|WRA students check the water pipe they helped build to deliever water to the village of La Jagua.|
Water is a basic necessity for people worldwide, who rely on it for drinking and farming. But according to some estimates, nearly 1 billion people do not have access to clean water.
A group of Western Reserve Academy students spent time this summer trying to change that number, traveling to the village of La Jagua in the Dominican Republic to help with the installation of an aqueduct. The WRA group spent a week digging trenches and installing pipe to bring fresh water to the village from a nearby mountain spring.
The group was led by faculty member Natalie Davies and Anna Freeman, an assistant director of college counseling, and included senior Tianjian (Mark) Shen; juniors Virginia Carter, Haley Norton, Tatiana Pavloff, Sara Shore and Maddy Stoopack; sophomores Lisie Andersson, Annie Carter, Lily Liu, Mitch Pollock, Katie Shah and Halle Sovich; and freshman Nina Tekelenburg.
“The government started this project in 1996, but a hurricane came through and they never returned,” Freeman said. “Our first day working was only the second day since then that any progress had been made. The work was so rewarding, both to do and to experience with the students. It was great to see the tangible results.”
Davies organized the trip with the assistance of Rustic Pathways, which is owned by David Venning ’77, and chose the location for a variety of reasons.
“The Dominican Republic is safe and close, and there’s a lot of need there,” Davies said. “The Spanish language was important, too, because so many of our students take Spanish. The culture is also really vibrant and the people were very warm and welcoming.
“We were bringing water to a community that had no running water, and we learned a lot about the politics of the region and of the developing world. In our country we rely on the government for developing the infrastructure, but in other parts of the world that is just not the case. That is why volunteers are so important to a community like this one.”
While the students spent some time sightseeing, including visits to coastal-town Sosua and the capital city of Santo Domingo, and visiting an elementary school, the majority of their time was spent working with shovels and pickaxes in the trenches.
“It was definitely tough work, but it was rewarding to be able to measure what we had accomplished in an actual distance of trench and pipes laid,” Shore said.
“I actually had a lot of fun digging,” Pavloff said. “When they initially told us we would be digging a trench, I was a little nervous. I didn't think that our group would be able to handle it very well.”
In addition to the hard work, students were able to witness up close the realities that the villagers face on a daily basis, such as having to walk five miles to attend school (rather than just across campus), and crowded living conditions.
“There are a lot of things that you have to adapt to,” Davies said, “There was a lot on a day-to-day basis that put (the WRA students) out of their comfort zone.”
“It was hard knowing that after our day of digging, we could go take a shower and the local men that were helping us didn’t have that privilege,” Shore said.
This is the second summer that Davies has led a student service trip (in 2011 she and faculty member Sarah Horgan took a group of students to Alabama to help rebuild areas that were devastated by tornadoes). She is working to develop a formal program for service trips as part of WRA’s commitment to social mission.
“The idea for the program is that we’ll have a couple trips each year, and we’ll establish relationships with communities and go to the same places each year,” Davies said. “The second trip will most likely be Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“It’s already in the fabric of who we are as a school. Our students are really interested in helping others and learning about the world.”
Now that she has participated in a social mission trip, Pavloff said the other WRA students should take advantage of the opportunity.
“I say if you’re thinking about it, absolutely do it,” she said. “It is an eye-opening experience and is totally worth all the mosquito bites and sunburn and partial dehydration. It is also something that you need to experience first-hand, I think, to fully understand.”
For more information on the trip, visit the group's blog.
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