the Dominican Republic, an unconventional experience offers its own educational rewards.
The group on arrival day at the airport (notice the cold weather clothing – that’s about to change!)
First though, the group had to make it to the DR. As a GLA mentor in the Dominican Republic wrote on the group’s arrival day, “After a long morning, two flights, and a bus ride to the Home Base, the group was apt to say ‘so long’ to the Albany weather, and spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing on the beach and body surfing in the waves until dinner.”
Hawthorne student volunteers hamming it up for the camera!
However, this group of teens didn’t fly all the way to the Caribbean to lounge around on the sand. Unlike many GLA students, this cadre of teens on the Dominican Republic: Spring Break Service Adventure program arrived already knowing each other, sent by their school to volunteer as a unit. To make change happen together, as a team. And they would work on a service project – the construction of a eco-friendly bottle house – that would have one of their chaperones remarking, “It was the perfect trip.”
Students working on a bottle house
Volunteering in the Dominican during spring break takes a certain kind of teenager. Someone committed to the cause of bettering lives in communities far away from home. A teen who was a vision for making the world a better place, one bottle building or water filtration project at a time. And the volunteers have to get to know and trust one another to provide the greatest impact to any one community, so that they can collaborate on very detailed projects that require precision and hard work. That’s why the first day of programs always involve orientation and friendly icebreakers, so that students from far and wide get to know each other well.
With the Hawthorne Valley group, there was no need for a more traditional orientation. The students already knew each other, and the group’s two chaperones came with them from Hawthorne.
One of the students attending the program, Blaise, realized just how valuable already knowing his classmates – and fellow volunteers – could be, especially in getting a jump-start on an 8-day service program:
You know what people’s strengths are, what people’s weaknesses are. Going as a class is way better, because I know everyone, and everyone knows me. I’m the happiest kid because I went.”
However, it was what changed in the group despite already knowing each other that had an immediate impact. Our chaperone, Susan, noticed the difference: that what she expected of each student changed as the program shook up preordained roles within the group.
It’s really interesting how the dynamics and roles in the groups kept changing for these students who already knew each other from home.”
The group takes a break to celebrate the work they’ve accomplished on the bottle building
The major service project on this particular trip was the construction of a sustainably-sourced bottle house in a remote Dominican community. Bottle buildings utilize recycled materials to create everything from the walls to the roofs of the structures, and benefit the community at-large by removing waste and litter from the surrounding environment. This can be critical for ecosystem health in regions where trash collection is limited or nonexistent, and lots of plastic ends up piled outdoors. This method also provides a more affordable – and sustainable – way to construct houses, schools, and clinics.
Hawthorne students at the service site
Carla, one of the 15 GLA teen volunteers, reflected on the project:
I thought building the bottle house was really cool. I had never done that before. I liked that they used recycled materials for the project – it was very creative.”
The bottle house, coming together
Susan saw how the nightly lectures by GLA staff built on the foundation of learning provided by the service project. They engaged with the students, and opened up a discussion not just on the impact of the bottle building, but the larger issues facing Dominican communities.
The lectures at night were something I hadn’t expected. I was really impressed. They had serious statistics, facts, and numbers to back up the lessons. And it was really powerful for the students. It helped that Cameron [the international director] and Dave [the local director] knew everyone – that they were connected to the community.”
Student volunteer Alexandra agreed with how the service and the nightly lectures were intertwined, adding, “exposure is the key part to understand the topics being discussed.”
Dr. Dave Addison, Local Director, engaging with two children in one of the communities we visit
Jerry, another student volunteer on the program, summed it up best when he realized what he’d taken from the experience:
The most valuable thing I took away was the education that I got. I learned a lot. We need more help than they do. We’re doing the most damage… I sort of expected we’d be going somewhere, and coming in as ‘privileged people.’ [Instead,] it was good for us to see what it’s like in most of the world.”
Susan built on that observation, noting about the program:
It made a difference for the students and for what they’ll do in the future. They learned: it’s on you.“
If you’re interested in learning more about taking a custom group to the Dominican Republic or another country with GLA, you can find more information here. And feel free to check out the video from the group’s trip, too!
Program Students attended:
GLA Dominican Republic: Spring Break Service Adventure
Curious about exploring your own GLA adventure? Check these out:
- GLA Dominican Republic: Building a Sustainable World™
- GLA Dominican Republic: Global Health Initiative™
- GLA Dominican Republic: Beachside Service Adventure
- GLA Dominican Republic: Spring Break Service Adventure