Oct. 21-27, 2004
By Donald C. Maldari, SJ/ SUN contributing writer
Le Moyne Students Travel to Dominica for Life Experience
On May 19, 2004, a group of 10 students and two professors from Le Moyne College headed off to the Commonwealth of Dominica for 10 days of service and learning. The students were members of “living-learning” communities at the college. Their goal was to immerse themselves in the life of Dominica in order to aid the poor and to promote mutual cultural understanding.
All the students worked in projects with Dominicans: teaching classes in elementary schools, visiting the elderly in old folks’ homes for the indigent, giving a helping hand to a Women’s Cooperative, being big brothers and sisters, aiding handicapped children, and financing and finishing a house for a homeless man. They also took a course entitled “Cultural Literacy” that at the end of each day helped them to reflect upon their experiences. Each student interviewed at least two Dominicans in order to acquire a sense of their lives, of what made them tick. The fruit of that reflection was deeper self-awareness as well as appreciation for the rich diversity of human culture.
The Commonwealth of Dominica — not to be confused with the much larger Dominican Republic — is a small, remote island in the Lesser Antilles. Its population of 70,000 has an annual Gross Domestic Product of $5,400, as compared with that in the U.S. of $36,000. Unemployment is approximately 23%. Thirty percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Le Moyne College has organized a service project there each of the past three years as part of its mission to educate the whole person, to help its students search for meaning and value, and to prepare them for leadership and service to promote a more just society. The college chose this country in particular because it is English-speaking, very poor, and because of contacts with members of some religious congregations there. Students volunteer for the project out of a desire to reach out to others by sharing some of the gifts they receive through their education and upbringing. They do all the fundraising that helps to pay for their trip and to make some financial contributions to schools and agencies in Dominica.
The students not only helped the poor of Dominica; they also grew tremendously from their experience. The following are some observations of their experiences in the students’ own words:
“Being immersed into another culture and aggressively learning about it has opened up a new type of thought that involves more than just what I have known.” — Nichole Nadermann
“People traditionally think that our differences divide us, and although a great amount of evidence exists to support this statement, I believe that if we come to understand our differences, they can actually bring us closer together. If we are willing to recognize and respect our differences, we then have the ability to develop a mutual understanding, uniting us together as a community.” — Emily Dilzer
“Ultimately, not all of the problems of the world can be solved, and the same holds true for each country. Nevertheless, I saw and realized through Dominica that just a little bit here and there makes a big difference. Simply to say it is not enough; we must go out there as ambassadors of our own country and show our more peaceful and helpful side. This not only enriches our own country’s image but also our lives and the ones that we affect abroad in a very positive way”. — Marissa Citro
“Each place we visited taught me more about the poor and the less fortunate. During my time as a big brother I was able to see the real poverty in which the children live. Without the Youth Quake Centre, these children would have been homeless and starving. It made me realize how lucky we were to have been born and raised in a great country like the United States where such widespread poverty is almost unheard of.” — John Doyle
All the participants from Le Moyne encountered Christ in the children whom they taught, in the elderly women and men who shared their life stories with them, in the women struggling to improve their futures. The smiles and warm expressions on the faces of the people with whom they worked witnessed that the students, too, revealed Christ to others. Even a former president of the country personally expressed his gratitude! The students’ experience in Dominica helped to mold them into true ambassadors for Christ, both now and in their future careers. Before leaving, each student gave a T-shirt to a Dominican that read “Le Moyne – Dominica Connection.” The project served to forge connections that are the sinews of the Body of Christ. The students expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of support from so many parishes, both in the Syracuse Diocese as well as their home dioceses, and from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith that helped them to participate in the church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel to all peoples.