Project '79 Builds Community in Dominican Republic
A group of Westfield High School students and teachers finished constructing walls and support columns on the third floor of a school.
At the end of July, 24 Westfield High School students and teachers traveled to the Dominican Republic for a 10-day work trip to help those in need.
Since 2007, the school's Project ’79 program has been involved with Foundation for Peace in the construction of a school/community center, water purification system, and clinic in the very poor district of La Javilla de la Cruz Grande, just north of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Sara Soriente, WHS Earth Science teacher and junior varsity volleyball coach, was one of several teachers who accompanied the students, who spanned all high school grade levels. It was Soriente's third time traveling to the DR to help the community that she said has become like family.
"They are so very appreciative and look to show us in any way that they can," Soriente said. "We got a lot of work completed while we were there. When we look at construction sites here in the U.S., we don't realize what hard work goes into creating a building. When you take away cement trucks and cranes, it becomes grueling work. We were hauling buckets of cement and 40-pound cinderblocks around, so it was amazing how much we were able to do in the short time we were there. We essentially finished the walls and support columns on the third floor of the school. It would have been great to see the roof go on and the finishing touches completed, but we really accomplished a lot."
Soriente noted that the service work isn't just beneficial to the people of the DR, it also is a positive influence on those who provide the help.
"This trip offers students many eye-opening experiences," said Soriente. "I hope that they appreciate life in Westfield more when they return and realize that it feels good helping people."
WHS rising senior Matt Boyle, who went on the trip for the first time, confirmed that "it was quite a culture shock going from endless TV and Facebook to a place with few traffic laws and inadequate plumbing."
No stranger to charitable endeavors, Soriente spent her spring break in Haiti in 2010 aiding earthquake victims. But if the teacher has any misgivings, it is that she didn't pursue this type of volunteering earlier.
"One of my biggest regrets from high school and college was never getting involved in service projects," she said. "I think it is such a valuable opportunity for students to get involved early in life; it makes them appreciate what they have and feel good while doing it. High school students have their entire lives ahead of them, and I hope that this experience inspires them to do good in their world."
Boyle shared that one thing that will stay with him is the sight of a small boy appoximately 8 or 9 years old "standing in the human conveyor belt" the workers formed and carrying heavy buckets of cement with the group.
While Project '79 traveled to the DR to assist in 2008, 2009, 2010 and again this summer, Soriente said she believes this is the group's last work trip to that destination.
"Project '79 will continue to give back through other opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what great things we do in the future," she said.
To learn more about Project '79's trip, visit project79.tumblr.com