A local teacher is heading to the Dominican Republic for a first-hand experience of helping improve educational opportunities in the developing nation.
Amy Bouwman, a teacher at École Steffie Woima Elementary in Sylvan Lake, is taking part in a Lifetouch Memory Mission® to help build a school in a small, mountainous farming community called Constanza. Lifetouch provides photography services to the school, thus the connection and the opportunity for Bouwman to apply for the mission.
“I was hopeful that I would be chosen, and luckily I was,” she explains. “I can’t wait – I’m just thrilled.”
Bouwman has been teaching at Steffie Woima for the past five years, and is excited to also be able to share the experience with her students – both before she departs, while she is there and of course in much more detail upon her return. She currently teaches Grades 4-5.
“They’re very aware of it, and they are very excited.
“I will be able to skype with my students while I’m in the Dominican Republic,” she explains. “While I’m with the kids there, I’ll be able to see my students. It’s valuable for my students I think to see their teacher involved in something like this. It’s something I can bring back home – a life experience.
“In years to come, I’ll still be able to apply it to my career. It will be life-changing.
“It also builds gratitude in you for what you do have.”
Lifetouch organized the trip and invited school administrators, principals and educators throughout North America to work alongside Lifetouch volunteers and Dominican nationals to build the school.
Bouwman joins about 50 volunteers in building a vocational school – she is one of just three Canadians who was chosen to join the trip, and the only one from western Canada. The rest of the team are from the U.S.
Ultimately, school children will soon have a place to continue their education, offering greater opportunities for careers as adults.
Her passion for helping to make a difference was also sparked as a youth. She was part of a mission trip to Portland, Oregon when she was in Grade 8 through her church. The group served in soup kitchens and homeless shelters doing what they could to be of help.
“That was a very cool experience – kind of an eye-opener for me at that age. I’ve never forgotten that trip. So I think things like this trip are extremely valuable.”
She expects to return home with a greater sense of empathy for others, and a stronger sense of gratitude as well for the blessings of living in a prosperous country like Canada. Those are perspectives she hopes to pass onto her students as well.
As for teaching, it’s always been the perfect fit. “I’ve wanted to be a teacher from as far back as I can remember. I think building relationships with kids is incredibly important. It comes first – once you have that relationship, then you can really teach them.”
Meanwhile, there will be opportunities for the team to connect with locals as well. Participants will also have an opportunity to visit community members and take part in a day of photography for the children in the village, many of whom have never seen a photo of themselves.
This is the third ‘Memory Mission’ to Constanza. In 2011 and 2012, volunteers built an elementary school. That school now serves hundreds of children who otherwise would not have had a chance to receive an education.
Altogether, Lifetouch teams have built 13 schools across Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Organizers say it’s also about learning new things and developing relationships.
“When we go, our purpose is greater than a construction project,” says Jake Barker, senior executive vice president at Lifetouch. “More than anything else, it is our mission to bring hope to the families we serve.”
And that hope, he says, has the power to transform people. “Ask any past Memory Mission volunteer about their experience and they will tell you they got more out of it than they gave. They will tell you they came back a changed person.”
Since the inception of the Lifetouch Memory Mission in 2000, volunteers have helped rebuild a village in war-ravaged Kosovo, repair homes in Appalachia, establish a children’s center in Jamaica and construct a bridge in the land of the Navajo in Arizona.
Memory Mission volunteers have also provided on-site assistance to victims of disasters throughout the United States, including Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, floods in the Dakotas, fires in California, and tornadoes across the Midwest.
As for preparations for the trip, Bouwman has been connecting with the trip’s organizers and other team members through conference calls. Here at home, folks and students are helping to raise funds that will go directly to supporting the project.
One fundraiser includes the students ‘taping’ Bouwman to a wall in the gym, she explains with a laugh. For a loonie or a toonie, they can buy a piece of duct tape and go for it. It will be part of an assembly and the kids are already getting geared up for the event.
“All the proceeds will go to the building project. They (Lifetouch) sponsor the trip, so whatever we fundraise goes to the project.”
For more information about Bouwman’s journey, check out www.lifetouchmemorymission.com.