In late January, Woodland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Green packed his bags for vacation in the Dominican Republic. But instead of swim trunks and flip flops, his bag was filled with work gloves, trowels, a tape measure and other hand tools.
Green participated in a service project for a week in January to help build the second story of a school in Rio Grande, a small town outside of the mountain town of Constanza. Green was randomly selected for the trip last fall after filling out a general application.
Green said his decision to apply was pretty “random.” After learning about the project at a conference, “I got on my smartphone and said. ‘What the heck, I’ll throw my name into the lottery,’ “ Green said, because it would be “a great opportunity to give my own personal time to global education.”
Lifetouch Memory Mission is part of the photography services company Lifetouch, which provides school photography for school districts throughout the country. Participation was limited to Lifetouch employees and educators from the United States and Canada.
Green’s transportation, meals and lodging were paid for through Lifetouch’s company contributions and donations. Green also raised $1,000 in his community to help pay for supplies used in making the school.
Green had never participated in a service project like this before, though he said his 20-year-old daughter had previous experience volunteering in a school in Honduras through a program called Worldwide Heart to Heart.
“I’ve always been interested in serving in some sort of capacity,” Green said. “My wife and I have talked about several years down the road we may go overseas” to volunteer, Green said.
Lifetouch Memory Mission has organized many service projects since it was founded in 2000, including a bridge on the Navajo Reservation, homes in Appalachia and 13 schools in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“We in America are so incredibly privileged, and there are so many parts of the world that graciously enjoy the life they have, which is a standard of living so far below what virtually every American I’ve known would accept,” Green said. “We take something like clean, running water just for granted. And there it’s a privilege.”
Green and about 50 other volunteers stayed in the nearby city of Constanza, a popular tourist destination where wealthier Dominicans who enjoy hiking and mountain biking go on vacation.
Each day started with breakfast at 6:30 in the morning and arrival at the work site around 8 a.m. Green and his crew worked until about 4:30 or 5 in the evening almost every day.
“Construction there is all very, very labor intensive,” Green said.
There wasn’t a lot of big equipment, so much of the hauling and digging necessary for construction was done by hand.
“We saw one piece of equipment and that was a backhoe to dig a ditch, and it was barely running,” Green said. “Every brick was sent... up a ramp and stored upstairs. Every shovel of sand that went into mortar was hand shoveled, every bag of concrete was carried by hand.”
Green’s group also helped construct part of a 10-foot wall for the school, which, with the help of steel gates, concertina wire and guards, will help protect the school from looters looking to steal school supplies.
The finished product will be a two-story, six classroom building that will be able to serve the village’s 60 kids and “hopefully even more” in the future, Green said.
That’s a stark contrast to what the village has now: Green estimates that the village’s current schoolhouse measures only about 12 by 20 feet and can serve only 15 of the area’s youngest kids. Anything past the equivalent of second grade was taught in another town: a several mile walk in both directions.
“The thing I walked away recognizing was that the people there that we met and interacted with were very kind and gracious and grateful for what they had,” Green said. “They didn’t at all seem resentful for what they didn’t have.”