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Kristin Stawiarski Fifty-four hands of God build homes for poor in Dominican
By Kristin Stawiarski - article from Catholic School News, March 2006

Twenty-three students. Four supervisors. Fifty-four hands. Twohomes. One week in March. A missionary experience of a lifetime!

Since the inception of the D.R.E.A.M.S.’ (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Services) project in 1999,St. Mary Catholic Secondary School has sent a group of Grade 12 students to the poverty stricken village of Rifle de la Horma in the Dominican Republic every January and March. Students and teachers are selected after submitting an initial essay and an interview process. The one thing that all applicants had in common is their innate need and yearning to make a difference in this world. This project began with a dream and ended with its fulfillment.

Traveling the road that leads from the tourist city of Santa Domingo to the impoverished region of Rifle de la Horma was like stepping into a time machine.This journey reaffirmed the juxtaposed lives of the wealthy and the poor. The elaborate stuccoed homes turned into shacks, the paved highways to a single dirt road, the towering casinos and shopping malls into a small produce stand. A child’s playground consisted of a garbage pile where children sat on pieces of plastic and slid down a hill into the dump.A woman washed her clothes in the dirty run-off water from a broken water pipeline while her young naked son bathed in a garbage-filled puddle. But yet here on the side of a mountain, I saw more joy and happiness than all the money in the world could ever buy. It is in this forsaken area of the world that God lives. He lives in the laughter of the children, glories of the mountains and in the hearts of the faithful.

Fifty-four hands built 2 homes in just 1 week. The decision ofwho will receive a new home is governed by a selection process based on several criteria:community involvement, financial situation,current living conditions; evidence of desire to strive for a better life. We worked side by side with the entire community mixing cement, shovelling dirt, building roofs and shutters, and painting. Due to lack of simple tools, such as paint brushes,further construction was usually delayed to “manana” which means tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day for other possibilities. Our tasks were physically demanding, consisting of mixing a 3-meter by 5-meter cement pile for hours to hauling wheel-barrels of dirt up the mountain roads. However, our work rarely took its toll on us. These physical demands were looked upon as a bonding experience that enabled us to meet and interact with the family that was to receive the home. Our love, sweat and tears went into these homes. At the entrance, we left behind a piece of ourselves: we engraved the name of our school and the date, and embedded into the cement a 2006 Canadian quarter and a blessed Miraculous Medal.

What we brought to the people pales in comparison to what they gave to us. Each student brought home a different piece of self-realization that changed a part of them forever. Since I first heard about the D.R.E.A.M.S.’ project, there was something inside of me that called me to this experience. For me one word describes it: unity.

These people had so little yet they were willing to share all that they had with complete strangers. We became a part of their family in so many ways. It does not matter where we come from, the colour of our skin, or the language that we speak. We are all one people. We all live on the same earth and breathe the same air. There is no “us” and “them”.

Why then are we so ignorant to the travesties of our brothers and sisters? Why do we sit in our comfortable homes and watchthese people from our big screen televisions? Many people have seen the World Vision sponsorship programs on television but we were there to experience what others only saw. We met the children that will grow up in this unimaginable nightmare and cradled them inour arms. We gave them clothing to shelter them from the morning cold. Most importantly we gave them hope in knowing that there were people from the outside world that cared enough to help make a difference. This is the mission I impart to you: go and see.

Kristin Stawiarski is a Grade 12 student at St. Mary Catholic SecondarySchool. She visited the Dominican with the DREAMS project in March 2006.


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