One of the best decisions I ever made was going on the St. Anne’s-Belfield School trip to the Dominican Republic in June 2019. I cannot tell you how much I grew, learned about myself and all 29 of us on the trip. By putting ourselves out of our comfort zones and diving into Dominican culture headfirst, our whole group grew. We each came out with an expanded view of the world, a new community of people who shared this experience, and a feeling of accomplishment.
We all watch the news and hear about developing countries, but living in one is a different experience. One shared problem in many developing countries is water shortages. Because there is no running water, water is brought to Derramadero, the town we stayed in. Bucket showers and bucket flushing became a new reality for all of us. Another new reality was the food. Five women from the village cooked all the food for us. Though it was not our standard American fries or burgers, all of us tried the new dishes and gobbled them up. Also, everyone made an effort to put themselves in the shoes of the people living around us. One night during our evening reflections, we looked at a chart with the financial decisions the families we helped have to make. Another night we talked to the teenagers from Derrumbadero and learned about their lives and dreams. It was eye-opening to hear the tough decisions families made - some parents had to choose between education and food for their children. Also, it was inspirational to see how hopeful the kids were about their future even with the relatively few opportunities they have.
People say it takes a village to raise a child. Derumbadero was the epitome of community. While working on the two houses, the Dominican masons were more than helpful. At the worksites, they taught us skills we did not know and guided us through tough tasks. Neighbors would come over to help. After school kids would come over to do small jobs, like carrying empty cement buckets or shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows. Everyone was so eager to assist and share the workload. Just as much as the community members wanted to help, they wanted to share a laugh and a fun time. In the first hour of being in the town, we started a soccer game with the kids. During our rest period, after lunch, the kids would play with us: piggyback rides were crowd favorites. Even though us Americans were uncommon to the community, they welcomed us with open arms and made sure we had everything we needed.
During our time in Derramadero, we worked on three different worksites: two houses and a reforestation project. Each site brought new challenges. We all started out with our own strengths. A lot of us tried new things. Whether hammering, sawing, painting, or lifting we grew together and stronger. Not only did our construction skills improve, but our language skills improved greatly. Some of us could have full conversations with the community members, while others used hand motions to get the message along. Either way, we all connected with the town. People say music connects us all, which proved true. On our final night, we danced the night away with all the locals to some beautiful drum beats. Over the course of the week our strengths, Spanish literacy, and connections became stronger.
Coming out of a deep dive into the Dominican culture I took away a broadened worldview, gratitude for all the opportunities I have, a feeling of accomplishment, an expanded comfort zone, but most of all marvelous memories that I share with a group of 29 other wonderful people. I am ecstatic that I went to the Dominican Republic. How many people can say they spent eight days in the D.R., built two houses, planted trees, and danced a night away? Twenty-nine lucky individuals.
Pictures from the trip are now available on the School's SmugMug account.