January in Dominica: Scholar’s Mentorship Program students reflect on Caribbean service

With contributions from Valerine Gomez Beco ’21

A select group of SUNY New Paltz students who travelled to Dominica over Winter Break reconvened on Feb. 25 to look back on their experiences aiding the island nation’s ongoing recovery from damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

Seven New Paltz students from the Scholar’s Mentorship Program joined seven students from the University of West Indies as volunteers in this unique international learning experience, a joint venture with a disaster response organization called All Hands and Hearts.

Those New Paltz students – Shayla Dawkins-Rohan ’22 (Digital Media Production), Angeline Gomez ’21 (International Relations; Latin American & Caribbean Studies), Kasseem Humphreys ’22 (Pre-Engineering), Emely Jorge ’22 (Undecided), Brianna Knight ’19 (Childhood Education), Elle Satin ’21 (Pre-Biology), and Halimat Sulayman ’19 (Public Relations) – got back together on campus at the Feb. 25 presentation and expressed gratitude for how this trip affected them.

“Learning stories about other people from all over the world, meeting them and seeing things from their perspective, it’s very eye-opening,” Satin said.

“I didn’t really know what to expect – a lot of us going into the project never did anything so hands on,” added Gomez. “It was a heartwarming experience, something that I feel like a lot of people need to really understand their benefits and privilege.”

The primary purpose of the two-week trip was to help the people of Dominica restore homes and infrastructure that were damaged during the devastating 2017 storm season.

“Dominica for us was a tremendously challenging disaster in 2017,” said Luz Longsworth, pro vice-chancellor and principal at the University of West Indies Open Campus. “The work that our students and faculty have done, together with All Hands and Hearts, will be in the memory of the people for a very long time.”

The SUNY New Paltz delegation was led by Gweneth Lloyd, director of the Psychological Counseling Center, who herself was born in Dominica.

“This experience was especially significant for me because it allowed me to go back to my own home country, and to serve – there’s nothing as touching as that,” she said.

The experience was demanding – the work of helping rebuild after a natural disaster involves long hours lifting, painting, pouring cement and moving wheelbarrow loads across the nation’s naturally hilly terrain.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the students,” said Lloyd. “They really stood up to the rigor of the work, and this work was for no softies.”

“At the end of the day all of us had a smile on our faces and I think that is one of the greatest parts of the program,” Jorge added.

The Dominica Service Program is an outgrowth of the SUNY-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development, a SUNY Office of Global Affairs initiative that launched in 2016. La Tasha Brown, assistant professor of digital media & journalism at SUNY New Paltz, is Global Fellow for the SUNY-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development.

The program was made possible thanks to a collaboration involving the State University of New York, the University of West Indies, All Hands and Hearts, and multiple units at SUNY New Paltz: the Office of Student Affairs, the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, the Center for International Programs, and the Institute for Disaster Mental Health.

“What really fascinates me about this initiative is not only the good work that was done for the people of Dominica, but also the wide range of partners that came together to make this possible, including the student volunteers who represented us so well there,” added Bruce Sillner, dean of the Center for International Programs.

Visit the Center for International Programs at SUNY New Paltz to learn more about this and other international learning experiences.