For PSU Childhood Studies Major Laura Blakey (’07), spending a week volunteering at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic provided more than just a feeling of satisfaction for having helped a child. Blakey, one of eleven students and two faculty advisors who traveled to the Dominican Republic during Plymouth State University’s winter break, says she will always remember the generosity, joyfulness and “contagious energy” she experienced in the Caribbean country.
“I will never forget the kindness and the overall enjoyment for life that the people of the Dominican Republic have shown me. From the smiles and waves from perfect strangers to the local townspeople graciously preparing us a meal, they truly are beautiful people,” said Blakey. “They embrace what they have and what they were given and they are thankful for every day they have, which is a lesson for all of us.”
The international service trip, part of PSU’s partnership with Orphanage Outreach, is an example of Plymouth State’s commitment to providing students with a diverse array of opportunities to learn about other cultures through education and service. Each year, students and faculty participate in several service trips to areas around the country and the world in need of volunteer labor. PSU also offers a variety of international educational experiences in a variety of fields, including the arts, sciences and humanities. Committed to connecting students with real-life and far-reaching experience, PSU’s commitment extends beyond the state – and country – borders.
International service trips require months of planning on the part of students and faculty. In preparation for this year’s trip, students and advisors met weekly to plan, fundraise and participate in community-building activities. Fundraisers for the trip, which cost about $1,000 per traveler, included bake sales, a silent auction, raffles and working at a holiday lights display. Many donations also came from friends, family members and classmates. Thanks to the generosity of their supporters, trip participants were able to bring 10 suitcases full of donated school materials, first aid supplies, clothing and non-perishable food to the orphanage in Monte Criste where they volunteered.
At the orphanage, the PSU volunteer team was joined by 27 other volunteers from around the United States. The volunteers spent the week completing work projects to improve living conditions at the orphanage, helping lead English classes and traveling around the region to experience the culture of the Dominican Republic.
Lacey Byron, a criminal justice major (’09), said being immersed in a different culture was a life-changing experience.
“I loved how when we walked into the towns people would always yell “Americanos!” and greet us with a smile. I have never felt more welcome anywhere,” said Byron. “This by far was one of the best experiences I could have ever asked for. It made me rethink the way I live.”
Volunteers were also inspired by the close-knit community they found among the children at the orphanage where they worked. According to Angela Ricciardi, a lecturer in the English Department and one of the trip’s two faculty advisors, the children at the orphanage seemed to lead rich, fulfilling lives because of the efforts of the volunteers and the close-knit community at the orphanage.
“(The children) are safe, well-fed, and go to school. They have plenty to play with, though they do not have their own toys. Whatever they have, they share with the other children. They have ample room to play, and the age-range of the orphans creates a built-in family in which the elder children care for the younger,” said Ricciardi. “We found value in the differences between our lives and theirs; perhaps we even envied the children for their non-materialistic, family-centered lives.”
Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.