Upon arriving in the Dominican Republic and seeing the lush, green landscape and breathtaking Caribbean coastline, I realized that I had set foot in a whole new world. After getting acquainted with my fellow volunteers, we set right off on various service trips in this foreign land. We began working on a river clean-up with a Peace Corps volunteer and a group of native teens who explained some of the challenges they face living in their world. They were similar to us in many ways, but being introduced to their exotic culture was thought-provoking. I am so grateful for all of the interactions I took part in during my stay in the country as I had plenty of food for thought. Later, we were involved in a tree-planting project with another Peace Corps volunteer and Brigada Verde, a group of children who were learning about the environment. The courageous women who initiated these projects inspired me to consider joining the Peace Corps once I graduate from college.
On my journey to the island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti, I was able to help supplement the basic material needs of the local community, as well as connect with them through utilizing my knowledge of Spanish. As we were passing out supplies to people living as refugees and providing medical provisions to the ill, I was overcome with emotion seeing the impact I was making in the lives of these people. Though they lived in such different circumstances than I, we were able to establish a connection despite a language barrier. I discovered that the language of the heart is universal, and as I reached out to these resilient Dominicans living in poverty, they left a lasting imprint on my heart.
My most memorable experience in this breath-taking country was visiting a refugee center. The time I spent playing with a group of frisky youngsters is etched in my memory forever. Although they didn’t have lots of toys with which to play, these children created their own fun. The living conditions at the center were abominable, as families with multiple children were given a single cubicle-sized room as a home. Fortunately, we were able to give each family a bag of supplies to make their lives more comfortable. I made the deepest connection with one particular fifteen-year old girl named Brisa. As I was leaving, she seemed disheartened, so I gave her my sunglasses, which had been popular among the other children. I felt as though I was leaving a part of myself with her so that she could know how much she meant to me. As our bus was pulling away, some of the kids chased after it. I realized then that even though we had made an impact on the refugees, they had affected us even more. My experiences with the Dominicans ignited my need to share what I have with those less fortunate around the world.
Witnessing the poverty in the Dominican Republic was an incredibly eye- opening experience. It gave me perspective for my own American life. I have so much more than the bare necessities, yet I rarely take the time to acknowledge my blessings. I even felt ashamed of the excesses in my life and gained a deeper understanding of the beauty of living simply. Often, I am distracted with material things and lose sight of what is truly important. I know now that it is foolish to believe that money will bring happiness. I discovered through the spirit of the Dominicans that life should be valued above all things. Communicating and bonding with the people from across country who traveled to the Dominican Republic with me and the people we met there, showed me that no matter who you are or where you are from, we are all just people. Becoming friends with such a diverse group has given me a deep love and respect for life in all its different forms.