Eighteen Old Rochester Regional High School students and one Tabor Academy student, along with their fathers, spent April vacation working at an orphanage on the island of Trinidad. The students ranged from freshmen to seniors.
Trinidad Tobago is the official name of the country and consists of two southern Caribbean islands. They are located off the coast of Venezuela and south of Grenada.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” said Ben Mattson, who went with his father, Wayne. “The kids were very excited to have us visit. They were so grateful and we could see what a big deal our work was to them. It was amazing to see how much we accomplished in such a short time.”
The group provided labor, materials, and good spirits to help paint the sleeping areas for the 35 children who live at the Christ Child Convalescence Home. The orphans range in age from five months to 14 years old.
The girls’ sleeping area was painted pink, and the boys’ area blue. The group also replaced the drop ceiling tiles, which were falling down and in disrepair. Cubbyholes were built for each child to store clothing and toiletries in the male and female changing areas.
The trip was organized by Erik Dyson of Mattapoisett. Dyson and his wife, Deb, worked for Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador and Costa Rica for three years managing housing projects.
“Groups from high schools, colleges, and churches would come down and help us, Dyson said, “and we were grateful for it.”
Dyson works for an international company and oversees the Caribbean and Latin America region.
“Our company donated a computer lab to the orphanage, and I met Anunciata, who runs the place,” he said. “She told me that she had so many projects and ideas, but no money. I asked if she would host us if we brought a group to help and it all fell into place.”
Hosting means that the orphanage would supply the group with daily lunch, water, and a place to sleep.
The group was formed by friends telling friends and neighbors about it. Some in the group knew each other, but others were strangers.
“We didn’t all know each other before the trip,” said Jane Kassabian, who went with her father, Jay, and brother, Michael (an ORR student who reports on sports for The Wanderer). The trio, from Mattapoisett, had never experienced a different culture. “The kids spoke English, with a strong accent, and we played with them when they returned from school,” Kassabian said.
“It was cool having a father, daughter, and son trip. I shared a tiny, crowded room, with bunks on top of bunks, but it was really great,” she said. Another benefit to giving back is that it brought the families as well as the students closer to one another. “We knew each other from school but now we are friends, definitely,” Kassabian said.
After the project was completed, the group visited a hummingbird sanctuary, where 14 different varieties of the bird live. Another trip included a visit to a beach, at night, where the group saw leatherback turtles, which were eight feet long and weighed up to 1,000 pounds.
“Everybody got along, we worked as a team, and we have great memories of our school vacation week,” Dyson said.
By Joan Hartnett-Barry