Morristown, N.J. (March 21, 2014) – My spring break service trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Aside from the beautiful scenery and wonderful people, each of the five days offered an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable, even if just by giving them hope.
We arrived in Santo Domingo on Sunday, March 9th, where we were greeted and welcomed by the Foundation for Peace, organizers and hosts for our stay. It was the start of my first-hand discovery of Dominican hospitality.
For the next two days, fellow CSE student Anyelica Almonte and I joined the CSE psychology team to give presentations on domestic violence prevention in three schools in Santo Domingo. We stressed how to cultivate empathy, comfort, and respect for children at school through role playing, demonstrations, and tips for good behavior reinforcement. The teachers, parents and students were thrilled. We received applause and one of the teachers told us: "you're privileged." At that moment, my dreams were reinforced. I realized that this is exactly why I wish to travel and educate others. The teacher's words were true, we were privileged to come and serve these people.
On the third day, we visited Casa de Luz (House of Light), which is a home for special needs children, most of whom were abandoned by their parents. I was very impressed at how well the children are taken care of there. They are fed and bathed three times a day, and are given plenty of love and care. We took the children outside, played with them, and fed them. When it was time to leave, one of the children, Lydia, hopped on our bus and sat down with us, reluctant to say good-bye. I found this experience to be very touching and eye-opening for everyone. Many tears were shed. It was very raw. It was very real.
The remaining two days were spent at the Batey, an underprivileged community in the country. The nursing group held a health fair, and the psychology team conducted counseling and collected data for research. There, Anyelica and I worked with local women on the BEAD (Bringing Empowerment Achieving Dreams) project, providing them with materials to create handcrafted jewelry. Upon completion, they were paid for their work. The women made over 100 bracelets. It is hoped that in the future, this project can be expanded to provide more opportunities for the women to become more self-sufficient financially. One of the bead makers, Violeta, invited us to see her small home. There we played with the local children who referred to us as "americanas," gave them toys and candy, and attended a church farewell/gratitude service.
As a global studies major, and a communications minor, this trip aligned very well with my learning goals and requirements. It is so powerful when we get to live our classroom experience first-hand by engaging with those we wish to help.
Working on the BEAD project to empower women and teaching them how to earn an income empowered me in many ways; because I also learned from them. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet and work with such delightful people, discover this island of simplicity, and even practice Spanish. Even in the times where there was a language barrier, I never found myself to be lost; because with the Dominican people, you will find you are able to communicate with the language of the heart.
Center for Volunteerism and Service-Learning
Global Studies Program