Looking past the picturesque getaways of the Dominican Republic, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member Pauline Lythgoe decided to volunteer to the hundreds of people in need in the country. Lythgoe, first introduced to the Dominican over a decade ago, now volunteers with the Dominican Starfish Foundation to give back to the people.
Lythgoe, a supply technician at CFB Petawawa, first went to the Dominican more than ten years ago to attend a friend’s wedding.
“I always brought stuff whenever we went away to give people. It’s not something that’s new to me. I can go to a hotel here in Canada, and I’m going I bet the lady cleaning my room would really appreciate this,” said Lythgoe.
During that first trip, Lythgoe and her husband decided to donate the money that had set aside for an excursion to a local school. From that small gesture, Lythgoe realized the difference she could make in the community.
“I went home from that trip thinking there has to be more, there has to be a group that I can get involved with so that I can do a bit more than just helping the people at the resort. I knew there was more out there,” remembered Lythgoe.
She made it her mission not only to return to the Dominican but find a group that she could volunteer with. A quick internet search led her to the Dominican Starfish Foundation.
“I liked that it wasn’t a big organization. I wanted it to be somewhere small, and it was Canadian. I went ‘this is great it’s all kind of lining up for me.’ It’s almost like a light went off and I said this is a perfect fit,” stated Lythgoe.
Being in the military, Lythgoe believes that it is inherent in her to help others and “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
“Being military, I wanted to help. That’s another reason I joined, was to help. This way when I go down there, I get to see the progress. When I’m down there we help out, we do all kinds of work, but then when I go back the following year, I get to see all those kids that have just developed in the last year from what I’ve done,” said Lythgoe.
A registered Canadian charity, the Dominican Starfish Foundation consists of everyday people, much like Lythgoe. The organization has multiple projects in the Dominican.
Lythgoe tries to make it down to the Caribbean island once a year, if not more. She mainly helps out with the organization’s donation centre. Every few months, the foundation brings in over 600 boxes of shoes and clothes for distribution. The clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies, food and school supplies are then passed out after people volunteer in the community.
“We’re teaching them it’s not just a free-for-all. They have to go work at the senior home, they have to help a neighbour they have to help in the communities, and then they get their basic needs from the donation centre,” explained the CAF member.
Lythgoe, often accompanied by her family, also helps with the foundation’s house building project. Since 2013, the Dominican Starfish Foundation has built 23 homes for families in need.
In addition, the foundation also has built a school that it continues to support, is in the process of building a library and has a school lunch feeding program that feeds 315 children every day at two different schools.
Last year, for the first time, Lythgoe brought a group of ten with her, which included three co-workers from Petawawa and a military spouse and she plans on taking another group to the Dominican in November. Lythgoe says she gives people a year in advance to plan and save, since volunteers have to pay for travel and accommodation themselves. However, for those that can, she recommends it as once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It’s just an incredible experience. Anyone that could go and do this, it’s life changing. It’s a different way of having a vacation but giving back to the community,” said Lythgoe.