After returning home on Jan. 1 from six days in the Dominican Republic, Southampton High School junior Justin Fisher, looked at the iPad he received for Christmas and concluded that fancy electronics just didn’t mean as much to him anymore.
As part of a group from Southampton that helped build a vocational school in the underdeveloped town of Constanza over winter break, Fisher met children who had so little that they treasured gifts like rubber bands, handmade tie-dye shirts and bottles of bubbles.
“The kids were so excited to see us and they wanted to help us so badly,” said Fisher, 16. “They’d put on gloves, grab a shovel and even take the wheel barrel out of my hands. If I were 7 years old, I’d be playing, not working. It’s amazing how positive their outlook is.”
Fisher was one of 19 students from Southampton High School and Southampton Intermediate School, along with parents and Intermediate School assistant principal Susan Wright, who spent their winter break building the foundation and walls of the first floor of the vocational school, which will serve hundreds of children that age out of the elementary school at 9th grade.
“It was so meaningful and life-changing the first time I was there that I wanted students to experience it,” said Wright, who made the trip twice before to build an elementary school across the street from the vocational school. “You think you’re there to build a school, but it changes you.”
It was Wright's third trip to Constanza with World Servants, a global organization that has organized short-term mission trips in the United States and around the world since 1986.
Each student and parent raised $2,500 to go on the trip. Students held bake sales, car washes and sold raffles, to help cover travel and the cost of building supplies, Wright said.
During the trip, the group laid down a foundation, and built concrete walls. Next year, the Southampton group will return to build the second floor, Wright added.
The group worked from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, while also witnessing some of the harsh realities of the town. Fisher described homes built of scrap metal and wood that stand side-by-side in clusters, packed with large families.
Students agreed that the most important message they took away from the experience was to focus less on material items.
Ninth-grader Shelby Pierson, along with another classmate, traveled with Wright last year to Constanza before the group trip idea came about. She said she didn’t realize the impact her presence had on families she came across during her last trip, until she returned and noticed that a family had a picture of her hanging in their home.
“One of my biggest fears returning this year was that families I had gotten close to wouldn’t remember me, but they didn’t forget me,” said Pierson, 14. “We thought we would be the ones changing their lives, but they ended up changing ours.”