Dreaming big for social justice

By  Lisa Petsche
  • December 21, 2007
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
Margaret Mead

The countdown is on for my eldest daughter’s mission trip. It’s only a few weeks away now. She’ll be travelling to the Dominican Republic to build housing as part of the Dominican Republic Education and Medical Supplies (D.R.E.A.M.S.) project. This is her high school’s second year participating.

The purpose is not only to perform service work, and in so doing bear witness to God’s love, but also to engage with the Dominican people, living among them and learning about their life. Everyone comes away richer for the experience in various ways.

The application process included submitting an essay and participating in an interview. Applicants had to be in excellent health, and willing and able to cover their travel expenses. Early in June my daughter learned she was one of the successful candidates. She’d felt a special calling to participate, so she was thrilled.

Although we were supportive, my husband and I, like the parents of the other candidates, had numerous questions about the logistics of the trip, especially pertaining to health and safety. The teacher co-ordinator, a woman with incredible enthusiasm and energy, who last year received one of the new Premier’s awards for teaching excellence, organized an information night to address all of them.

Since the beginning of the school year, the D.R.E.A.M.S. team, consisting of 12 students and three teachers, has been meeting weekly, preparing and planning.

Much of their effort has been focused on fund-raising the necessary $10,000 for the project.

They participated this past October in the school board’s annual social justice pilgrimage, increasing awareness about world poverty while raising funds for development projects in several countries, including the Dominican Republic.

They sold “Dream Big” T-shirts, featuring a logo designed by one of the students.

They operated a café on parent-teacher interview night, selling coffee and baked goods along with tickets to their major fundraiser.

The big event combined a silent auction, a fashion show and a concert involving a variety of musical performers. Hundreds of people — from students, teachers and parents to alumni and community businesses — contributed time, talent and resources to make it a success.

Students and their families have also fund-raised individually. Our family, for example, organized a big yard sale, which I wrote about in October.

Additionally, the D.R.E.A.M.S. team has collected needed supplies to distribute among the Dominican villagers. These include warm clothing and accessories, blankets, toiletries and school supplies. Each member will fill a suitcase with them.

Their other piece of luggage will contain personal supplies, including clothing for warm days and chilly nights, a sleeping bag or blanket, mosquito net, waterproof jacket, work gloves, basic toiletries and hygiene items, a face cloth and towel, biodegradable wet wipes, medications for treating travel sickness and preventing malaria, antihistamines, insect repellent, sunscreen and a water bottle. Jewellery, makeup, electrical items such as blow dryers and hair straighteners, electronic devices such as iPods and handheld games and environmentally unfriendly items will be left behind.

The reality is, the trip involves sacrifices beyond donating time and material resources and performing heavy physical labour.

The teens will be outside their comfort zone, away from family and friends, their usual routines and the amenities of North American life we take for granted, including indoor plumbing and electricity. They’ll witness poverty up close and be forced to reconcile their relatively affluent lives with that reality. They’ll form a bond with the Dominican villagers, then have to say goodbye. Upon returning home, they’ll have to contend with reverse culture shock as well as catch up on missed classes. Their heads may be spinning.

Nonetheless, these committed young people regard as a privilege the opportunity before them to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to experience solidarity with their materially poor brothers and sisters in Christ and to subsequently share those experiences.

What a life-changing endeavour this service trip will no doubt be for my daughter and everyone else involved.

I’ll be praying to the Holy Spirit (and to St. Christopher) throughout the week.

And I’ll look forward with great anticipation to hearing all about her experiences when my daughter returns.

(Petsche is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register.)

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