In my opinion, this trip has changed me physically and mentally. what i have experienced in previous journeys and misadventures do not compare to the experience on this trip. For the first few days it felt like I knew everyone for months. But until the 5th day, the days got faster and faster. If i were to jump off the lagoon on this trip, the first few seconds would feel like forever, but the closer you get to the water the faster it gets until… you splash. I have had so much fun and I would recommend it to all my friends and even family. This entire experience, from the bottle school to snorkeling, is exhilarating and inspiring. Best fun in years.
All students are headed home!
The morning was spent in La Grua, a Haitian community about an hour and a half away. When we first arrived we began to pick up some of the seemingly endless trash strewn across the fields and riverbanks of the village. As we worked, local children joined us and helped us out so that all of the trash bags were filled within an hour.
Although many of them were visibly ill, the kids were eager to interact with us. At one point during the morning I found myself with a little girl on one hip, a toddler boy on the other, and three other small children hugging my legs. We played games (there were several intense checkers matches) and exchanged smiles, furthering our main goal of the day: building a meaningful relationship with this struggling community. These people have so little physical possessions, yet so much energy and kindness to offer. La Grua did not have the dependency on NGOs that Caraballo is stuck in, so the interactions with the villagers were not motivated by a later profit. I thought that this made them exceptionally meaningful and genuine. The poverty I viewed was heartbreaking- there was one boy with a marked face suggesting a water-borne illness who asked me for my clean water. Every day I grow more and more aware of the privilege I am blessed with and am more inspired and determined to work towards changing the world’s problems.
Lunch followed, consisting of the usual rice and chicken and melons, then we boarded the bus to leave for Cabarete beach. After a delay due to a finicky bus, the afternoon was spent pleasantly on the beach. We ended the day with more “family time”, relaxing at the GLA complex. After dinner we all sat around the pool in the dark, sharing one “I’ve learned” and one “I will”. I thought it was a really powerful moment of shared reflection Most of us have come to the shocking realization that this will be. our penultimate night here, and I have yet to talk to a person ready to leave. I think I speak for the whole group in saying that his had been such an amazing, substantially life-altering experience that will truly stay with us.
Service & Bonding
In order to finish our work on the bottle school and medical clinic at Las Canas, today we leveled the ground in preparation for flooring as well as deepened the hole for the septic tank. Although these tasks seem daunting, one smart member of our GLA family decided to bring bluetooth speakers to the worksite. Pop hits and classic rock jams were blasting through the construction zone as Dominican locals and GLA members danced with their shovels and paintbrushes. The work hours flew by and we were treated with another lunch of chicken and rice, and I’m still amazed at how the locals continually surprise us with different ways to prepare chicken. Upon return at the GLA homebase, we changed out of our unbelievably sweaty clothing and into our swimsuits to make our way to the beach. Exhausted, I laid in the sand and watched in awe as some of my peers waded in the water to fight the huge waves. We spent hours lounging at the beach only to realize that we had been challenged to a basketball tournament against local Dominican teenagers. Although it was a struggle, our GLA basketball team was victorious in their games against two Dominican teams. We ended the day mingling with locals, swimming in our pool, and playing cards. Looking back at the day, I loved the fact that we were able to work and have fun at the same time. It’s incredible to be able to view the progress that we are making at the bottle school as well as within the Dominican community. I enjoyed practicing my spanish with local Dominican kids and getting to know my GLA family on an even deeper level during our beach and dinner conversations.
Today we visited another bottle school site, this time in a dominican village called Las Canas (only about 5 minutes from our home base). There we worked on multiple small projects to help finish up the structure. Throughout the day we had people painting the inside walls, mixing and getting cement onto the outside walls, and planting trees in the area as a part of a reforestation project being done which will have 20,000 trees planted by the end of the summer. The painting was a nice break from the sun and from all the muscle work and a bunch of us got covered with speckles of white paint which was a ton of fun. While working on different projects, we fell into really cool patterns of teamwork which helped us get things done much quicker and also helped grow friendships even more. A few hours of hard work later, we had a nice meal of, of course, chicken and rice, cooked by the local “dona”. After that we split up into groups to come up with comedy skits that we performed for each other and then played a few other games. We then got back to work and returned to the home base and headed down the path to the beach, the perfect way to end a great day.
Regarding the people in Las Canas, the environment today was much different than that of Caraballo (the site of the other bottle school we’ve worked on). Not only was the construction process much further along here, but the locals acted very differently. In Las Canas, there were only a few dominicans out on the site and they were all helping out as opposed to the large number of locals standing in the last school and trying to get us to buy something from or for them. That being said, both sites provided us with a great place to work have fun, and make amazing memories.
Today was our “day off!” We drove an hour and fifteen minutes to a tourist site called Dudú Lagoon. The water was a beautifully clear shade of azure with a zip line running 35 feet above it. Throughout the day, we moved from activity to activity, ranging from cliff jumping (40 feet high!!!), competitive beach volleyball, eating food from the restaurant, and jumping off of the smaller cliffs in the cave among the stalactites. The lunch was spectacular. We were treated to steamed rice and fried chicken which was a great reminder of home. Some took in the sun while others played a few games of volleyball. Some even took the opportunity to film themselves cliff jumping with GoPro cameras or waterproof phone cases to create amazing movies. The trip was a great relief from our daily hard work that we’ve been putting in and offered a way for us to relieve some stress. After we returned to base, we helped the returnees with their service projects. These tasks included cutting steel rods with a bandsaw and moving cacao seedlings. Tomorrow, we will be at Las Canas to work on another bottle clinic that is very close to completion. We’re looking forward to the rest of our days in paradise!
– Chris and Sam
Another Day at Caraballo
Today we went back to Caraballo to continue working on the clinic/school. We were able to accomplish alot very quickly because we all knew the basic system of how things were done.We continued to apply cement and install wire in the parts of the building that were still open and didn’t have complete walls. The locals came to help us and though it was very crowded we were able to work very fast because everyone wanted to help. The people mixing cement couldn’t get it to us fast enough. As soon as a bucket was set down, everyone would take a handful and it would become empty. During this time we were able to talk with the kids and teenagers as we worked. Though there was a language barrier we all tried so hard to communicate with each other through a mix of the languages and hand signals that it wasn’t that much of a barrier at all. It was incredible to be able to talk with these people and take a glimpse into their lives that are so different from the way we in America live. The kids just hang on you; holding your hand and smiling.
After lunch we went to the market stalls to look at the wares the people were selling. We were supposed to have a soccer game with the locals but at the beginning of the game the soccer ball was accidentally kicked over the wall. After lunch and the short soccer game we went to the beach and had wifi for the first time in 4 days. While everyone went through their dozens of notifications and caught up on social media we all got the first french fries and pizza to mix up our chicken and rice diet. The water was beautiful and the people friendly. The whole day was an amazing time to learn and understand these beautiful people and their country.
Today we woke up bright and early and made our way over to Caraballo to work on the bottle school. Caraballo is a village mixed with Dominican people and Haitian. This bottle school is going to be the largest one in the world. The building is going to be used for multiple purposes such as medical clinics (to support the community and surrounding communities with a total population of around 5,000 people who are all in need of medical attention which they are currently not receiving it) and educational purposes like adult literacy classes and youth development programs . When we got there we started to work on mixing cement and covering the walls. The mixing of cement was challenging at first but after a couple times we got the hang of it. We all took small work breaks and got a little tour around the village where we met many little kids. They were all friendly wanting us to hold hands with them and give them piggyback rides. It was amazing being able to communicate with them and even though I speak very little Spanish, I was able to get to know them a little bit. After that we ate a delicious lunch of the usual chicken and rice made by the locals and it was outstanding. Then we went back to work and everyone knew what they were doing so it went by a lot faster and we made a ton of progress. We then headed home after saying goodbye to the people. It felt good to be able to leave Caraballo knowing that we made an impact not only short term but with something that will benefit the community in the future as well. Tonight we did a personality test which I found extremely interesting. It was so accurate it amazed me. Overall it was an amazing day of service and I feel great knowing that we had made a difference .
Today we hiked Mt. Brison, an excruciatingly painful, yet marvelous experience. On our way up we were introduced to “Las Batatas,” a completely self-sustainable community, and in turn we discussed the water system there. Our leader, Cameron, gave us a little talk on how GLA implemented a water system there a few years back which truly improved the residents lives for the better. For, prior to that, the kids (only 10 years old) would have to hike up and down the mountain lugging water, and in turn they would be deprived of a decent education. Throughout the hike, we were able to see some pretty astonishing things. Quite a few men that were riding mules passed us, with gallons of water attached to either side of the mule. Aside from that, seeing how the residents lived was definitely an eye opening experience. As, they live in little wooden huts, without electricity, and the rooms are bare except for a bed and table. With a momentary glance into the houses, you could immediately tell that these folks live impoverished lives, yet all of the children are still so joyful. But we were fortunate enough to be able to do something nice for these people, as at the very end of our hike, we were able to plant cocoa trees in a tropical maze of banana, coffee, cocoa, and yucca trees.
The hike was definitely a strenuous one, but in the end, it was 100% worth it. It allowed us to see how these poor people live, and it made us take what we have at home for granted. We live very privileged lives, and as we talked about in our leadership discussed, it’s crucial that we use our privileges for the betterment of others’ lives. From this experience, I learned that we can only look up to these people for living such harsh lives, and for still seeing the happiness in life. A lot of times we tend to focus on the materialistic stuff in our lives, but being here…disconnected from the outer world, really makes you appreciate the essential things in life, such as food, water, and a roof over your head. I think that everyone should experience something like this because it truly betters you as a person, and makes you look at your own life from a completely different perspective.
On arrival I had a nervous yet excited feeling and was not sure what to make of it, but on the bus ride there I found all of the other kids to be quite nice and welcoming. Once we made it to the home base I claimed a room with some of the kids I met on the bus. After settling everyone gathered at the pool to hang out and introduce themselves to others. Being there I found the mentors very approachable and friendly. After that we ate an amazing dinner, then after that we had a short discussion about leadership. At the conclusion of that I felt today was a great start to an amazing experience.
The 44 are here ready to rock the 10 day program. Hola from DR!!!!