By Robyn Kurth
Fifteen-year-old Maria and sixteen-year-old Elmi are used to studying far from home—their high school, the Instituto Politécnico Loyola in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic is a four hour drive from their home in La Cucarita, the mountain village in Orlando’s sister diocese of San Juan de la Maguana.
This summer the two teenage friends will be studying English more than 1,000 miles away from home, in the hopes that they can return to the Dominican Republic and teach others what they have learned. They are being hosted by the Diocese of Orlando and are spending much of their time at the Sand Lake Center Valencia Enterprises, where they are taking English classes.
After a morning of classes the girls usually return to the Mission Office at the chancery to continue their homework. They are staying with Lisa and Tim McCarthy from St. Margaret Mary parish in Winter Park during the weekdays and visit different families and parishes over the weekends. Lisa, Tim and their grown daughters have all been on mission trips to San Juan de la Maguana, and the McCarthys hosted Maria’s older sister Lucia two years earlier.
Photo: The girls and Christine Shields pray before their voice lesson.
“(The girls) knew who I was, their parents know me and my husband has been to the Dominican Republic so many times he’s built a lot of the houses there,” Lisa explained. “I don’t speak Spanish, but I can communicate with the two girls just fine.”
Other educational activities planned for their six week stay include an art camp as well as voice lessons donated by Christine Shields, the executive assistant from The Florida Catholic who has a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. “The main goal for the girls being here in Florida is to learn and expand upon their ability to speak and understand English,” said Shields. “Keeping that in mind, my main goal in giving these girls voice lessons is to teach them the proper technique for singing, not only to achieve the best possible sound, but to preserve their voices so they will be able to sing God’s praises for many years to come.”
According to Justo Gonzalez, Associate Director of the Missions Office, Maria and Elmi have been offered a valuable chance to expand their horizons beyond La Cucarita, an area so remote that families whose children are fortunate enough to get a scholarship to this school usually have to pay someone to drive them down the dirt roads just to pay their children a visit when school is in session.
“Clearly we know that enhanced language skills and enhanced education create greater economic opportunities in the future,” said Gonzalez. “This cross-cultural exchange helps them to see a world with a different reality and this helps them to understand that there’s a greater reality out there than the limited world that they know, so they can decide who they want to be.”
Both girls have already expressed a desire to help their fellow students learn English, as well as pursue their individual career paths—Emli would like to be a psychologist and Maria wants to be a professional singer. One similarity that both girls noticed between their families in the Dominican Republic and the people they have met so far through the Diocese of Orlando is their shared Catholic faith.