by Sarah Jane Ferrell, visiting group member
I didn’t want to go to the Dominican Republic. The trip, centered around volunteer work at a primary school, would have been perfect for a Spanish speaking, self proclaimed “kid person” who loved to travel. Unfortunately, I was none of those things. Lacking excitement, I stuffed a week’s worth of clothing into a carryon bag. The objective of the journey was service, but my mind was clouded by selfishness. As my friends bounced in their airplane seats, I sipped my tiny cup of water apprehensively. My passport received its very first stamp, but the experience was hasty, not at all magical like the movies make it out to be. No longer in los Estados Unidos, all familiarity was lost. I didn’t want to be in the Dominican Republic. As we left the airport, our van made its way through crowded streets. We passed speeding motorcycles that cared nothing about traffic laws and dance clubs blaring music in a language I didn’t understand. A hand reached through our window, hoping for a few pesos from us gringos. The November wind whipped through our hair, and I remained silent.
I spent my Thanksgiving in the Dominican Republic. Peeling, chopping, and stirring, my feet became sore from hours spent in the kitchen. That night, our team dined with several Dominican dwelling Americans who worked with the Makarios organization. More than 40 of us feasted upon the meal, much of it made up of ingredients we had lugged in our suitcases across the airports. The American staff and their children were immensely blessed just by this small taste of home. It was truly gratifying to see that the simple meal we had prepared meant so much to them. “It was more than I could have ever asked for,” said young Jenna, the daughter of the school’s doctor who had been missing Thanksgiving back in the States. “...today was honestly the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had,” I quickly scribbled in the travel journal before bed. “…This Thanksgiving, I’m extremely thankful.”
I don’t know when everything changed, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the Dominican Republic. Each hand I held and each caballito ride I gave chipped away at my childish selfishness, bringing me to the realization that I was in this place for a reason. The D.R. was a beautiful land filled with beautiful people who, despite lacking education, taught me more about loving others than any American citizen ever had. All my life, true poverty had been a faroff cry, a dismal story heard but soon forgotten. In la Republica Dominicana, however, I met it face to face, no longer ignorant of the way the majority of our world lives. The faces belonged to children with bright smiles and big hearts. They resided in shacks on trashlittered streets, unrolled tin cans serving as the roofs over their heads. They had next to nothing, but they were richer in joy than I had ever been. My red eyes blinked back an impending flood of tears as I hugged those faces for the last time. I didn’t want to leave the Dominican Republic.
Short term trips are often life changers. To learn more about how to participate in one, click here.