Reaching Through Teaching

By Josie Martin '12

Four happy women standing on a beach in a group During the fall semester 2012, a group of Medaille students anticipated their spring break trip to the Dominican Republic. In March 2013, the students, all women, came back after ten days in Monte Cristi teaching English to native Dominican students.

No longer riding on expectations of something yet to come, this time around, the women were able to share a new outlook on the experience. Mariah Haddad, a freshman and adventurer for certain, had prepared for what is known as culture shock though she did not expect to be so affected by what she experienced on the trip.

“There were children with holes in their shoes, happy as can be, dirty from sleeping on floors and not a care in the world,” she recalls. “The trip is the best thing I’ve ever done. My perspective on life is so different.”

Laydee Ankoma-Mensa ’12 nods in agreement and finishes, “There will always be someone less privileged than I am, so I will do my best to share with them what I have and encourage others to do the same.”

Ankoma-Mensa graduated from Medaille with an education degree and entered the week-long Outreach 360 program as a veteran teacher and volunteer while the other girls for the most part were not as seasoned.

Melisa Williams, director of Student Involvement and Multicultural Education & Diversity, chaperoned the trip and is also a veteran. But for some of the women, including Haddad, the trip was a first in terms of service learning, culture and teaching in a developing country. On top of teaching six hours a day in challenging conditions, the group dealt with cultural and environmental differences.

The image of the Dominican Republic is one of unpaved roads with no traffic signals, littered with garbage and stray animals running about, small, dilapidated homes, the most basic waste disposal systems and large, hungry mosquitoes. The program included cultural activities, one of which was a journey to the border that the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti. Our travelers were at the border on a market day and the sight was remarkable.

“The look of determination in the Haitians’ eyes sticks with you,” says Williams. “Still affected by the earthquake, the people of Haiti face an extreme struggle that is hard for most Americans to understand.”

Unfortunately, the facilities for learning do not fare much better than their surroundings in these places. “We were teaching six hours a day in classrooms with dirt floors and no doors. It’s hard to focus,” says Ankoma-Mensa.

School is mandatory only up to eighth grade in the Dominican and many students only have four-hour days. After school programs play a very big role, such as Outreach 360 whose vision is a world where “every child is adequately prepared for college or gainful employment upon reaching adulthood, enabling them to live a life of choice.”

The Learning Center where the program is held becomes a part of the culture. The year ’round program also gives adventurous English speakers an incredible opportunity to stay as either short- or long-term volunteers, to impart their knowledge and gain some of their own along the way.

“I believe that God wants us to learn from these students and for the students to learn from us,” concludes Ankoma-Mensa. “I thank Him for opening our eyes about the reality of life outside the United States.”

She encourages those who do not wish to travel or who are unable to volunteer to make a difference via donation on the Outreach 360 website at

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