Two TRiO students went on a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic from May 13 through 20 where they worked with a tribe of native people who live in a national park.
OCCC sophomore Aaron Kimberlin and recent graduate Lisa Shaw were selected to represent the college on this Caribbean island of Hispaniola which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti.
The students were chosen because of their civic and academic engagement on campus, Shaw said.
The Oklahoma Study Abroad Project, created by the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges, selected 11 students from different community colleges around Oklahoma to travel and study abroad, Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin is a biochemistry major who said he plans to work in some area of dentistry.
Shaw said she will be attending the University of Oklahoma in the fall. Her long-term goal is to attend law school.
The village where they served is called El Castillo. It is located within the Valle Nuevo National Park that has been there since the late 1990s, Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin said the villagers of El Castillo have to survive and abide by the regulations of the government or the village will have to be removed from the park.
He and Shaw presented a project over climate change and sustainable agriculture to students of El Castillo.
Kimberlin also said one of projects they did was to build some crowns around trees to make them grow up healthy.
“Studying in political science allowed me to take classroom knowledge and apply it to real life,” Shaw said.
Kimberlin said the greatest opportunity was being able take what he learned in the Dominican Republic and return to his own community.
“I will be able to utilize my skills to do a learning project here,” he said.
A foundation called Jose Delio Guzman is dedicated to helping the community of El Castillo find sustainable ways of living inside Valle Nuevo.
The village receives outside resources through the foundation for improving the education and infrastructure of the community, he said.
“To preserve the natural habitat, they are allowed to farm which is the kind of thing they are able to live on,” Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin noted that El Castillo is less developed than the U.S. To see people in the community making the things they need impressed him.
Going to the store to buy things is something Americans take for granted. He said it gave him appreciation for what he has because he feels advantaged to live in such a developed country.
“The resources they have are limited because of their isolated location in the mountains,” Kimberlin said.
Shaw said she had an amazing time traveling as a group with the other students from other colleges.
“Because we are all major-centric, sometimes we look at things the same way [within our groups.]
“It was a great opportunity to be within a mixed group of individuals,” Shaw said. “It was really a huge benefit.”
Not only did Shaw and Kimberlin participate in the service learning project, but also both students had some fun experiencing landmarks of the Dominican Republic.
The Valle Nuevo national park is home to mountain peaks ranging over 10,000 feet and the tallest waterfall in the Caribbean named Salto Aguas.
“Seeing the waterfall was exciting because it gave us an opportunity to travel deep into the area and be surrounded by beautiful natural resources,” Shaw said.
“On the way to the waterfall was like a four-wheeling adventure.”
Kimberlin said the highlight for him was seeing the waterfall and taking the opportunity of jumping into the freezing cold waters of Salto Aguas.
“The spring water at the base was so cold that when we jumped in the water, we needed to bring a change of clothes,” Kimberlin said. “The trip was a great opportunity.”
For more information about TRiO, visit www.occc.edu/trio/index.html .