WAYNE — After Emily Perkins graduated from Maranacook Community High School in 2009, she was looking for something different — an alternative to starting college right away.

She found it in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, a small coastal town in the Caribbean nation.

Perkins spent about four months volunteering at a library and youth center run by Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi, a nongovernmental organization focused on community development in Las Terrenas.

“Coming from a small-town area here in Maine, really white, I’d been in a shell my whole life,” said Perkins, now a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Being in a totally different culture was sometimes overwhelming and also a really incredible experience in terms of meeting people who are different from me and living lives that are hard for me to imagine at first.”

Impressed with the foundation’s work, Perkins helped its founders, Annette Snyder and Jose Tactuk Bourget, organize a series of presentations in Maine to talk about their work and perhaps attract some volunteers or donors.

They’ll speak at the Cary Memorial Library in Wayne at 7 p.m. Thursday, preceded by a reception at 6 p.m.

Another event is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Frontier Cafe in Brunswick.

Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi runs a variety of programs on education, sports, health and the environment.

Right now they’re raising money for a new literacy program aimed at third-graders, said Laura Phelps, another volunteer, who said many Dominican children drop out of school around fourth grade.

Phelps, 38, is a school librarian in Wiscasset. She had volunteered before at schools in developing countries, but never at a library until last month, when she spent a week supervising a summer camp in Las Terrenas.

“The library is an amazing resource in the community,” she said. “I was really impressed. I felt like in just a week I was really able to see the impact it made.”

As the week went on, more and more children attended the camp, just showing up without parents and “so excited to be there,” Phelps said.

Snyder and Bourget don’t paint an idealized, romantic picture of changing the world overnight through charity, Perkins said, but emphasize making a direct impact on a community they love.

There aren’t many spaces for children in Las Terrenas, such as playgrounds and parks, Perkins said.

At the library she helped them with their homework and played soccer with them.

People don’t have to have the ability or desire to go to the Dominican to get something from the presentations, Perkins and Phelps said.

“I think people can gain a lot just from seeing the example that Jose and Annette have set in terms of making a positive difference,” Perkins said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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