By Francesca Ferrara
Panther Press Contributor
Mission trips are one way PVI students can encounter God’s heart and the hearts of people all around the world. A popular recurring trip has been to Banica, Dominican Republic, a small community on the border of Haiti, where a group of roughly 40 students are sent to help meet the needs of approximately 10,000 residents who struggle from day-to-day. This year’s trip will take place during summer break, from June 18-24.
Almost all of the citizens of Banica live in extreme poverty, according to Fr. Keith O’Hare, a priest for the Diocese or Arlington, who is currently serving the people of Banica at the diocesan mission there. The majority of people who have regular jobs get paid only about nine dollars a day which makes many necessities out of reach, he said.
Education is also a struggle for families in Banica, where school is just too expensive for some.
“Only 210 children can afford to go to school,” said O’Hare, who speaks at length about his experiences serving in Banica in this video. “They are very blessed to have a Catholic school that’s working, that’s truly educating and enlightening their mind for the sake of their development.”
Students who attend mission trips understand that the experience can be demanding, but they look forward to the opportunity nonetheless.
PVI sophomore Sarah Garstka ’16 attended another mission trip offered at PVI when she joined a group of students ministering to the poor in Steubenville, Ohio.
“Mission trips are hard work but in the end it’s all worth it,” said Sarah Garstka ‘16. “The trip changed my life for the better. We worked with Vagabond Ministries and had the opportunity to interact with teens from a completely different economic, social, and cultural background. I saw Christ in each and every one of their eyes, encountering him everywhere on the trip. It was a truly enlightening experience that changed my life.”
In Banica the Diocese of Arlington supports two parishes and one of them is The San Jose Parish, where this year’s PVI Mission Team will be devoting most of their time, according to Joyce Krolicki, PVI coordinator of campus ministry.
Krolicki said last year’s Mission Team witnessed the impact of their efforts firsthand when they spent most of their time building bathrooms for the residents. The bathrooms took about a week to build, but they’ll last for more than 20 years.
“It’s amazing how something that takes even seven days to make can impact someone’s life for decades,” said Krolicki.
The PVI community, the Dioceses of Arlington, and many local colleges have made a huge impact for the people in Banica. Many villages facing problems such as extreme poverty, illiteracy, alcohol abuse, and diseases have benefited from efforts to build chapels, faith based reading programs, schools, and even homes for families. They have also given scholarships to help students attend school.
The Diocese of Arlington also gives funds to FUNDASEP (Foundation for the Development of Azua, San Juan, and Elias Piña) which helps bring improved sanitation and water, pharmacies and infrastructure to many parishioners in the area. FUNDASEP runs Radio Corazon, a station used by bishops to broadcast programs to the Dominican Republic. Current Diocesan-led projects include working on new vehicles, a new roof for the church, a copy machine, funding for employee salaries and service expansion, and creation of a Catholic high school for the residents of Banica.
While the time spent on mission is always memorable, students often gain a new outlook upon their arrival home.
“I returned home with a whole new perspective, with eyes that had seen and ears that had heard. I am a new person as a direct result of my experiences and would not trade my memories and the friendships I made for the world,” said Garstka.
“Everyone you meet will make a big impact on you,” added Krolicki. “God will have you do amazing things and help change the lives of others.”