Upon returning from this life-changing trip, of course my family and friends have been asking me for all the details. I have found this very challenging. It is hard to sum up into one conversation the countless memories i have made on this trip. I remember every aspect of it in my head, but when put on the spot it all comes rushing back. I had so many inspirational experiences in Batey 50 that it is hard to choose just one to talk about. From meeting Keika, an 11 year old girl who I bonded with and was later elated to see at the Joe Hartman School, to helping build a home, each aspect of the trip holds a special place in my heart.
But, as Amaury Telemaco stated to us in his inspirational speech, this trip had nothing at all to do with us. It had everything to do with the people that we danced with, provided food and toys to, and shared laughs and memories with. We gave them hope and let them know that there are people out there who truly care. We made them feel the importance that they deserve to feel in this world.
When people ask me about this trip, I want more than anything for them too to see what i saw and experience what I experienced. Visiting the Dominican Republic and the Bateyes had such a strong impact on me and my whole outlook. I will continue to try my best to share the memories I have made with my friends and family, and will never stop encouraging them to one day return with me to make new everlasting memories.
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.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” – Miriam Adeney.
All throughout the fall semester we had guest speakers and previous student’s attending class and telling us their experience in the Bateys. One of the points that resonated with me the most was when someone said it is hard to be home again. When I was preparing to leave the Dominican I realized it would be difficult to go home because I would be returning to so many luxuries that so many people did not even know existed but also because one of the hardest parts of being home was being away from people I met, loved, and said goodbye to all in a matter of days and hours.
Although I could not speak Spanish very well the ability to form meaningful relationships with the people is not hindered. While in Batey 50 I spent much time with two sisters Erika and Nelly. Although I could not speak Spanish well I was still able to communicate with them. After knowing Erika for fifteen minutes I was carrying her around the Batey and was about to step in something gross. Erika just started point and yelling “AMIGA AMIGA” at first I had no idea why she was yelling that and then I looked down and realized someone I had know for fifteen minutes was yelling friend because i was about to step in something unpleasant was a scene I could of never imagined happening in America. For the next few days whenever I was with Erika she would always be yelling out “Amiga” when I was about to go the wrong way or step on something. Having someone I just met genuinely look out for me during my time there was an amazing feeling.
During our first few days in Batey 50 we found so many families and their children were telling us they were so hungry. The drought has severly affected the sugar cane season therefore affecting families income. Although many people came to our classes to talk about how life changing the experience of going on this trip was, no story about their experience could prepare us for how hungry these people were. One day while I was holding Nelly she started screaming crying out for water. Hearing and seeing someone so small desperate for water was something that could not be explained or taught in a classroom. While we were in Batey 50 we were able to hand them food on new years day and the day after. Being able to serve the families of Batey 50 was one of the most humbling moments about the trip. After spending so much time with the families of Batey 50 and having them being so welcoming, accepting, and loving while we were there it felt so great to be able to give the entire community something in return.
One of our last days there we went to the Joe Hartmen school and brought many children to a water park. To me this was one of the best days of my life. I spent my day with two girls and they were both so scared of the water at first but once they got in they were so excited. They literally did not want to get out of the water. Surprisingly it was like pulling teeth to even get them to get them to come out of the water to eat! We never left the kiddie pool but I would take a day with them with full smiles over anything. The entire bus ride home I think everyone wanted to sleep but me and my two new friends literally spent the entire bus ride home cracking up over funny photos and pictures.
I’m not sure who Miriam Adeney met or where she went when she famously was quoted but I do know what she said is true. Being home again is definitely difficult. It is much more quiet without a bus ride full of laughing and a friend pointing out things to watch out for. It is hard to be away from people you grew to love and worry about their wellbeing in a short period of time. As hard as it is to be away from such amazing people I am forever thankful for the experience to go to the Dominican, and I cannot wait for many future trips there.
Trying to write a single blog post about an experience like the one we all had is next to impossible. Every person we met, every home we were welcomed into, every smile we put on a kid’s face and every smile they put on ours was enough to change your life…so picking one story to tell isn’t easy, but here it goes.
To preface, 2 years ago my sister and I got butterfly tattoos on our wrists as a symbol of strength. I’ll spare you the personal backstory of the tattoos but butterflies have always held a special meaning to us. One day while shoveling cement mix in Batey 50 a butterfly came out of nowhere and landed directly on me, very close to my tattoo. It felt like a message of reassurance that what we were doing really was bringing strength and hope to the people of Batey 50.
The messages didn’t stop there. During our day with the kids at Joe Hartman School the little girl I befriended, Roniela, kept pointing to my tattoo and indicating that she wanted it. I tried to tell her (in very broken Spanish) that it’s a permanent part of me and I couldn’t give it to her, but she was so persistent that I finally pulled out a pen and drew one on her wrist. Her eyes lit up and a smile so big came across her face as she pulled my phone out of my hands to take a picture of our matching tattoos. I felt like these tiny inkblots made our one-day friendship into a friendship for life.
So many parts of this trip touched my heart but these two instances undoubtedly stood out to me. I hope one day I can return to the DR and continue to spread hope and strength as best as I can.
We don’t have a choice of whether or not we go to high school. And for most of us, college is an expectation, not a luxury. As I hear my sister complain about going to school every morning, I wish that she knew the true value of the education she was getting. That there are villages upon villages of children that will never have the opportunity to even go to high school simply because they don’t have a Dominican birth certificate (another thing we take for granted).
In Batey 50, Keika (one of her three given names), always stood out from the crowd. She was sassy and full of life, but had an awareness much unlike some of the other children. Emily and I couldn’t get over just how smart she was. It made me sad in a way to know that there were many children in the bateyes just like Keika, full of potential and far too smart for their lack of opportunity.
The moment I saw Keika in the Joe Hartman school was a once in a lifetime kind of feeling. I was ecstatic that out of all the kids, she was getting her opportunity to shine. That someone else noticed how bright she was too, and allowed her to stay with them in the city all year so she could attend school. But as with most things, the other side of this story is tougher to swallow. Keika is the only child from Batey 50 at the Joe Hartman school. She has the golden ticket out, but only her.
It was hard for me to fathom just how powerful an education is to one of these children, and even harder for me to fathom how Keika can live in the city all year, but then go back to living in Batey 50 during school breaks. That’s where her family is and I’m sure that she’s happy, but many times we discussed how “ignorance is bliss” for the people living in the bateyes. They don’t know what the rest of the world holds, so they really don’t know what they’re missing. Keika does.
I didn’t expect this trip to have as much of an impact on me as it did. I’m normally not one to reminisce about places or people I’ve met, but already (less than a week later) I am wishing I was back in the batey, or at least had some way to see how everyone was doing.
From the minute we stepped out of the airport our group was welcomed with open arms. When we arrived at Casa Pastoral, our home for the week, Tata and the others there welcomed us, and the Powers, as if being reunited with old family.
The next day we began our first trip to Batey 50. As the bus rolled up, we peered out the windows at Batey 50, watching waves of children running toward the bus, as the adults stood nearby. As I was getting up to get off the bus, I locked eyes with a young girl, who looked about 8, with bright blue beads intertwined into her hair, framing her smiling face. I smiled back at her, and followed the rest of the group off the bus. As I descended off the bus our group began to intermingle with the children of the batey, asking each other’s names and beginning to play. Professor Powers began to lead a tour of the batey, as we followed. Out of no where, a girl ran straight towards me and grabbed my wrist, pulling me towards the tour to show me around, as I looked down, I realized it was the girl with the blue beads that I had locked eyes with on the bus. Although I spoke little spanish we exchanged basic information, I learned her name was Shaka, from then on, we were inseparable for the day.
At the end of the first day, right as we were beginning to load onto the bus an old woman, began making her way across the train tracks towards us, and proceeded to go around and hug, kiss on the cheek, and thank each member of our group for coming to help. We later learned her name was Melissa, an 85 year old woman who had lived on the Batey most of her life. That night at the class meeting, Professor Powers explained that Melissa wanted to show us her house, one that a group had built a couple years ago. The next morning, it was the first thing we did when we arrived in the Batey. As we unloaded from the bus, Melissa saw us coming and ran to her house, in order to be at the door to welcome us. She excitedly showed us her house, beaming with pride and happiness. The next day, I had the chance to talk with Melissa, and can truly say she is one of the most kindhearted and gracious people I have ever met.
Although everyone we met welcomed us with open arms, the experience of New year’s Eve, in the Dominican sums up just how welcoming people are. We arrived at the church new year’s eve service at 11:30, but it had been going since 8:00. As we walked in, men ran to get chairs and asked people who had been sitting for hours to move over so we could sit. They then proceeded to publically thank our group and welcome us. The service continued, but began to get livelier and livelier. By the time it was midnight people (including me) were dancing around the church in a conga line, as people on the stage sang and jammed out to a live band. The celebration continued well after midnight, and complete strangers greeted us as we left, giving us loving hugs while wishing us a happy new year. It was truly a new years I’ll never forget, and a reminder of how incredibly welcoming and sincere the people of the Dominican are.
Like all my other classmates, it warms my heart to reflect and think about the incredible experiences and memories we had made on our trip to the Dominican Republic; even more specifically on Bateye 50. From the moment our bus pulled up, to the moment it pulled away the children and families on Bateye 50 welcomed us with open arms and love.
However, there is one person on the Bateye who will forever be ingrained in my mind, and his name is Santo. My friend Santo is a little bit different from the other children and adults on the Bateye. Santo, has a form of mental disability that prevents him from typical social interactions that occur day in and day out. Santo at the age of 25 should be working out in the sugar cane like most other men to bring in revenue for their families yet his disabilities prevent him from doing so. My initial thoughts when meeting and seeing Santo on the bateye, were how does the community see him and how does he engage within the community? What I would come to learn blew my mind; the entire Bateye keeps an eye out for Santo. All members of the community keep him in check to make sure he doesn’t harm himself or get himself in any situations that could injure him. In an area where they work to feed their family day by day based on what’s made from working in the sugar cane, yet they all come together to protect someone different from themselves is amazing. It’s incredible how a country such as the United States, that doesn’t have such harsh conditions, can treat those with disabilities so poorly. They can truly learn something from this small community.
Photo Credit: Bradley Groleau
Santo was beyond happy to meet new friends. The smile and excitement he had roaming the bateye to latch on to a new classmate or to giggle and make jokes as we worked on the house, will be sights and voices I won’t forget. Although most of us couldn’t understand the words he would say, one that we all smiled from was his repeated screaming of “AMIGO”, followed by the happiest chuckle you could imagine.