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Alternative spring break--Volunteers in the Dominican Republic

Posted: 03/25/2011

During spring break 2011, 15 Skidmore students, two University at Albany students, and three staff members from Skidmore’s Health Services traveled to the Dominican Republic for an alternative spring break.

The group joined approximately 130 other volunteers from colleges throughout the U.S. in a program sponsored by Orphanage Outreach, a non-profit group whose mission is to transform individuals, families, communities, and countries through the education and development of orphaned, abandoned, and disadvantaged children. Orphanage Outreach began in 1994 and since then, more than 10,000 volunteers have worked with a local orphanage as well as schools in the local community in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The Skidmore volunteers worked at orphanages in the towns of Monte Cristi and Jaibon, located in northwestern Dominican Republic, not far from the Haitian border. Volunteers stayed on the orphanage grounds, in summer camp-type facilities.

Students “adopted” local grade schools in their respective towns and taught public health lessons. Public health has become a national priority since cholera has emerged on the island. The groups focused on brushing teeth, nutrition, washing hands, general hygiene, and exercise. Many of the children have decayed or decaying front teeth, because children are often put to bed with a juice bottle. Parents don't have the resources to provide their children toothbrushes and toothpaste. The need for dental health education is huge; it's the key to long-term dental health improvements.  Basic dental items were distributed after each class. Students were divided into teaching teams of 4-6 students and spent four days teaching.

After teaching, organized activities were available for the groups to enjoy. These activities included hiking, shopping in a local grocery store, a community service project, a day at the beach, and spending time interacting with the children at the orphanage. Every participant had a different experience but all agree that it was a memorable and rewarding alternative spring break.

Story and photos by Patty Bosen, director of clinical services, Skidmore College Health Services