Daemen Students Help Impoverished Families in Dominican Republic

February 14, 2014

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Paula Witherell
Director of Institutional Communication
Daemen College
(716) 839-8472

AMHERST, N.Y. -- Poverty-stricken residents in several rural Dominican Republic communities received life-changing assistance from Daemen College students who journeyed to the developing country on a two-week service learning trip in January.

Daemen College students in the Dominican Republic

In the months leading up to the overseas excursion, participants prepared with Justine Tutuska, department chair and assistant professor of health care studies and campus advisor for the service learning opportunity. The group met regularly to discuss cultural expectations and relevant health-care issues, and developed education materials to distribute on the trip.

“The months of hard work and commitment to a larger goal of bridging Daemen with these rural communities made for an incredible experience that demonstrates the college’s values of service, cultural respect and international civic engagement,” said Tutuska, adding that the students devoted part of their winter break to participate in this service learning opportunity.

For Sarah Zammiello, a social work major and Spanish minor at Daemen, the trip was life-altering and she returned with a new perspective. “It was such an incredible opportunity to be in communities and interact with people so vastly different than anything known in the United States, “ she said. “Seeing first-hand such unimaginable poverty was eye-opening in many ways and strengthened my passion for (the field of) public health and interest in working abroad.”

Students were immersed in the county’s culture by living with local families during their first week in Santo Domingo. While there, they also visited and discussed public health issues at area hospitals and clinics, including one in Batey Lecheria, a poor community where sugarcane workers live.

They then went to the rural landscapes of Hato Mayor, Las Palmillas and El Seibo. Each day, the team contributed to an ongoing initiative that supports those living with HIV/AIDS but lack the resources to manage their health.

Also, knowing that clean water is scarce in the local communities due to lack of plumbing and other utilities, the Daemen group installed water filtration systems in several homes, each of which will become a base for neighbors in need of clean water.

Beyond this, students completed eight community garden projects which were planted with a variety of vegetables to serve as a food source for families who otherwise could not afford their own food. “To further establish the reach of the project, the students gave presentations on clean water, food safety, nutrition, recipes for healthy meals made with local ingredients, and general hygiene,” explained Tutuska.

Zammiello, a Utica resident, recalled one elderly resident who benefitted from a garden project. “After finishing the garden in his backyard, this sweet, older man couldn’t stop thanking us and even gave us a few bushels of bananas from his tree. He told us that we made him feel like he had worth in life. It was an experience that had a great impact on me,” she said.

The Daemen volunteers partnered with Community Service Alliance (CSA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable, local efforts to provide services to communities with the assistance of students.

“Whenever I have the opportunity to visit families that the students helped, I see in them all of our friends at Daemen and the ways they have changed their lives for the better,” said Cesar Hinojosa, CSA coordinator and Daemen’s on-site leader.

Along with Zammiello, other Daemen students who participated in the Dominican Republic service learning trip were Kari Brown of Kenmore, Felicia Chandler of Niagara Falls, Nicole Donofrio of Lancaster, Angela Doria of Akron, Katie Nokovich of Cheektowaga, Sarah Ramsperger of Grand Island, and Holly Turano of Little Valley. Accompanying them were Dr. Linda Kuechler, professor of accounting, and Dr. Sophia Ng, associate director of the Global Programs Office.

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