As I sit in my bed writing this blog post on my MacBook Pro in a house cooled by air conditioning, I can’t help but feel a wave of guilt. From the second we landed back in New York, not a minute has passed that I haven’t thought about my new friends in the Batey’s, who are still struggling to find food to eat for lunch, or searching for a solid roof for their families to sleep under tonight. I often find myself questioning why such genuine, kind-hearted people had been given such a hard hand at life. Though my question may never be answered, it is so humbling to know that I, along with the rest of the mission team, share a common goal to better the lives of those who need it the most. It’s hard to say whether this trip was more beneficial for me, or for those that I bonded so dearly with in the Batey’s. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined possible, and it was incredible to feel as if I was making a difference, even if on a small scale. My trip to the DR was nothing short of amazing, and I feel as if I left a piece of my heart with each and every person I met.
When I arrived home, I was bombarded with “How was your trip??? You need to tell me all about it!!!,” and I strangely couldn’t begin to find the words to explain what I had just experienced. As most people who have traveled to the Batey’s may tell you, there are truly no words to describe the emotions that you endure in your time there. The bonds that I made with the kids in the Batey’s is incomparable to any relationship I have ever experienced in my life thus far. There’s nothing like stepping off of that school bus and having five kids jump right into your arms, regardless of whether they know your name or not. As much as I thought I wouldn’t, I miss being their “caballo” 24/7. The love that I received was massive, and my heart is still bursting with emotion.
It’s hard to pinpoint the absolute best parts of this trip, because there are simply too many to count. However, here are 3 of my newest friends that helped make my trip the experience of a lifetime:
Unica – I hate to pick favorites, but I have to say, Unica has a huge piece of my heart. From the split second that I stepped off of the school bus on Day 1 of work at Batey La Papita, to the last day, Unica stayed right by my side. She held my hand (constantly), showed me around her home without hesitation, and challenged me to communicate with her despite the language barrier. She has the most contagious smile, and the sweetest family. After spending a week with her, I was so excited to hear that her family would be the recipients of the Corey Burke/QU house that was built and finished over this year. Never had I thought that I could develop so much love for a little girl in such a short amount of time. It killed me to leave her on the last day, she felt almost like a little sister.
Bevka – Bevka tiene diez años, and lives in Batey 50. She attends school during the week, and has been learning some basic English, so we were slowly but surely learning from each other whenever the Construction Team visited Batey 50. I could always count on her to be waiting for me when we arrived. I also let her take a million pictures on my phone, which I think gave me huge brownie points. On movie night, she was SO excited, sat on my lap, and laughed with me throughout the entire thing. It made my heart so full to see her so happy.
Naomi – I met Naomi on Wednesday when I decided to switch to Team A at Joe Hartman School. She is a fierce little thing, and if any of the kids were giving me trouble, she’d be right there to defend me. We met while finishing a puzzle, and she stayed with me for the next two days. Whenever I was busy with work, she’d always bring me flowers and little surprises.Naomi is from a tough barrio close by, and has 6 other siblings. It was always a hard goodbye at the end of the day, but we’d always make sure to say “te amo.”
As much as there were so many positive memories made in the 10 days that we spent in the DR, I can’t forget the struggles and heartbreaks. Of course, seeing the conditions that these people live in is nothing short of awful. Their houses are made out of whatever material they can possibly find (as pictured above), and they basically live with wild animals. Their hair is yellow from malnourishment, and their bellies bulge from starvation. Nothing hurt my heart more than when thirsty kids would beg for water, especially after seeing what little, contaminated water they had. But despite having close to nothing, they are some of the most generous, loving, grateful people I have ever met. It really puts things into perspective as I find myself stressing about having the latest technology, or spending $100 on clothes that I most definitely do not need. They truly demonstrate that less is indeed more.
There are no words to accurately describe how thankful I am to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a powerful team. Whether I was helping to build a house, acting as a personal jungle gym for the kids, painting a classroom, or re-learning some Spanish, I can easily say this was the best experience of my life. The love I have for these people and this trip is beyond enormous. They have taught me more than I could ever learn in a classroom. Half of my heart is in La Romana, and I can only hope to be back next year.