Central Catholic junior Jamie Hartnell hugs one of the Dominican students at the Mariposa DR Foundation. (Courtesy Central Catholic)
Central Catholic junior Jamie Hartnell hugs one of the Dominican students at the Mariposa DR Foundation. (Courtesy Central Catholic)
For the last five summers, nearly 100 young women from Central Catholic High School in Portland have traveled to the Dominican Republic for a weeklong service learning experience. It is an opportunity for them to partner with the Mariposa DR Foundation, which works to educate and empower girls in the town of Cabarete and create solutions to end generational poverty.  

The Central Catholic community was connected with the organization six years ago when Sara Bruins, vice principal, toured different nonprofits in the Dominican Republic.

“Words can’t really do justice to what I felt the moment I stepped onto the property,” Bruins said. “I had enjoyed my time so far and was humbled by what I was learning, but there was something about Mariposa that was different. At that particular moment, I couldn’t have imagined how significant a role it would play in my life and the lives of many Central Catholic students.”

In 2013, Bruins and 22 female students headed to the DR to volunteer — a tradition that has carried on each year since. During the eight-day trip, Central Catholic students spend mornings working directly with local girls, teaching subjects like math, English, swimming, cooking, music and art.

The afternoons are filled with a manual labor project. Over the years, students have helped build a cement wall, painted classrooms, planted gardens and built a compost system. In addition to all their hard work, the group gets out for fun activities and local culture. Students have learned to surf and paddle board in Sosua Bay, visited local public schools, cooked traditional Dominican meals, and visited nearby cocoa farms.

For senior Paige Cooper the trip was all about establishing a bond with the young women she met.

“By the end of the week I knew that I had made a connection with these girls that would impact their lives and change the way they look at the world,” Paige said.

Bruins said the trip continually reminds her that “just because someone lives in poverty, does not mean they are unhappy.”

“Dominican people have taught me that we need very little to live a rich life. What is most important is taking care and loving one another.”