Teachers and books welcome in summer in Dominican
Oakville Beaver, Joanna Phillips
May 14, 2008

There's something about the Dominican Republic that's hooked Judy Warrington.

In April, Warrington returned from her 18th trip to the impoverished Caribbean nation, which shares its island landmass with Haiti.

Dominican Republic may be a great spot for a vacation, but that hasn't been its draw for Warrington.

"Despite the challenges of the rains, roads, lack of infrastructure, lack of hydro, running water, access to medical care, high costs, devaluing peso, they [the people there] still have a joy about them, a spirit about them, and a love of life. And a happiness that really extends the warmest welcome to visitors," she said glowingly.

"We teach our children not to speak to strangers. In the Dominican Republic, it's the opposite."

Warrington has always been interested in the service of others, which is why she founded Power Trips, a volunteer-run organization devoted to Dominican Republic's development. She left her home in Oakville March 4th and stayed in the Dominican Republic for more than a month to lead two 14-day trips. The first one consisted of 80 people - 63 of which were students from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver schools, and the rest, mostly teachers. The second trip attracted 30 participants from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Calgary and Collingwood School in Vancouver.

It was the way the students preferred to spend their March Break.

"I considered coming on this project because I wanted to experience a challenge and make a change. I also felt like it was time to do something useful during my March Break instead of being a tourist in some country," wrote student Andrea Doyle in her assessment of the trip.

It's a win-win situation.

When Warrington isn't on the island, she is collecting as much as she can in the way of school supplies, medical supplies, household goods, shoes and school equipment. With the help of many generous Canadians (from the Rotary Club of Oakville, U-Haul in Oakville, Mini-Storage Units in Mississauga, the Oakville Sewing Centre, Knox Presbyterian Church, local school boards, and Royal Movers and Storage on Royal Windsor Drive), she's sent two 40-foot containers stuffed full with chairs, desks, tables, office furniture, sewing machines and 450 boxes of donated items.  Nothing is too big (or too small)- Warrington even sent a piano!

Warrington was introduced to international service opportunities at Appleby College, a member school of the Round Square. Round Square is an organization that leads students on the path to self discovery in ways that extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Warrington went on to lead students on trips to Hungary, Kenya, South Africa and Costa Rica.

In 2004, she created Power Trips as a legal entity. She says she chose Dominican Republic because of its closeness, and "the fact that it has as much poverty in some areas as I know there is in Africa."

"What differentiates us from many other organizations is our interest in empowerment. We don't want to create dependency on us," she said.
"We do service that is smart, sensible, and sensitive to the needs of the local community, that is going to lead to self-sustainability." 

Warrington is partnered with the Rotary Club of Oakville, as well as several Rotary clubs and other local organizations in the Dominican Republic.
"They are our guides, our friends, our direct line to the people."

During her last visit, the teams did four "extreme school makeovers," including a women's training centre in Moca and three rural schools. The work entailed purchasing material locally, doing all sorts of renovations, installing window blinds and security bars and new roofs, fixing "baños" (bathrooms), creating blackboards, making shelving, painting, decorating, and hiring people to pour concrete floors. Sounds tiring, yes, but for Warrington, a retired teacher (but not really), it's a typical day in the life.

With classes still running in March in the Dominican Republic, she and her volunteers ran activities for the children, and created safe children's play areas - mud playgrounds are the norm for most rural schools.

She also partnered with local dentists as well as two leading childcare health providers - The Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) and The National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) - to run health clinics. Dominicans were given free medicine, and thousands of toothbrushes and toothpaste were handed out. There was HIV testing, and workshops on the environment, garbage (a problem there) and sexual disease. An eye clinic was set up to identify children with clinical needs, and eyeglasses were distributed.

Dominicans were also given hundreds of new and used soccer balls and uniforms, all donated by local soccer clubs.

Warrington was a teacher for 35 years, mostly in Halton and Peel. She's taught at public and private elementary schools, secondary schools, and a commercial re-training program at Sheridan College.

She's been married for 43 years, and says having felt privileged with her cushy, comfy Canadian life, she now feels blessed to be able to respond to a calling to help those less fortunate to help themselves.

Her husband, an accountant with his own business, is also involved in her pursuits, having participated in four projects; during the most recent project, Len gave a basic business workshop to women wanting to establish their own micro-enterprises. Her grand daughter Alyssa has participated in an August project and single-handedly ran a children's craft program for girls in a barrio near Puerto Plata. Her daughter-in-law Gina also participated in a recent project and is currently working through a proposal with the University of Calgary where she teaches to involve students from the Teachers Across Borders program in the Dominican Republic. 

Her projects have been a huge success with students who accompany her on the trips. To better understand the country, they visit a cigar factory, the free zone clothing factories, local hospitals, seniors' centres, orphanages, a deaf children's school, clinics and the Mirabel Museum, and they have fun, varied programs in the evenings.

Warrington no longer stays in hotels with her volunteers. The students weren't comfortable in the kind of accommodation hotels provide, after seeing the living conditions of many of the children they were working with.

"It didn't fit," said Warrington. Instead, they stay at a retreat centre near Moca or else a volunteer centre with basic and rustic lodgings located on the top of a mountain between Puerto Plata and Sosua that she has invested in with the Honorary Consul of the Dominican Republic for the North. The views from both sites were incredible.

Local cooks prepared Dominican cuisine during the trip.

"We are very careful about what we eat," said Warrington.

Perhaps the only complaint the students really had in their evaluations was there weren't enough vegetables.

Besides that, they walked away with a refreshed outlook on life.

"After this trip, I have a much greater appreciation for how much a small action can affect someone so much. I will also be much more willing to live in the moment and "go with the flow." I have a feeling that these lessons will stay with me forever," wrote Elizabeth Watt from St. Clement's School.

Visit Judy's website at www.PowerTripsInc.org