For over several years, Saugatuck High School’s Interact Club has been dedicated to serving the local community. From planting trees on Mt. Baldhead to making fleece blankets for the elderly, these students have made significant strides to improve their city. However, the scope of the club’s work reaches far outside the bounds of their lakeshore town.
Each year, Interact Club members make a trip to the Dominican Republic to assist in service projects, such as building latrines and providing water filters for residents of the sugar plantation communities, or bateys, surrounding the city of La Romana.
Recently the club has focused its efforts on helping the people of Batey 106, taking a special interest in children living there.
“When we first arrived and stepped off the bus, kids ran up to us, hugged us and grabbed our hands,” says Riley Howell, a member of Interact. “It showed me how joyful and grateful the children are regardless of their situation, which in turn made me realize how blessed I am, and how much I take for granted.”
In Batey 106, the vast majority of the population works in the sugar fields, earning about $8 per day. Education is one of the only ways individuals can create new opportunities for themselves, including additional job prospects outside the batey that may offer higher salaries or provide better working conditions. However, receiving a more advanced education is not always an option in the area.
In 2014, Saugatuck students visited a small one-room schoolhouse that serves the entirety of Batey 106. Children wishing to learn study in cramped quarters and can only go to school part-time, as there is not enough room for all the children in the batey to attend at once. Additionally, students can only reach a fourth grade education level due to lack of resources.
Members of the Interact Club recognized the students wanted to learn more, but did not have the tools necessary to do so. Therefore, they made it their mission to provide Batey 106 with the assets to change that.
“The work that we have done in the Dominican Republic for many years, such as building latrines and water filters, was invaluable,” says Joseph Cappelletti, former vice president of the club. “However, by helping to educate the community, we are giving them the power to better their lives.”
Throughout the year, the club has been raising money to construct a new schoolroom. Members actively sold bricks to help build, hosted events at the high school, and pitched their ideas to local companies and other potential donors.
Interact Club member, Jetal Patel, summarized the entire process that began a month after the trip: “In March, we launched our crowdsource fundraiser through YouCaring with the goal of raising $25,000. With the generous support of the student body, the community, and the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club, we raised the funds by the middle of June. The school was constructed by the end of August, and class is now in session—teaching twice as many kids as before. The Maranatha Mission partnered with the Dominican Ministry of Education who hired a teacher for the school.”
The club planned extensively to make sure this project would provide the learning space necessary for all the area children to attend school full-time. Interact also began working with an outside organization to place a second teacher at the school, allowing students to continue their studies through the high school level. With these changes in place, more of the batey’s children may be able to escape the cycle of poverty that plagues the area.
“The new school holds more children and allows them to attend school for a full day as opposed to half a day,” says Riley. “By educating children, we can help them have other options in life besides working in the sugarcane fields.”
Cappelletti shared his reactions to the photos of the successfully completed school: “To see the school finally built and now to see it running was one of the greatest feelings I’ve had. It feels awesome to work so hard at something with a group of incredible people to help less fortunate children and families.”
Rudy Joon added, “Although we have accomplished our mission of building a school in Batey 106, the fight to help these children escape the cycle of poverty is not over. I know the club will continue to work on the mission, by finding ways to increase the level of education for these students.”
Finally, as an added bonus, because the club chose to install a concrete roof instead of a metal one, the schoolroom was used as shelter for the community during Hurricane Irma.
“Our first goal was to build the additional schoolroom,” says Joseph. “In the future, we hope to add on more rooms, as well as build a garden where the community can grow food.”
Students raising funds to build a schoolroom for children in the Dominican Republic is being featured by the Ottawa Area Schools’ Doing More. Together. collaborative. Doing More Together is an innovative education partnership between faith-based schools, public schools, and public school academies throughout the Ottawa region that showcases the high quality education offerings in local communities. The partnership’s website –doingmoretogether.org– features a wide array of success stories from participating schools.
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