The first time she took students to the mountains of the Dominican Republic, Tara Frare experienced a life-changing moment.
Drinking coffee in a remote village 7,500 feet above the tropical coast, the Plymouth North High School science teacher took in the natural beauty of the region and the poverty of its people and knew that in spite of all the good work she and her students were doing, much, much more could be done.
That was two years ago, when Frare and fellow teacher Mary Raymond led the first group of students to the Dominican for a trip designed to give students an appreciation for community service and make them global citizens.
The annual trips continue, but Frare and a group of fellow teachers are about to ramp up the efforts.
Partnering People Through Service is a new not-for-profit organization that Frare and Raymond founded to build partnerships between communities in need and service learning volunteers. They want to improve education and health care and develop sustainable practices and commerce.
The group got off to a good start last week when the Plymouth School Committee approved its request to send one and maybe two delegations of local students to the Dominican Republic next year to further the mission.
The board had already approved three similar student trips to the Dominican that Frare and fellow teachers led with the help of a travel agency that specializes in environmentally friendly service trips for students.
One of those trips is still to come. A group of 18 or so students from Plymouth North will return to the Dominican to continue working with the people of El Castillo on improvements for their one-room schoolhouse and ways to make their remote village in a Valle Nuevo National Park better for ecotourism.
But next year Partnering People Through Service will coordinate the entire trip at what Frare expects will be a significantly lower cost, so more students can go and offer more help.
The timing is serendipitous.
The school district has been actively engaged in getting students more involved in community projects, both at home and abroad. Just a month ago, Superintendent of Schools Gary Maestas returned from a trip to a nearby village of Rio Grande, where he and educators from around the country spent a week building a school cafeteria.
Maestas spoke of experiencing a life-changing moment on his return, noting how Americans can learn much from helping people who are so happy with so little. He vowed to assemble a group of professionals to return to the Dominican to continue the good work next winter during the school break.
Frare and Raymond experienced much the same in their trips with students.
They stayed in cabanas in an eco-lodge, Villa Pajon, and spent a week planting trees and building nesting boxes for birds. The village had no electricity or running water, and the school stopped at sixth grade.
A parent of one of the local students traveling on that first trip sent along a dozen laptop computers for the children of El Castillo, but the equipment just sat in a corner of the one-room schoolhouse that entire first trip.
When Frare and engineering teacher Mike Bastoni led the second trip last year (Raymond could not make the trip), the computers were up and running and the Plymouth North students made sure they stayed that way. With Bastoni’s engineering expertise, they installed solar panels that supplied electricity to the school for the first time.
It was a magical moment.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it was for our students and the students there who have never, ever even seen a computer. The kids were able to install the laptops and, one on one, sit with the students and teach them how to use Powerpoint, how to use Word. They had no Internet, but nonetheless, it was so powerful,” Frare said.
Local students also carried loads of supplies that folks back at Plymouth North had assembled for the trip. From pens, pencils and paper to basic toiletries, most of the items American students take for granted were simply nonexistent in El Castillo.
When one of Frare’s students offered a toothbrush to one boy, he came back and asked for more. He pointed to his little house in the distance and said he had 13 siblings living there.
Frare and Raymond got serious about expanding the mission after returning from last year’s trip and secured help from the Plymouth Rotary Sunrise Club.
The Sunrise Rotarians agreed to help the teachers set up their not-for-profit and donated $3,000 that will be used to build a portable solar generator for the school when local students return this spring.
It is well that the equipment is portable as the Dominican government has decided to move the entire village from their mountain home to another mountainous region, ironically near the village of Rio Grande, where Maestas had been building the school cafeteria. Both are located outside the city of Costanza.
The village of El Castillo is being moved later to help preserve the national park where it is located, but the work already done there will not be wasted, Frare said, as much of it was aimed at improving the park for ecotourism. Villagers will be able to take the solar equipment with them.
Frare said the new effort will continue in the new village and, she envisions, far beyond. She is already planning for two trips next year – one during the April vacation and another in June. Students requested the second trip because many were involved in sports or other activities during the April break and could not make it then.
The trips, to date limited to Plymouth North students, will be open to high school students from Plymouth South as well. Frare said her trips will cut out the side tours that the travel agency incorporated into its itinerary as students preferred to stay in the village and work rather than visit a waterfall and go snorkeling.
Frare envisions a day when Partnering People Through Service will be coordinating similar trips for students from schools throughout the South Shore and across the state, providing extensive and continuing help that will truly make a difference in the lives of the students and the people they assist.
“I knew I had to something bigger than just come down here and bring kids. That’s great, but there’s so much need,” Frare said. “When we saw that we electrified the school and donated these laptops, I really started to see the vision of this. I thought, ’My goodness, if I can start a non-profit, I could bring costs down, take more control of the projects and just do more things, so it’s a constant connection and not just one week a year we go down there and feel good about ourselves, but go down and help out, so it can be an ongoing community thing here in Plymouth.”
For more information about Partnering People Through Service, visit partneringpeoplethroughservice.org.
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