John Hitchcock-Smith ’14 has a long-standing relationship with the school’s “Community Service in the Dominican Republic” field course. The annual trip is made possible by The Batey Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Josh Lawton and WMS counselor Matthew Toms that works to bring social change and progress to impoverished regions known as bateys by bringing students from WMS, Plymouth State University, and UNH to the Dominican Republic for community service outreach. John Hitchcock-Smith has taken the trip every year since he was a freshman.
“Freshman year they were looking for people who had expressed interest in traveling, which I think I had,” he says, “and the leaders, Matt Toms and Paddy, were like ‘Hey, this would be really good for you to go on.’ I didn’t really have a clue about what it would be like, but I ended up going and I really fell in love with the trip and I realized I wanted to go back all four years.”
This field course examines issues of culture, poverty, social development, and social justice in the Dominican Republic through direct service and immersion, including working on a designated construction project, working in a local elementary school, spending time with community leaders to learn about social and historical issues, and engaging in a variety of cross-cultural activities with community members. The trip also includes a visit to a couple of local Haitian immigrant communities, a tour of local schools and orphanages, an evening visiting and touring the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo, spending a night with a local family, and taking some time to explore the small Caribbean country. It’s John’s job to act as support for the group leaders, serving as a third leader and a guide for younger students on the trip.
“I also enjoy the community work aspect of it. Not only for me but for other people on the trip. It exposes them to a different part of the world that they might only catch a glimpse of through a TV screen or a newspaper or through word of mouth. To see that up close, that’s pretty life changing for a lot of people,” John says. “For this specific trip, I wanted to be the student assist so I could see how the trip was led and eventually, post high school, I can try to bring that to wherever I may be and end up leading a trip outside of the Batey Foundation myself or with the Batey Foundation.”
Junzhu “Bamboo” Feng ’14 helped out closer to home in “Helping Others: Community Service in New England,” a trip which took 12 students to the heart of Boston, where they volunteered hours of time and energy in homeless shelters and soup kitchens around the city. On the way, students are confronted with the harsh realities of poverty in the United States and conduct conversations where thought-provoking questions of human nature, obligation, and altruism.
Bamboo has always wanted the chance to try community service. She never had the chance in China and her usual field courses take her to the backcountry. But this spring, her desire to help others and have a new field course experience drove her to request a student assist position on this field course.
“I felt excited,” she says, “and a bit nervous. I really wanted to be a good leader and make this a great experience for everyone, including myself. Since this is my last field course, I also wanted it to be special.”
Bamboo’s duties as a student assistant include packing food for the trip, keeping her fellow students organized and on task, leading discussions and lessons throughout the course, and leading the group project: a survey written and constructed by the students. On affluent Newbury Street, students surveyed passersby in an eye-opening interview about wide-spread misconceptions of what poverty is and who is affected by it. Next, Bamboo is in charge of creating a follow-up film, where participants discuss and reflect upon what they learned and experienced.
“My favorite part is that we get the chance to help people who are in need. We also get the chance to talk to different people. As a leader, I am excited to actually hold the discussion. I think this trip was perfect, and it was really fun.”
Other field course student assistants include Amy Bannon ‘14 (“The Psychology of Group Interaction & Cross Country Skiing”), Joseph Richaud ’14 (“Green Living in the Urban World: Sustainability and Service in Montreal”), Jihan Su ’15 (“Buddhism: The Study and Practice”), Eduardo Centeno ’14 (“French Immersion”), Rachael Moss ’15 (“Wilderness Writing”), Sam Solmitz ‘15 (“Leadership Ropes Course at the Browne Center”). See pictures of their amazing field course experiences here!