Regardless of my anxiety of not being able to shower, in the summer of 2010 I was fully ready to immerse myself in the culture of the Dominican Republic. I applied to and was accepted by Global Leadership Adventures, and was about to spend two weeks in the poverty-stricken town of Puerto Plata. I had set out to make a difference in the lives of others, but in the end, it was the Dominicans who made a difference in me.
Although the Dominican Republic is not as impoverished and uneducated as its neighbor Haiti, many of the places and people I saw still brought tears to my eyes. I never understood the meaning of hunger until I saw a young boy with protruding ribs fall over due to extreme malnutrition. I never understood the meaning of inequality until a young girl explained her only wish was to attend school, but her father would only allow the boys in the family to go to school. I never understood the meanings of strength and perseverance until a ten year old girl explained that the barrels of water she carries up the mountain everyday were not for her own sake of drinking uncontaminated water, but for her father to bathe in. Their substandard of living in an impoverished country is something I as an American could never truly understand. Yet, despite the hardships, the Dominicans are the most determined people I have ever encountered. Even though many are starving and the odds are against them, they still fight to gain a better life.
When I returned home my entire perspective on life changed. I took the skills and knowledge I learned in the Dominican Republic and applied it to my daily life through more teen volunteer work, school, and the local government. I took the issue that was the most important to me from the Dominican Republic, inequality in education, and applied it to my community. As a junior commissioner for the Status of Women for Sonoma County, I got the privilege to present my concern to the California State Legislature. I am currently writing a proposition through Global Student Embassy to get money to build schools in third world countries. I learned to fight for what I believe in, to make a better life for myself, and others, just like the Dominicans do on a daily basis.
It is difficult to understand how two weeks could change a person so much, yet I feel that my time in the Dominican Republic has set the course for my life. I now know that I want to join the Peace Corps, and have a career where I can make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. The beauty of service work, of my experience, is learning that there is so much more to life than just the simplicity of living it day to day. I want to live to serve others.