Rotary Interact Club members return to Dominican Republic after overcoming COVID challenges

Local Rotary sponsored Interact Clubs, usually consisting of high school students,  have a long-standing relationship with Batey 106 in La Romana, Dominican Republic.  A “batey” in the DR is a village or neighborhood.  Long focused on providing clean water, housing, and education to the Haitian immigrant children who live in that region, the group had to shift gears in 2020, due to COVID-19.

First some background… Interact Club members started an annual trip to the Dominican Republic, starting in 2015. The work began with installing water filters in small Haitian villages among the sugarcane fields, called Bateyes. The focus has since expanded with a main goal of providing better housing and better education opportunities to the children and families of Batay 106.

When asked about her perspective on the trip, Caroline Tubman, Interact4DR Fundraising Director said “after going to the DR in 2019, coming home was uncomfortable because of the drastic difference in our privileges. I have changed my way of thinking since the trip”.

The #Interact4DR effort was created after the 2019 Interact trip to the Dominican Republic. Trip chaperone Casey Tubman and his daughter Caroline, an Interact Club member, were the driving force behind the founding of the initiative with the help of Interact Advisor, Jackie Huie, a former SJ/BH Rotary Club President.

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The idea was to sponsor three kids to go to school. In DR, schooling is provided by the government but the kids need supplies, backpacks, books, and a uniform. For junior high and high school age students, they also need transportation. The approximate cost per year is $60 for elementary students and $325 for junior high or high school.

The group quickly found that it was impossible to pick only three kids. By the end of the trip, the conversation had shifted to how they could fundraise to support education for all 125 students. Not wanting to do traditional, small-scale fundraising (lots of events with low dollar amounts raised), they sought out large corporate sponsorships. They were able to secure a large donation early on which allowed the students to start the school year in September 2019. They then reached out to individuals and businesses to get a match for that big initial amount. The target was to raise $40,000 and by the fall, had reached 90% of their goal.

AND THEN COVID HAPPENED…

As with many things, the COVID-19 pandemic made a significant impact on the project. When the pandemic hit, the kids stopped going to school. By not going to school, they also lost access to food. With the donors permission, the Interact funds were diverted to supporting food needs for kids in the Batay.

Interact Club members had ongoing contact with those on-site in the Dominican Republic, evaluating the different ways to support education moving forward. The club ultimately determined that the best way to support was through the purchase of computer tablets and internet hotspots to help facilitate remote learning in this area.

Interact has recently launched a portal on OneCause to best facilitate ongoing fundraising to support Batay 106: https://donate.onecause.com/interact4dr/challenge. They want to give the children hopes of a better future through an education.

What’s next for the Rotary Interact members?   The annual trip to the Dominican Republic is set to resume this week. A group of 12 students and 4 chaperones will be traveling on July 31 for 6 days. While there, they will be building a house in Batey 106, shadowing a local doctor in the Batey for basic check-ups. All travelers will be required to provide a negative covid test up to 72 hours prior to departure and again to return to the U.S.

One of the Interact Club travelers this year, Taylor Hartley, is the recipient of the Trevor Kubatzke scholarship. This scholarship was originally created in 2020 but that trip was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID. The scholarship is valued at $1,300 and covers the full cost of the trip. There were several applications submitted for this honor in 2021. Taylor is the current International Director for the Interact Club of St. Joseph High School.  The scholarship is funded by Lake Michigan College President Trevor Kubatzke.

In her scholarship application, Taylor shared “going on this trip means a lot to me, not just because of the fulfilling work we do but also because of all the connections I have made.” She goes on to say that “not only did it bring me out of my shell, but it gave me a sense of purpose knowing that to someone, I gave them hope for a better future. However, what they don’t realize is that they taught me how to view life. Oftentimes when I’d find myself angry or upset with the world, I would just look at how the locals lived, thankful for every day and what it brings them, even if it isn’t much. that is something that I will always carry with me and always be thankful for.”

About Interact

Interact Club is a Rotary sponsored club for high schoolers who want to help serve their community and the world. Each year they do a multitude of service projects around the community, including reading at Countryside Academy, working with Mosaic, and helping support community events with St. Joseph Today. The Lakeshore Rotary Club sponsors Interact Clubs of Lakeshore and Bridgman High School. The Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor sponsors Interact Clubs at St. Joseph High School, Upton Middle School, and Lake Michigan Catholic Middle School and High School.

About Rotary

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary club membership represents a cross-section of the community’s business and professional men and women.