The Value of Service Learning

As most of my classmates have mentioned, asking any of us to single out a moment or memory that could accurately depict our experience is near to impossible. I could tell you about a significant moment I had or something that I personally experienced, but this trip was more than that. The truth is, when I think back on those nine days, what I learned about the Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Bateyes, and myself, I am certain that I do not have a favorite part; for if you take out one event, the trip would be a completely different experience.

As I reflect on my time in the Dominican Republic I keep coming back to the “full circle” moment I experienced. On the last day in La Romana we had the privilege of meeting and talking with Amaury Telemaco, a man was born in a Batey but had the golden ticket to play professional baseball. About five years ago, during my first service learning trip out of the country, I learned a very important lesson that was reiterated by Amaury. “Those kids, the ones coming up to you and asking for sunglasses or money, that was me. I was one of them. You showing up and hanging out for a few days means the world to those kids, and as much as you may have thought that this trip is or was about you, it isn’t. This trip is about them. The kids you visited with and those you impacted while you were here.” Yes, while we were in Batey 50 we built a sustainable house, but we did so much more than that.

 

The term “service learning” is often attached to courses and trips such as the QU301DR journey that I embarked on with 25 other students. Every time we took a moment to have a conversation with someone in the Batey, visited a home and had the owner proudly show us around, picked up a shovel or paint brush to work on the house, brought food into the homes of people who were starving, played with a child, or even gave someone a hug, we were making an impact on the community. We did not show up and take over the project, rather we asked “What can we do to help?” We worked hand in hand with the people from Batey 50 to accomplish a common goal. The true value of a service learning trip is not to go to a place and do community service, rather it is to switch those two words around and learn how we can properly serve others. Many people, including children, came from across the Batey to show us how to use the tools, and helped us build the house for their neighbor. The sense of community and willingness to lend a hand wherever possible is a lesson we can take away from those in the Batey.

 

No textbook or lesson plan can ever prepare someone for the adventure that awaits after landing in La Romana. Without us the people of Batey 50 would still be the same hardworking and dedicated individuals that we met on December 30th. They did not need us to come in and “save the day;” rather, they welcomed us with open arms as we pooled together our resources and built the next house in the 50 for 50 project.

Whatever the reason was that each of my classmates and I all chose this trip for our QU301 capstone course, we all ended up sitting in a room reflecting with each other about our individual experiences on the last night. Listening to what my classmates had to say made it evident that we all walked away more knowledgeable about not only the Bateyes and the Dominican Republic, but about the culture and the heritage that is instilled in each and every individual we met.

As much as I would like to think that I made a difference in the lives of the people in Batey 50, I am certain that they made a bigger impact on my life. This experience will always hold a special place in my heart, for it taught me more about myself and about human nature than I could have ever imagined.

-Abbie O’Neill

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