Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 27, 2000
Third World poverty confronts teens
Sherwood Park pair unprepared for what they found in Dominican Republic
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
La Victoria, Dominican Republic
The children look unhealthy. Their skinny legs, swollen bellies and lifeless eyes denote their advanced state of malnutrition.
Some have been without food for so long, they no longer want to eat or get sick when they do. Some are just bone and flesh and have been brought to the centre virtually to die.
For Megan Barry and Adriane Borys, two 18-year-old graduates of Archbishop Jordan High School in Sherwood Park, this has been a daily reality since October, when they flew to the Dominican Republic for a six-month stint as volunteers at a nutritional centre.
"It's been a very awakening experience to me," said Barry in an interview from the impoverished Caribbean country.
"It's sad but there is nothing else we would rather be doing right now," said Borys. "This is what God wanted us to do."
Located in the town of La Victoria, 45 minutes north of the capital of Santo Domingo, the centre is run by the Hermanas Marianas de Schoenstatt congregation.
Borys and Barry share a house with two sisters in the town. Some 50 to 60 children from La Victoria and the surrounding rural areas are dropped off daily at the centre, where they are fed, bathed and given basic medical attention.
The children, aged between one and five, stay at the centre from 8:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. and receive two meals.
"We get there in the morning and we feed them breakfast and after that we just play with them," explained Barry. The two girls also help with food preparation, serving meals, handing out snacks and bathing the children.
"Parents drop them here because they are not healthy and they don't have enough food to feed them and so they are really undernourished," explained Borys.
"These are the kids that are the worst off in the town and need the most help. A lot of times we have kids whose families have brought them here basically to die because they are just skin and bones. So we try to help bring them back to health."
Said Barry: "Feeding them is quite a task because a lot of them don't want to eat and you have to force them to eat. Not eating for so long, they don't have a desire to eat."
Depressing as it seems, the job has its rewards. "Seeing the kids get better makes you feel good because you know you are doing something to help them," Borys said.
"When you are playing with them, you put a smile on your face. For that part of the day, till one o'clock at least, you are making their day better."
The plan for the trip originated last year when Barry and Borys graduated from high school. The girls decided they wanted to do missionary work overseas before going to university and turned to Archbishop Jordan's religion teacher and chaplain Dean Sarnecki for advice.
Sarnecki enlisted the help of Margo Bilodeau, co-chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese and a member of the Secular Institute of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Bilodeau placed the two girls in the Dominican Republic through the Oblates.
Initially Barry and Borys felt "uncomfortable" and "out of place." They didn't speak Spanish and had never before witnessed such stark poverty.
But things slowly began to turn around as the pair started picking up the language and befriending people. When they are not working at the centre they are out visiting families in the town.
"We are really having a good time," quipped Barry. "It makes you feel good because we've really become accepted. We have really made good friends."
Said Borys: "At the beginning, we thought that we probably would never come back but now the more time we spend here, the more we realize we want to come back."
Seeing families live with little more than a tin roof above their heads is shocking but at the same time eye-opening, the girls say.
"It makes you realize how much we have at home when you look at how these people live and what they have," Barry said. "They have nothing compared to us and yet they seem so happy with the little they have. It's just a totally different culture. It's kind of a very awakening experience for me."
Barry's mother, Sandy, who visited the girls in January, said the volunteer stint has given the girls some direction in their lives. The pair are now considering going into nursing when they come back.
"I think this experience has really helped them to grow," Sandy said. "It'll make them better people."
The Sisters of Schoenstatt run the nutritional centre solely on donations. So when Sandy visited the girls, she presented the congregation with cash donations from two Sherwood Park schools, Archbishop Jordan and St. Theresa.
Barry and Borys will return to Canada April 13 and have been invited to relate their experience to students at their former school.
Hearing about the girls' experience has caused many other students to want to do missionary work overseas.
Bilodeau, who helped place the girls at the centre, is now busy trying to place another 15 kids who want to serve the poor of the Third World.
"This shows me that young people are very giving and want to serve," she said.