(From left, rear) UB students Amal Ibrahim (purple shirt),
Patricia Johnson, Abigail Gaylord and Kiomaris Sandoval help
Dominican students during an English day camp held in a Protestant
church in Monte Cristi.
Many college students who head to the Dominican Republic for
spring break are looking to spend their time enjoying the sun and
sand. But 32 students from UB spent their break on this Caribbean
Island teaching English to disadvantaged children.
The students, including 14 from the University Honors College,
went to the Dominican Republic as part of UB’s Alternative
Spring Break (ASB) program organized by the Center for Student
Leadership and Community Engagement. This is the sixth year that
the center has coordinated ASB programs, said Terri Budek,
community engagement coordinator who organizes the program, and the
second ASB program to the Dominican Republic.
UB students this year also spent alternative spring breaks in
New Orleans, focusing on the impact that Hurricane Katrina and the
Gulf oil spill have had in the region, and in Buffalo, volunteering
at such local organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters and
For the Dominican Republic trip, UB partnered with Outreach360,
a volunteer organization that works to improve
education—English, literacy and community—in that
country and in Nicaragua. Budek said she was looking to work with
an international organization that was well-established and
supported education, and was referred to Outreach 360 by colleagues
in the field.
The students spent their time in Monte Cristi, a province in the
northwestern part of the country, near the border with Haiti.
“Our responsibility was to help teach English to boys and
girls between the ages of 4 to 11,” said Timothy Matthews,
assistant director of the University Honors College, who took part
in the trip. “We held a day camp in the morning and
afternoon, with stations for students to cycle through for
literacy, conversation, recreation, arts and crafts, and
UB freshman John Maher said the public school system in the
Dominican Republic is widely considered to be a failure.
“Statistics show that they (students) will most likely drop
out and begin working to help their families,” he said.
This is where Outreach360 comes in, helping these students learn
English to improve their chances of getting better, higher-paying
“Locals say that job opportunities are sometimes only
posted in English, so that only English readers can apply.”
The day camps organized by Outreach360 are free for all
Dominican students, who can attend whenever they are able.
Matthews said he was tremendously affected by how much the
Dominican children wanted to learn. “When we were walking up
to camp each day, the kids would run up to us, give us hugs and
walk us by hand the rest of the way to camp.
“They attended the camp because they wanted to and we made
it fun,” he said.
The children’s eagerness to learn changed Maher’s
outlook on education in the United States. “In the United
States, we all pray for a day off and celebrate when school is
cancelled,” he said.
And although attendance never was taken, "we saw a lot of the
same kids during the week,” Maher said. “Some of the
younger students would come to our camp twice in order to learn
even more, since they were too young for school.”
Matthews said he was surprised by the poverty he
“I wasn’t expecting the neighborhood that we worked
in to be as poor as it was—we had cold water showers,”
he said. “There was trash in the streets; farm animals (cows,
pigs, chickens, goats, dogs) roamed freely.”