© Submitted photo
Corner Brook residents, from left, Krystal LeRoy, Tonya Melendy, Stephanie Purchase and Maddison Cunning, stop working to pose for a photo during their recent humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic.
CORNER BROOK — If any of them had any reticence about giving up their usual Christmas, five young people from Corner Brook certainly have no regrets now.
The five — Bruce Brake, Tonya Melendy, Maddison Cunning, Krystal LeRoy and Stephanie Purchase — found themselves at an airport on Christmas Day, ready to jet off to the Dominican Republic.
The quintet wasn’t heading south for a relaxing vacation. Instead, they were on a mission.
They had raised and saved their money to be a part of a humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic as part of the charitable Live Different organization.
All, except Melendy, are in school and planned the trip for their Christmas break.
In the Caribbean island country until Jan. 6, they were part of a team that built three homes and fixed up a school in the village of Arroyo Seco.
“At first, we considered it putting a kink in some traditional Christmas plans but, in the end, after doing what we did, you forget about it all,” said LeRoy. “The turkey dinner we missed means nothing compared to what we did.”
The adventure started off with an awareness tour of not only Arroyo Seco, but also another nearby village that has benefitted from the work of Live Different. That town used to be called Aguas Negras, which translates as Black Water, because of the raw sewage problems there. Now, it is more optimistically called Nuevo Renacer, which means New Birth.
The group worked on a duplex and a single-dwelling home. Next door, they helped clean up a school and painted it. The jobs were all completed, except for two walls left unpainted because of heavy rains on the last day they were there.
“It was interesting because most of us had never been on a building trip before,” said Cunning. “We can’t build anything on our own, so being on a construction site was fun.”
Not exactly a picnic
Of course, it wasn’t exactly a picnic. Building homes for poverty-stricken people under a blazing hot sun involves plenty of hard manual labour. Live Different hired contractors to direct the projects and provide locals with work, but the construction involved sifting sand to make cement and other demanding chores.
“It was all done from scratch and all done by hand,” explained Purchase. “We never had any power tools or machines.”
The experience included meeting with local people to get a feel for the kind of life they lead.
One woman they met stood out. The 83-year-old had raised a dozen children in the same rundown, leaking shack she lived in for 60 years.
“You couldn’t even tell she was disappointed in any of that, she was so positive,” said Purchase. “She would get up at three in the morning to gather different things to make us tea and coffee from scratch and it was the best tea I have ever tasted.”
The people for whom the group was building new homes for visited the site daily and got more and more excited by the progress. Their gratitude really showed during a little ceremony held to mark the completion of the buildings.
“There was a little boy who was asked to say a few words during the dedication,” said Purchase. “He started to cry and cried for about an hour, he was so happy.”
The five came together after hearing about Brake and Melendy’s plans to raise money to go on the mission.
“I just had to go and get involved,” said Melendy of why she wanted to participate. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
When Melendy met with LeRoy to discuss also being a part of the project, Cunning was with her and was interested too. Shortly after, Purchase heard about it and wanted to join her friends.
The five are already looking forward to doing a similar trip once they can raise enough money to do so. They are eyeing a Live Different project in Mexico next time.
“Mexico would be a little bit cheaper than the Dominican Republic,” said Brake, who has now done two Live Different missions in the Dominican. “They have their own base where you stay at the build site, whereas you have to stay at a resort in the Dominican Republic.”
LeRoy, for one, doesn’t care where they go for the next trip to help needy people.
“As long as it’s the same line of work, send me anywhere,” she said. “That was definitely something I want to do again.”
Brake agreed the sense of accomplishment felt by giving shelter and, more importantly, hope to someone in need is tough to match.
“Giving them a leg up is a big deal to them,” he said.