Dominican Republican missionaries serve with success

Dominican Republican missionaries serve with success

Kate Callahan

Seniors Amanda Valdes and Caitlyn Vaka emanate joy in working with the children in La Victoria.

Kate Callahan, Co-Editor

The morning of March 20th called for early departure as the girls of the Dominican Republic Mission Trip gathered at Tampa International Airport at 4:30 am. Maybe a little less bright eyed than normal, the girls quickly gathered excitement as their two suitcases full of shoes were checked and their carry-on backpacks, packed to the brim of personal items, made it through airport security. Led by Mrs. Rebeca Zambrano and Mrs. Rhonda Wisniewski, the girls of the Dominican Republic Mission Trip eagerly awaited the week ahead.

After arriving in the capital of Santo Domingo, the girls piled into three vans and embarked on the crazy drive to La Victoria. For anyone who believes driving in Tampa can be stressful, compared to Dominican drivers with no knowledge of road rules,  Tampa is a breeze. Gradually, as the vans moved further away from the capital, the true essence of the Dominican Republic came into view. Paved roads became dirt roads, trash filled ditches lined the road, and a beautiful ocean view turned into partially built homes beside wood and aluminum tin paneled shacks.

Once arriving to the Schoenstatt Sisters gated property, the girls settled into their new home for the next week. Following the example and leadership of the Mission Trip leaders Hannah McNamara, Caitlin Vaka, Ashlyn Gentile, and Kelsey Langston, the girls set out for a quick tour of La Victoria. Immediately upon leaving the gates of the Schoenstatt property, the girls heard yells of “Americanas!” as word evidently spreads fast of visitors to La Victoria. Walking the neighborhoods, the girls were greeted with bright smiles and hellos of men, women, and children alike, all happy to see them.

However, the biggest celebrity of the week was none other than Mrs. Zambrano herself. Cries of “Rebeca! Rebeca!” echoed along the streets as the citizens of La Victoria have known Mrs. Zambrano for so long with her work in the Seeds of Hope Foundation, she is considered family.

All week the girls worked on various projects and service. A common favorite pastime was visiting the Nutrition Center. The Nutrition Center is a daycare facility working to provide two meals a day to the children of La Victoria. Swarms of children bombarded the girls as they opened the colorful gates into the center. Between young toddlers running about and little babies sleeping in playpens, the Nutrition Center was an easy choice for baby-loving Academy girls.

Manual labor ensued as groups of girls worked on building an outside latrine for one family of the Seeds of Hope Foundation. Built out of cement and cinderblocks, the latrine offers a needy family a more improved system for basic human needs. The girls also painted two houses during the week this year. Usually, the girls paint the new house built that year, but this time the girls also repainted the first Seeds of Hope house built ten years ago. Each house now boasts a bright new paint job topped with a painted cross above the doorway, credited to alumna Gina Barbato for the wonderful idea.

One of the most personal moments of the Dominican trip is the time set for family visits. Each year a girl is assigned one of the families sponsored by the foundation. The girl adopts this family, providing new outfits, toys for the children, food, and shoes collected from the shoe drives. The girls visit their families and receive the chance to connect on an emotional level. Later, the girls have the chance to see their families again at the Kids Camp or Mini Course sessions put on my the missionaries later in the week at the Schoenstatt convent.

The main objective behind the Dominican Republic Mission Trip falls with the shoe distribution. Each day a group of girls,  under the leadership of Mrs. Toni Campisi, would pack suitcases full of shoes, sorted and sized, to bring to schools. Upon arriving at the schools, the girls would use an empty classroom to set up. Called in one by one, children would sit down in front of an Academy girl to receive a most cherished gift of shoes. The process began with the cleaning of the child’s feet and caring for any untreated sores or wounds. Then the girls would size and fit every child to the best of their abilities. At times this task appeared daunting and challenging as near chaos almost broke out several times. However, the girls used their Academy poise and manners to successfully give out over 1,000 shoes during their stay. Any shoes not distributed were left with the Schoenstatt sisters to hand out according to the needs of the people. The missionaries would not have had this success without the help of all those who contributed to the shoe drive during February.

A final party for the Seeds of Hope families and the Schoenstatt sisters concluded a memorable week. The senior girls spent hours in the kitchen laughing, singing, and dancing while cooking a feast in honor of the sisters. Immediately after dinner, the girls surprised the sisters with music played on the guitar by Sasha Dominguez and sung by all. The sisters too shared their gift of music singing traditional religious songs in their native Spanish. After the dinner, the girls spent the night dancing away with their Seeds of Hope families and friends.

The 2011 Dominican Republic missionaries returned to Tampa the following day full of new found outlooks on life, faith, and love for others. The success of the trip would be nothing without the leadership of Mrs. Zambrano, Mrs. Wisniewski, and the four fabulous senior leaders.

Alabare a mi senor!