Our Youth

Around the School Bell – Summer Edition: Fontbonne Hall Academy Students Answer the Call in The Dominican Republic to Serve, Learn and Listen

By Kaylin O’Malley

More than 1,000 miles away from their Bay Ridge school, student-leaders from Fontbonne Hall Academy immerse themselves in service-learning communities by partnering with programs such as the Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring organization. (Photos: Kaylin O’Malley)

This past May, I participated in a life-changing experience that had a lasting impact on me. I participated in the ACIS Women’s Leadership Trip to the Dominican Republic with nine of my classmates from Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge. This trip taught me leadership skills, teamwork and made me question how I could leave a lasting impact on the world through leading and educating.

Coming into this trip, I had no idea what to expect because it wasn’t building houses or working on a big community project. All ten of us pondered at what a leadership trip was as we landed in Sosua, our first destination. Here, we discussed that our mission was to understand why there were problems and the challenge was to think of long-term solutions for them.

Through meeting with different organizations, we learned the obstacles that Dominicans face. At Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring (DREAM), we learned about social problems that face young Dominican women such as abusive relationships, living up to family standards and educational obstacles.

In one icebreaker activity we played together, we were told to close our eyes. Then in order to answer questions related to personal experiences, we had to place our hands on our heads if we had experienced it or to place our hands on our hips if we had not.

The leader said “I have seen or heard of physical abuse in a relationship in my town.” All ten of us opened our eyes astonished to see that every single Dominican girl had their hands on their heads, while we had our hands on our hips. It opened our eyes to the social struggles that can prevent these young women from achieving their goals.

Lead by Learning

Through Health Horizons International (HHI) and a young men’s youth group in Rio Grande Abajo, we learned that leading through education has an immense impact on society.

Since it is a very long, grueling process to obtain citizenship in the country, especially if you are of Haitian descent, HHI is a clinic that can treat patients without Dominican citizenship.

O’Malley and her classmate, Lauren O’Keefe, paint garbage cans with members from Rio Grande Abajo young men’s group.

HHI goes beyond its clinic walls and its members step out into towns to educate the community. They teach topics like how to prevent diabetes and how to live a healthy lifestyle. The youth group educates society by placing colorful garbage cans (that we helped paint) around their neighborhood. The project aims to warn the community about the possible risks of dumping garbage into the streets and river such as contamination, pollution and drought. This taught me that education can prevent almost anything in struggling cities.

Dedicated to Serve

While education is the key for solutions, it is also hard to receive for many children because of the minimal number of schools and resources.

At Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA), they have set up a school for a community with mostly Haitian children that do not have the documentation to attend a government regulated public school. One girl I met shared with me that she could not attend school this year because her mother changed her last name and the school would not accept her documentation.

“This made me realize that I take school for granted every day because education opens up so many doors to your future that are not accessible to these young women.”

So much as a two dollar bus ticket can stunt their ability to attend a tuition-free college. This makes us all question, what can be done to ensure an education? This is the challenge we face.

This experience made me certain that I want to continue to help people around the world and made me question what can be done to offer solutions. As a rising senior, I hope to pursue nursing in college and continue to participate in global initiatives around the world.

Being a part of the first girls group to experience the Women’s Leadership trip, I am excited to pursue opportunities that I have been granted. I look forward to assisting with educating and leading the young women who want to take part in this next year in order to set a strong foundation for future women leaders who will come from Fontbonne Hall Academy.

Kaylin O’Malley is a rising senior at Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge. She is pictured here with safety gear after she and classmates went on an adventure discovering 12 different waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. You can imagine they had a blast jumping into the water!