Feeling Disconnected Back Home

Ever since we came home from our trip friends and family have been asking, “How was the DR?”. The truth is, you can’t sum up your experience in a few sentences. You can’t tell others what we did there, until you give them a whole story of Batey 50. I feel obligated to tell the history of the sugar cane workers, and how they got to the Bateyes. We owe it to the people of Batey 50 to share the corrupted stories and educate as many people as we can about what happens outside of our bubble in Hamden, CT.

When I got home from the Dominican, I felt extremely disconnected, and still do to this day. It’s upsetting to know that as I continue to live my life and come back to Quinnipiac, the people of Batey 50 are still there.

Yesterday one of my roommates told me drinking tap water was “gross”. My response was, “It’s a miracle we even have running water in our house, it’s a luxury not everyone is able to have”. She responded by saying, “Wow the DR really changed you”. And she’s right. I walked off the plane home to JFK a changed person compared to the girl who left for the trip nine days prior. Before this trip I would joke about having a “first-world problem” but this was before I experienced life in a third-world country. I now understand that our “first world problems” are truly first world problems and they are SO minuscule and insignificant when you think about the people in Batey 50. Since returning home I am more grateful for things I have never thought about before; plumbing, heating/air conditioning, and electricity are all things I have never had to live without, and never realized so many people don’t have these luxuries.

During our time there I kept a journal so I would never forget what I saw and how I felt when we were there. I wrote this passage after our adventure to the water park with children from the Joe Hartman school.

Today at the water park a family from Canada asked my friend Mallory why we were there. I listened while she educated them on our trip and mission. Then they expressed interest in sponsoring one of the children from the Joe Hartman School! Mal spoke to this family with so much passion regarding the Bateyes. Hearing my friends talk about why we’re in the DR and working in the Bateyes is incredible. I have a hard time articulating how I feel when I speak, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to verbalize my love for this place and the work that we do here, as well as my friends can.

I still feel this way. It’s so hard to accurately articulate the way Batey 50 makes you feel. It’s a certain kind of feeling, and words just don’t do it justice.

However, there are so many standout moments from our time there, but I want to share my favorite with you.

One night we traveled to Jumbo, the Dominican version of Walmart. While we were there I purchased a bag of M&Ms for the children who traveled with us to the Bateyes each day (the pastors son and daughter, and the son of the man who worked at Casa de Pastoral- which is where we stayed in La Romana).  The kids were grateful and appreciative. The younger of the boys who is 11, Caleb, told me I was a “very good person” and gave me a hug (he’s not fluent in English, and Spanish is his first language).

The next day I ran onto the bus to grab a drink of water in-between trips of wheelbarrowing dirt. (Each time you ran back to the bus there were kids hanging out outside the door, hoping you would bring off some food, or water, or just play with them). Caleb was sitting on the steps of the bus with his bag of M&Ms. I thought he had brought them along for himself to eat until I realized he was sharing them with the children who were hanging out outside of the bus. This was honestly the most pure and beautiful acts of kindness I have ever witnessed. It was a ‘faith in humanity is restored’ kind of moment and makes me smile every time I think back to it.

My breaking point on this trip happened on New Years Day. We fed the entire community of Batey 50. I noticed a young girl having trouble twirling her spaghetti on her fork, so I sat down in front of her and offered to help. While I sat there and fed her I thought back to our previous night in Casa de Campo (the most luxurious resort in the DR- Also, owned by the same family who owns the sugar cane company and is responsible for the conditions of the Bateyes).

Erika, my new little friend, would point at what she wanted on the plate, and then I would feed it to her. Watching her do this broke my heart. This precious little girl would have limited options and choices in her future and might never leave Batey 50, but for now she could pick out exactly what noodle she wanted to have. I though about the yachts we had seen in the marina at Casa de Campo and the absurd amount of money and privilege on that resort while I fed Erika. I started to lose it so I put my sun glasses on. Erika took them off for me and saw I was crying and looked at me like I was crazy. She was so young and could not yet understand that poverty would most likely be apart of her life forever because it’s not easy to get out of the Batey.

Another standout memory from the trip is our bus ride to the airport on our very last day. I wrote in my journal,

What I never want to forget about this day is the final bus sing-a-long. We were approaching the airport with the ocean on our right as the sun was setting. The golden rays illuminated the sky while we sang our favorite Spanish song with the biggest smiles on our faces. We knew it was the end, but we also knew the previous 8 days we spent together had changed our lives. I feel blessed to know these people and I could not be more grateful for their friendship.

In a little over a week Batey 50 felt like home, and the people we went with now feel like family. I encourage everyone interested in this trip to go and experience it for themselves. QU301DR taught me more about myself and the world we live in than I ever expected, and I am extremely grateful.

Lauren Kenny

Found a Friend in Frankie

Adequate preparation for this trip is something that I now realize was quite impossible. Arriving in the Dominican Republic gave me a feeling that was indescribable, and still is to be honest. As we drove through what I know now was La Romana, I said to myself “Wow, this area is pretty poor”, thinking these areas were actually parts of the Bateyes. Shortly after that bus ride, I learned that La Romana is actually an area that is considered wealthy as compared to the Bateyes. At the time, I didn’t think that was possible, how could La Romana be considered a rich area? Some of the streets were riddled with trash; most people used mopeds as a source of transportation; and many of the stores were small businesses that were empty for the most part. That night we had our first class meeting and further discussed what to expect when we entered the Bateyes the next morning, but nothing could truly prepare me for the experience I was about to have.

As we pulled into Batey 50 on that Wednesday, the bus swarmed with children, and as we walked out one of them jumped into everyone’s arms. As every small Dominican was paired with an American, we began to walk around and tour the small village, seeing the shacks and houses, source of water, garden, school and church. The tour took less than 10 minutes, to give reference to how small the batey actually is. After the tour, we promptly got to work and I was shoveling dirt into a wheel barrel. A young boy came up to me and took the shovel from my hands and began to shovel himself. We began talking, asking each other our name and age (he is 8) and we stuck with each other for the rest of the day. He showed me the school again, introduced me to his brother and taught me how to eat sugarcane. We spent the rest of the day together, working and playing, communicating well despite the language barrier.

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Frankie and I spent most of our time together for the duration of my time in Batey 50. On the second day we were sitting down together, with his brother Matire, and I asked him where his parents were. His father, Francis, was working on the house with some of the other members of the batey, while Frankie explained that his mother was sick, in his words, “muerte”, meaning death in Spanish. I was confused, unsure of whether his mother was actually dead/dying, or I was misinterpreting what he was trying to say. The next day I learned that some of the members of the batey believed that his mother might be suffering from AIDs, and that she had been suffering for a few months. It is amazing to me that someone who is so sickly is quietly dealing with the pain in her own home for months without getting any help. It was heartbreaking to learn the deficit in healthcare that people of the bateyes experience regularly. Frankie’s mother was one example that I knew of, but had heard of many others throughout my time in the batey.

After learning about Frankie’s home life, I knew that his mother had not been very involved in his life especially since she had gotten sick. It was nice to encourage Frankie when he got his gifts for Christmas, when he got his shirt on New Years. It became important to me to check on his wellbeing every day, asking him if he had eaten and gave him anything I could. It was amazing to me how quickly I could feel attached to someone I had known for a day or two. I did not expect my goodbye to Frankie and the rest of the people of Batey 50 to be as difficult as it was. The feeling that I had when I left Batey 50 was as indescribable as when I arrived for the first time in the batey. I hope more than anything to be back one day.

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“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

I will never forget how Batey 50 made me feel.

-Corey Burke

 

Strength in a Commnunity

Going to the Dominican Republic and visiting the Batey was nothing short of incredible. I was amazed at how nine short days could completely shift my whole perspective. I was amazed at how quickly I fell in love with the community. They were extremely welcoming and so excited to meet us and show us their home. This open arm approach to strangers is so foreign to me. I would expect anyone to be distant and hesitant when strangers show up in their neighborhood and are expecting to be received. The kids just wanted our attention they wanted to play and follow us around all day. The adults were more than welcoming when showing us their homes, letting us play with their kids, or answering any of our questions that we asked in very poor Spanish. I have never experience a culture where what mine is yours is engrained into everyone. Watching the children share small pieces of food with their friends, even when they were starving themselves, was humbling. Watching how a whole community worked together to look after anyone disabled or any kid that they happen to walk by, was inspiring. And seeing a community celebrate someone else’s happiness in receiving a house by helping build it or homing the family until the house is done, was heartwarming. I was blown away by the community’s strength, and love they have for each other, and I cannot wait to return and get to experience it again!

-Chelsea Savage

Go with all your heart

After being back home for about a week since our Qu301 trip the Dominican Republic, I still find myself adjusting to the American lifestyle. I find myself questioning my luck and how I am living in my house, with clean, drinkable water, driving a car and eating three meals a day; while out there in the world, there are people who are starving, struggling to feed their families, living day by day for survival. It is crazy to think that just a short plane ride away there are people living in these conditions. When I returned home, we had a family party at my house that Saturday, and all of my relatives asked me how was my trip, what was it like, were you scared at all and would I go back. Being home for only 3 days , I told them that at that point, it felt like an out of body experience- it was unreal what I experienced, and hard to put into words, but that I would go back in a heartbeat.

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There was one story that I told my aunt during the party that I saw during the New Year’s day celebration in Batey 50 that brought tears to hear eyes immediately. During huge buffet lunch that we had in the school yard, I saw a young girl around 9-10 years old, who was done eating. She found an extra paper plate, covered her leftover food, and passed it under the fence of the yard to an older woman, presumably her grandmother. This small act truly proves the character of the people living in the Bateyes, and the hunger that these people are currently facing. When we arrived at the Batey, John had told us that we will all be having a different experience than other trips; because of the bad sugar cane season, there was less crop production, causing the workers to make less, and hunger to strike throughout the small village. Just this one example that I saw showed me how much help is needed in the this Batey and for these people. My reaction to this one example has heightened even more since telling my story to my friends and family members- and that is just one story.

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Some children enjoying their lunch on New Year’s Day

This trip has truly impacted my everyday life, in small ways. I always think twice about the water that I drink, and the excess food that I make. I drink from the tap a lot more now than I did before the trip (grateful for not having to worry about swallowing some of the water during the shower).  Just this past week, I saw that my mom had in the cabinet Domino confectioner sugar, and I got upset that she had supported this company, that is creating these terrible living conditions for these Batey villagers. But then again, if we didn’t purchase from this company, what would happen to all of these workers and their families? It is a tough concept that I am still trying to wrap my head around.

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Sugar cane workers returning home from work, Batey El Salado

In the future, I hope to help with the DR mission team on their trips to help as a physician assistant working in the clinics or hospital performing surgeries at the Hospital El Buen Samaritano. Moses has such an amazing spirit, and I hope to help him and the hospital in anyway possible when I get older. I also hope to sponsor a child to go to the Joe Hartman School as well, thinking about how when I have children (in the way way future, don’t worry mom) that with each child I have I will sponsor a child to go to school there, and maybe one day my kids can meet the child that we sponsor to go to school, making a special bond between the two children. There is so much that I want to do to help these wonderful people in the Batey, and the people who live in the Dominican Republic who help them year round each and every day; I hope by telling my stories to people it will help to raise awareness and inspire more people to help, and maybe even go on the next QU 301 trip to the DR!

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“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living” – Albert Einstein

Kaitlyn Mehern

 

Ready to Return

On our first full day in Batey 50, both our group from Quinnipiac and the kids were a bit hesitant to reach out and start making friends with one another. During the tour around Batey 50, a little yet quite outgoing girl grabbed my hand. She told me her name was Angelina. I introduced myself and she repeated my name back to me to make sure she had gotten it right.

After spending most of the day shoveling and meeting other residents of Batey 50, Angelina and I met up again before heading back to Casa Pastoral. A group of us sat along the train track outside the bus. The kids played with our phones and our hair, which Angelina continued to refer to as “pelo Americano” or “pelo de un caballo”. I got a kick out of her comments and her sassy attitude throughout the week.

The next morning we arrived back in Batey 50. The kids surrounded the bus and reunited with their friends they made the previous day. I didn’t see Angelina anywhere so I assumed she was off somewhere in the Batey. All of a sudden, I noticed an older girl was yelling something and was looking over the crowd. It took me a minute to realize that it was my name she was calling over and over. I didn’t recognize her, but I began walking over to her to see what was going on. Beside the girl, disguised by the crowd was little Angelina who had been shouting my name with the help of her older friend. I was shocked that she had been waiting for me personally and had asked for help to find me.

Throughout the week, Angelina and I spent time together dancing, laughing, taking pictures, and watching people play basketball. Although we may not have been able to communicate as freely as we do with peers on a normal day-to-day basis, it was amazing to see just how easy it is to form a bond with someone even though you may not speak the same language. It was truly heartwarming knowing I had a friend in the Batey to look forward to seeing each day, and that she and all the other children were looking forward to seeing us. I feel so fortunate to have been able to have this experience and form relationships with the most genuine and accepting people I have ever met.

Even though it’s been just over a week since returning home, I still find myself thinking about Angelina and the other people I met in Batey 50 and wondering how they are doing. They have made such an impact on my life; I hope to return someday soon and visit my new friends.

-Laura Lerner

 

 

Reasons This Trip Matters

Before I left on our trip I saw a few people share an article about short service trips like this one and why they “don’t matter”. After reading it, I was a bit disheartened and started to question what impact I could really make and if my expectations for the trip were simply too high. I went into my experience with all of this in mind and decided I would have to see for myself what value this trip really did serve. This is what I found:

  1. Fulfillment can be powerful tool, not a just self-focused feeling. A lot of people get criticized for going on trips like this for their own fulfillment rather than who they’re helping. Although some people may get too caught up in it, when balanced right this fulfillment is what empowers people to do more. It makes them look at problems and find solutions, it makes them want to come back every year or as much as they can, it makes them influence other people to come, and it makes classes like this fill up every semester and able to happen. Most importantly it fuels passion which fuels progress and helps the people who need it most.
  2. Each person is one piece of the larger puzzle. What one person in one week can’t do, 30 people one week twice a year can. I asked myself “what impact could I make in just one week?” and what I realized is that it wasn’t so much about my one week but the fact that I was contributing to a continuous cycle of groups coming down every year. Where one group leaves off, the next picks up. This what makes it sustainable. Twice a year a similar group comes back to the same place and makes their contribution to a bigger long -term plan. Batey 50 was once filled with houses made of scraps of metal, years later the whole village has almost all newly built houses. I couldn’t do this all in a week but I and everyone who has gone on this trip has added their piece to a very large puzzle.
  3. The little things do make a difference. Over the years there have been multiple concrete and sustainable solutions implemented in Batey 50. From the houses built to a garden with a solar powered irrigation system, I thought these were the only real solutions the problems that exist. At first I wondered what taking a few pictures with kids wearing your cheap pair of sunglasses, spending a few days playing with kids, or talking to parents could contribute and how any of this was sustainable at all. What I realized is that although these things don’t provide food or shelter, they do provide hope, they build a relationship, and they let them know that someone cares. It restores spirit.The human spirit is powerful and when it is strong, it can find a way to work through even the biggest problems.

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These are just a few of the conclusions I came to during my experience. The reasons this trip specifically is successful is because of the way in which it’s run. The points I highlighted each contribute to the long-term sustainable help this trip makes and are why this trip does very much matter.

-Lindsey Banks

True Happiness.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few service trips before this one. I’ve cleaned out a house affected by Hurricane Sandy alongside the homeowners and I turned on water in woman’s house for the first time, 7 years after Katrina however, this experience in Batey 50 was bar-none the most incredible experience of them all. I spoke to a lot of people who had already gone on this trip but none of their descriptions could have ever prepared me for how I felt when I was there.

I am generally a very happy and positive person but I have never seen or experienced happiness like I did in Batey 50. These people have nothing, not even enough food to feed their children yet, they are the happiest people I have ever met in my entire life. Yes, their lives are so much harder than ours yet, they are all so much more content in them. When I was discussing this with one of my friends she told me about a quote she heard on the flight to the DR. “Its not the happy people who are grateful but the grateful people who are happy.” That quote has really resinated with me and I’ve thought about it constantly since being back in the states. I think if everyone had a little more of that mindset instead of being focused on what we want or “need” the world would be a better place.

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That being said, I came to realize that some types of happiness are universal. On New Years Day, a girl I really connected with, Belinda, won a bike. I went with her to bring it home to show her father and brother. Her older brother stopped playing with his toys and went over to the bike. At first it seemed as though he was going to try and take it from her, but he didn’t. He started teaching his sister how to ride the bike, and kept it balanced for her while she figured out the pedals in circles around their backyard. I watched this moment unfold with their father and when I looked at him, I saw the proud joyous face that I’ve seen on my own Dad. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget. IMG_3202

Forever thankful for this experience and reality check,

Mallory