“Most rewarding thing I’ve ever done… ” – Ocoa 2018

For eight years, we have given the staff and students of CVCEC the opportunity to broaden their horizons, to learn in a new unique environment by travelling to San Jose de Ocoa in the Dominican Republic for one of their placements.  We partner with Georgian College in Ontario for this experience.

This community in the mountains is our base as we travel to remote villages to offer health care clinics in the local schools.  These communities do not have any medical services and often have illnesses common to the region such as parasitic intestinal illnesses, fungal skin infections, hypertension, workplace injuries and inadequate diets.

Our teaching team have common professional and personal values, as we encourage our students to embrace a new perspective on health. Many places in the world do not have the same standard of health as Canada.  People struggle with illnesses that no longer exist in Canada because we have clean water, access to health services and preventative health teaching.

The Students Role
Their role during this experience is to provide health teaching, conduct physical assessments of individuals that come to the clinics and to care for the Dominican people. They volunteer at a local nursing home by providing personal care such as shaving, foot care and skin care for the residents and they provide home visits with their team. Our clinics usually take place in small schools, often just one or two rooms. School is cancelled for the day and families come to be seen by the Canadian healthcare team. When in remote communities, the community provides lunch for the volunteers; it is always local food, such as beans, rice and chicken. In addition, they have an opportunity to visit the local hospital, rehabilitation centre and other social services such as a soup kitchen and women’s shelter.


Dominican Homes and Community
It is a tremendous eye-opener for students to enter the home of local families, who have sparse furnishings with some families cooking on an open fire.  Despite their limited surroundings, many Dominican families keep older family members at home. The Dominican people value their seniors and provide for them as they age. At the end of the day, the students felt they had made a difference in someone else’s life.


In this agricultural region, the students see farming practices no longer used in Canada where physical work is demanding and sometimes dangerous. Landslides occur on mountainous roads despite work on road services. We often heard our students compare farming and life in Canada to this region of the Dominican Republic.


First Nations students sharing their Flag
Three of the students on this trip are from the Kahnawake community.  They brought with them their nation’s flag and presented it to Sister Teofila, our host in San Jose de Ocoa.  Sister Teofila was very touched with this gesture and shared with the students her appreciation and the awareness she had for the significance of this honour.  The students also read a Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer in the Catholic Church when we attended a service on Saturday, May 12th.  These students mentioned that they saw parallels between their home community and the community in San Jose de Ocoa.

Donation to the Local Fire Department and Izzy Dolls
The Hinchinbrooke/Athelstan Fire Department donated 3 used bunker suits to the San Jose de Ocoa Fire Department.  They expressed appreciation for this gesture of support from a Canadian community.  The world becomes a smaller place when we share our resources, time and talents. We made an effort to involve our communities as often as we could, from senior women knitting IZZY Dolls for us, to collecting donated items with us to give away to those in need. Each participant fills a hockey bag with donations.


Word travels fast, other volunteers
We already knew that students applying to our Health Care Programs mention that they are choosing to come to our centre because they have heard about our international volunteer placement, but in addition, we had others in the Chateauguay Valley community and from farther away, request to accompany us on this experience.  Two teachers from WQSB joined this trip, one health care teacher from the Yukon came and two other local volunteers (a retired nurse and a NOVA healthcare graduate) joined the trip with us. Our students shared laughter, tears and emotions while working together with the entire team. There was a total of 32 volunteers on this trip. Good word travels fast!


Quotes from our students

  • “It is a very humbling experience, it takes you out of your usual comfort zone and it does leave you in awe. It’s a life-changing experience and you make lots of new friends and lasting memories.”
  • “A very good experience that everyone should have.”
  • “(It’s) the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had and it changed my way of thinking.”
  • “It was amazing, I feel proud, memories that will last a lifetime.”
  • “It was an amazing experience, I would highly recommend it to other students. A great trip to gain. experience on assessment skills, working with people in different professions, with different backgrounds, being able to give fresh insight on situations.”

Thank you New Frontiers School Board and CVCEC for supporting and encouraging this experience.

The CVCEC Health Programs Team

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