Living with a roof over my head, sustaining nourishment on the table each night, and a great academic school to return to each September makes it difficult to remember that some people live without these privileges. The simplicity of transportation or finding something to eat for a meal overshadows the reality that some people go days at a time without food, or are never able to leave their hometown. This summer I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a summer program of 15 high school volunteer students to study sustainability within impoverished urban and rural communities and see these world issues first hand. Throughout my stay in the Dominican Republic, I took a special interest in the poor educational system that was available to the Dominican children.
The second day of my stay I was able to learn the issues with the educational system of the Dominican Republic. The whole group started the day with what we were told would be an “easy” hike to the top of Brison Mountain. This “easy” hike became a two-hour continuously steep ascent that left us drenched in sweat and extremely exhausted. With burning calves we made our way to our final destination, a one-room schoolhouse where we were met by the bright-eyed, smiling school children that took our hands and led us inside.
Packing into the schoolhouse, we squeezed into the tiny desks so graciously offered to us as the school children sat on the floor. We were greeted by Manuel, the sole schoolteacher for all 30 children who attended the school. He acquainted us with the usual school day and the set up of two classes; one taught in the morning for children grades five to seven, and one in the afternoon for grades one to four. I was surprised when finding out that the limitation of school supplies was not their biggest setback, but their inability to teach past grade seven due to the lack of funds to buy and install lights.
Without lights, children that wish to continue their education are given the option of commuting one hour down the mountain of Brison to a school that provides education till age eighteen. Some children, with relatives in the town of the other school, typically move in with that relative. Those without that convenience commonly find it impossible to maintain their education and still help support their family after school hours. For me, the thought of taking the path we all had so much difficulty hiking to school each day seems almost unbearable, and all due to the lack of a few hundred dollars for lights.
In the United States, children are guaranteed a school education within close vicinity to their house. No child experiences a two mile walk—up or down hill—to arrive at to school each morning. By having a private high school experience, I am grateful that I was able to take advantage of meeting with teachers one-on-one, small class sizes, and a close-knit community that motivated me to do well. Good education is something that should be available to every child. A child without an education is unlikely able to have a profitable life. More importantly, that child is unable to expand their horizon and have awareness in depth of the world around them.
Studying in the Dominican Republic allowed me to step out of the comfort zone of my small school community and experience a different culture. Witnessing the education system in the Dominican has taught me to be thankful each day of all the resources that are available to me. I now remember to appreciate each class and remember that every test and exam is attributing to the betterment of myself. When I don’t perform as well as I would have liked on a test I remember the smiling Dominican children holding my hand as I walked through the door of their one room school house.