fatheranddaughtermissionLast month, Red Bank Regional freshman Mara Campolattaro and her father helped organize a humanitarian mission, during which a group of seven Rumson daughters and dads brought fresh water to an impoverished village in the Dominican Republic. (photos by Tim Orr)

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

For years, Mara Campolattaro of Rumson had asked her dad, eye surgeon Dr. Brian Campolattaro, to take her on one of his trips to Latin America, where he performed mission surgery as a pediatric ophthalmologist with the ILAC (Institute for Latin American Concern) organization. When Mara — a freshman at the Red Bank Regional High School Visual and Performing Arts Academy — turned 14, he acquiesced, inviting her on a humanitarian mission to the Dominican Republic.

The Campolattaros soon got inspired to invite six of Mara’s Rumson friends — Paige Borden, Caroline Healey, Hannah Horan, Annabel Morris, Maddie Orr and Olivia Turi, all freshmen at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School — as well as their dads. The girls named themselves and the mission “HereToHelp,” and with the assistance of the ILAC, the team set about identifying a village that was in need of their energies.

Mara_with_her_newfriendsRed Bank Regional freshman Mara Campolattaro is pictured with her new friends in the Dominican Republic village of La Piragua Abajo. Mara created a mission she called HeretoHelp that brought running water to the children’s impoverished village. 

Before long, HereToHelp had homed in on their “here,” as well as the nature of their mission’s help. The seven fathers and daughters were to finance and build an aqueduct to bring clean-flowing water to the Dominican Republic village of La Piragua Abajo (which translates as “The Piranha Below”). The people of this small community, composed mostly of one-room, tin-roofed structures, would fetch their water from the local river, traveling two miles each way. The Rumson father/daughter project began fundraising months in advance of their visit, in order to purchase the necessary pipes, pumps, a filtration system, a reservoir and the tools to create this small miracle for people they had never met.

“Our goal was to raise $10,000,” Mara explains. “However, everyone in our community was so generous that we raised over $12,000!  We simultaneously collected more than 600 pounds of clothes, which we took with us in plastic bins in place of our checked suitcases — and we each took one carry-on baggage instead for our own personal needs.”

The families financed their own airfare, and chose to execute their project over a five-day period when the girls had a long November weekend, so that they missed just one day of school. They were understandably apprehensive upon arrival in a new country, but those fears were soon assuaged as Mara describes their reception, “We were overwhelmed as we arrived in La Piragua Abajo because we exited the bus to the sound of clapping and cheering.”

The whole community turned out to greet them and work alongside them, which muted their other fear: that they would not be able to complete their ambitious project in the five days they had allotted.

Fathers, daughters and villagers jumped into the task of digging ditches, laying pipe, smoothing the surface and clearing it of rock so that the pumping mechanism could take water from a well to the new water reservoir on a hilltop. The group also installed connecting pipes to each structure. A filtering system was erected, and with the aid of gravity, they witnessed the start of the precious convenience of fresh, clean water for the first time to these homes.

“We were told by one young man that they had never seen women doing this type of work,” says Mara, “but before long the teenage girls in the village joined us in the physical labor.”

The young ladies of “HereToHelp” also had an opportunity to visit the local village school, where they played American music; something they were surprised to learn that the locals knew and liked. The school children taught the Americans some of their favorite dances, including the Merengue and the Baccata. It wasn’t lost on the girls that their three-mile truck ride to the school was a trek all 75 village children walked twice a day. The girls also noticed that many of the children did not have shoes, and all were wearing some version of American t-shirts.

As Mara observes, “Our parents always remind us to be grateful for what we have…you can think and talk about it, but it never seemed to have a lasting impact on me. But seeing how the villagers live, compared to how we live, made a lasting impression. It was truly eye-opening.”

The girls, however, are intent on making more memories and performing more small miracles as they are already planning a return mission to the Dominican Republic during the next November break.