During the week of January 27th - February 4th, 2006, four students from Brampton's St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic Secondary School had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic for a Dominican Republic Exposure Experience. However, they didn't stay at a five star resort with all inclusive drinks and meals, huge pools, air conditioning, and spas. Instead, they lived with a middle-class Dominican family for the week, in a town called Consuelo. After witnessing first-hand the harsh reality of poverty in our world today, touching the hands of the sick elderly and holding young children in their arms, many of the students were changed forever. Daniel Francavilla, one of the students who went on the trip, began working on something soon after he was back in Brampton.
Father Wayne Manne, Pastor of St. Marguerite d'Youville Parish, encouraged one Daniel Francavilla to share his experience with the parish community, and invited him to prepare a homily type presentation based in his experiences in the Dominican Republic. On the weekend of March 4th and 5th, Daniel presented at all four masses that weekend and, after being encouraged to start a collection, parishioners generously donated over $8,000 over the next two weekends.
Daniel, amazed by this unexpected response, was inspired to do even more, and began making arrangements for his charity. His organization is called ACCESS which stands for "Allowing Children a Chance at Education with School Supplies". The goal of ACCESS is to provide needy Dominican children with school uniforms and necessary school supplies so that they have the opportunity to receive the education required to find decent employment and support their families.
The unfortunate thing about the situation in the Dominican Republic is that the government doesn't allow students to attend school without a full uniform. However, most children on the bateyes (communities of employees of sugar cane plantations) can not even afford the $25 - $30 uniform cost. This causes a cycle of poverty because there is very little employment in the country, and most of the sugar-cane plantations are no longer operating, eliminating another small opportunity for work. With an education the students can potentially go to University and become a much-needed doctor, teacher, or engineer and help their country.
Daniel stated, "We don't realize how lucky we are here until we can witness ourselves the reality of the poverty and suffering that the majority of the world lives in. Less than 1/5 of the world lives the way we do here in Canada. More than 80% of the world's population lives in conditions far worse, and in poverty. I think that this is very wrong and that it's up to us to spread the wealth and share what we are fortunate enough to have."
Already, a cheque has been presented on behalf of ACCESS to the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception from their motherhouse in Pembroke, Ontario. They will be sending the funds directly to the nuns who Daniel met in Consuelo, Dominican Republic. Once there, it will be used to purchase school uniforms and school supplies for the children who would otherwise not be able to attend school (simply because they could not afford the uniform).
With response to the charity, Daniel commented, "I am so grateful for the overwhelming response that I have received so far from community members. I have already sent the donations and plan to do a lot more fundraising between now and the end of August. This way I can send more funds in time for the beginning of the school year in September, when it is needed most."
In addition to presenting at St. Marguerite d'Youville Parish, Daniel has shared his experiences at three elementary schools. He has also had the honour of presenting to principals and school-board members including the Superintendent at a meeting this spring.
"Presentations like these are a great way of sharing my experience, for the purpose of making today's society aware of the injustices in our world - and aware of how fortunate we are here in Canada." Daniel states. The pictures from the exposure trip in the presentation capture the harsh reality of the situation in the Dominican Republic.
Another thing that was learned while in the Dominican Republic was that there is a huge division between the rich and the poor. For example just outside the capital city of Santo Domingo, there are many poor barrios. However, directly across the street from the hundreds of makeshift shelters piled up the steep hillside, are the luxury homes of the richest people of the Dominican Republic. Literally, meters away.
"It's ridiculous and disgusting to see that physical division, but in a sense we here in North America are doing the exact same thing as the rich in Santo Domingo. We live in big houses with many luxuries, televisions, computers, and decent vehicles, while millions of people suffer...the difference is, we just can't see them. They're not across the street for us."
Daniel admits that he has been changed in many ways. "Complaining that our shoes are not the right colour or if our pizza delivery arrives late; these are the unreasonable things that are part of our Western culture, which people in the Dominican Republic could not even dream of."
This trip has exposed the students to this new world of problems. Problems that Daniel hopes to help solve. His charity ACCESS is a start, and he is confident that it can be a success - with the help of our great community.
This August, there will be a school supply drive to benefit the students in the Dominican Republic. More information can be found on the website.
The charity ACCESS Dominican Republic can be visited on the World Wide Web. For more information, pictures, resources, and contact information, please visit http://www.accesscharity.ca/ or email ACCESS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel spends the afternoon in a park with these children who are unable to attend school. They keep themselves entertained with Daniel's sunglasses, English-Spanish phrasebook, and digital camera, despite the language barrier.
Students at a school located on one of the bateyes in the Dominican Republic do a march in honour of the independence of their country. Although they have very little, they are proud of their country.
Article and photos submitted by: Daniel Francavilla