2017 Dominican Republic Service Trip
By: Mrs. Bethany Battig Ramseur
This past spring break, 13 young people from our Upper School gave up their vacation week to participate in a service learning trip opportunity in the Dominican Republic, where they sought to confront and combat poverty firsthand. From March 5 – 11, students engaged in sustainable development projects alongside community members in the rural, farming-community towns of Derrumbadero and Caimonial, where they worked building a house for a woman named Milagro and her sons, clearing a future home site for another woman, Carmen, with 12 children and over 30 grandchildren, and participating in afterschool activities at the Derrumbadero Youth Center, from baseball, volleyball, and soccer pick-up games to nail painting, English lessons, and beyond. Christina Balint and Jorge Montero served as trip leaders from partner organization Bridges to Community, whose mission is to form long-term relationships with local partners, ensuring meaningful development projects that meet real needs.
The group was first guided through an orientation and historical tour in Santo Domingo before heading into the mountains without running water and other modern conveniences – some students even surrendered their phones to Christina for the work week! Whether building doors, bending rebar, breaking up rocks with pick axes, mixing cement or participating in “bucket brigades,” students did it all alongside head masons, Dago and Domingo, as well as people from the town who showed up to help with the ongoing projects. Braving bucket showers, touch-and-go electricity, mosquito netting over bunks in the community center, the vulnerability of nightly reflections, and a strict worksite schedule which included waking up to rooster crows at 6:30 and Jorge’s “lights out” 10:00, each student stepped out of their own comfort zones and began considering what it means to actively better the world around them.
Perhaps most inspiring for many of the Prep students on the trip were the relationships and mutual understandings across language and cultural barriers that were built as a result of their time in the Dominican. During a presentation to the school on March 22, Josh Griz described meeting newfound bromigos Mosh and Joaquin without speaking a single word of Spanish through feeling some “good vibes” while walking by their porch one day after lunch. Alyssa Marotta likewise explained the undeniable connection she had with toddler Rafael in Derrumbadero, and how he would run into her arms every time she walked by his house. Ella Alsko reminisced about the delicious juice that local cook, Flor, would serve at meals every day along with other traditional staples of Dominican cuisine – rice, beans, local fruits and vegetables, etc.
Without a doubt, the students themselves put the importance of this trip best in their own words, as they realized what it takes to fight poverty and make the world a better place, one brick and one bucket of cement at a time. On the last night in the country, each student participated in a final nightly reflection called the “3-2-1,” as they shared with the group 3 things they learned, 2 things they want to change about themselves, and 1 individual or organization to count on to help them follow through on those changes. Through much laughter and a few tears, students discussed the importance of what they had learned during the week and what they hoped to take back home to the United States and to the rest of their lives. Some talked about learning more Spanish and some recalled learning bachata and merengue dance moves, but everyone could agree that the value of the service learning experience is not one that is easy to put into words. Indeed the impact that these students had during their short week abroad continues to be a mutually energizing and inspiring experience for all involved. When we consider the fact that less than 1.5% of all students complete a service learning or study abroad project during their time at higher learning institutions, we are further encouraged to continue pursuing and promoting these unique opportunities for our students here at Prep. There is no doubt that our entire community has much to benefit from such unique experiences. As Olivia Mitchell assured us in her presentation speech, “Though this experience was my first, I know it will not be my last,” and as Scout Yokley stated, “This trip put me outside of my normal comfort zone, but in a good and beneficial way. It has truly enlightened my view of the world.” Prep looks forward to offering the service learning trip again next spring break, March 3-10, 2018, to an even larger group.