Students from Mississauga, Ont.’s Holy Name of Mary College School take part in a mission journey in March to San Joaquin, Dominican Republic. Photo by Euginia Nicoletti

Mission trip combines science with service

  • May 4, 2023

A unique mission trip offered at Holy Name of Mary College School blended medicine and philanthropy in a seminal journey to San Joaquin, an impoverished village of around 250 people, in the Dominican Republic.

Organized annually by Holy Name of Mary instructor Euginia Nicoletti in partnership with the Foundation for Peace based in the United States, these Grade 8 students with a heart for serving others were able to make the trek to the Global South, volunteering their time from March 17-24.

Nicoletti, who has organized the medical mission trip for the past eight years, says that each year the journey is life-changing for her students.

“The trip transforms the girls into helping others. It aligns with our core Felician values of respect for human dignity, justice, compassion and transformation,” said Nicoletti, the Medical Science Leader at the Mississauga, Ont., school.

When the girls first arrive, Nicoletti takes them on a walking tour. She notes that at first, her students are very quiet and emotional, unable to grasp how “desolate the conditions are.”

“At the beginning, on the tour, the girls are in shock,” she said. “Some wanted to leave when they first saw the orphanages in town because they had never seen disabilities to this extent. But I told them that by taking time from their lives to be with these children, they were giving a big gift to them. These children need to be loved.”

Offered as part of the medical science program at Holy Name of Mary, an independent all-girls Catholic school, the trip merges science and charity.

Attendees were able to participate in door-to-door clinics, where they visited the homes of patients who were either immobile or too sick to attend walk-in hours. Students carrying medications and prescriptions, accompanied by doctors, observed the diagnosis process and one-on-one patient care at the door.

The students were also able to volunteer their time at walk-in clinics where they acted as “runners” supplying doctors with pharmaceutical prescriptions from the local apothecary.

With walk-in and door-to-door clinic days combined, the students saw as many as 300 patients.

As well as volunteering their time in medically related areas, the students spent a day at a special needs orphanage. Throughout the trip, they also handed out food and clothing to the villagers.

The abject poverty of San Joaquin fostered a sense of gratitude among the young Canadians.

“The homes in San Joaquin don’t have flushing toilets, kitchens, washrooms or fridges. Homes are ridden with leakages and broken windows. Most floors are made of dirt. Many of my student’s garages would have been a dream home for these people,” said Nicoletti. “The girls do not return to Canada the same students as they were before because they realize what God has gifted them in their health and by being born here in Canada.”

This year was a standout one for Nicoletti who saw her students go the extra mile to serve others.

“Students didn’t want to say goodbye, it was an emotional parting,” she said. “In the end, giving became contagious — a burning need to help the poor develop. This year was the first time that some girls left most of their luggage and clothing behind. They left with just the clothes on their back.”

Nicoletti is proud to see that some of the girls who have taken this mission trip have gone on to pursue careers in medicine and STEM-related fields.

“One student received direct entry to medical school from high school. She is going to school in Ireland. She told me that her goal is to learn Spanish so that when she goes back to San Joaquin, she can speak to the people in the village. That is a transformation.”

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