Finnish exchange student sponsored by Wasaga Rotary Club reflects on mission to Dominican Republic

The Rotary Club of Wasaga Beach sponsored an international exchange student from Finland for 2022-23.

In addition to experiencing Canadian culture and staying with local Rotary families, Venla Niemi enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer with our HHART mission in Dominican Republic.

These comments are from Venla:

“I went to the Dominican Republic with Rotary to do a HHART mission. HHART is short for Hispaniola Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Team. The purpose of HHART missions are to help people (primarily Haitian heritage) in poverty and poor living conditions near Puerto Plata. The HHART team consists of doctors, dentists, other medical staff, Rotarians, translators and other people who want to help.

“We loaded our truck with all the equipment we needed for field work and headed to a village called Cangrejo. There we set up a medical clinic. My official title with another girl, called Aja, was youth ambassador. We were mostly part of the fun team, which means that we were entertaining the local children with colouring books and crayons.

“The village  of Los Ciruelos was in a beautiful spot next to a mountain. There were many goats roaming on the field. We set up a medical clinic in a church. I got to do opto, which meant fitting reading glasses to people. We also handed out some sunglasses before we ran out of them. My favourite moment was when this little boy got sunglasses and he had the biggest smile wearing them.

“Leaving the Dominican Republic was very hard for me. On the plane back to Canada, I cried my eyes out. I have never felt so sad to leave a place — not even when I left for my exchange year. I very rarely cry, but I was so touched by this trip. This has been the best experience of my life. I feel like I made a connection to the Dominican Republic and to our HHART team. I loved meeting the local people and seeing how beautiful the island is.

“I feel like a changed person after just one week. I will never forget all the kids I got to have fun with. My favourite thing was to make them feel loved and seen. This trip made me realize why the work of Rotarians is so important and why Rotary International is an amazing organization. I couldn’t be more thankful to have experienced this week, and I will never forget about it. It has inspired me to do more humanitarian work in the future. I also highly encourage people to visit Even a little help goes a long way.”