SATURDAY – TRAVEL DAY
The adventure started on June 25th at 3:30 in the morning. Maddi (Clark) and I had to catch an Uber to the airport to make our 6:00 a.m. flight. Maddi succeeded in her first time flying and we made it to Miami. We had a three hour layover and we spent most of the time thinking about what we were getting ourselves in to. We did not know anyone or really what we were going to be doing. We just knew it was going to be an adventure.
We got back on the plane and flew to Santiago, Dominican Republic where we were quickly overwhelmed with the amount of people and the fact that no one spoke English. After spending over an hour in immigration, we were greeted by two Outreach360 leaders and two other volunteers. They took us two and a half hours away to our final destination: Monte Cristi.
After arriving at 7:00 p.m., we ate dinner and got ourselves organized and went to bed.
Sunday was a day of new. There were new faces, a new city and new information. Everything was new. We learned information about the program and the week ahead. We spent most of the day learning about everyone, exploring the city, and getting adjusted into our new home for the next week.
On the first day of camp, many boys showed up but we did not have a single girl for session one. A little disappointing because we expected to be teaching softball. The second session, again, no one showed up. Until two volunteers hit the streets and found two girls that were interested in softball, neither who had ever played before. They stepped with the wrong foot, didn't know what hand the glove went on; they did not know a thing. After two hours, the improvements already started showing and continued to pass any expectations I had for them throughout the week.
TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY
Tuesday and Wednesday more girls came to camp bringing our group to six. None of which, having any knowledge about the game of softball. The girls were all naturals, after a few instructions they all picked up on everything quickly. They could catch fly balls, field ground balls, throw to first, turn double plays, pitch, and so much more. I did not know really what was going to happen when I tried teaching the girls with not knowing any Spanish or them knowing hardly any English. By the end, it didn't matter we didn't speak the same language. With demonstrations, they quickly picked up everything I was trying to teach them.
I was amazed by the patients and ability these girls had with the game of softball. They came every day for five hours willing to learn. They didn't have to come; they chose to come, which taught me to be more grateful for the game. I am guilty of complaining about practice. These girls taught me to enjoy every moment and that I have an amazing opportunity to play college softball and should not take it for granted.
We also ran a "babysitting camp" (not on purpose, the neighbor kids and little siblings just all came to play every day) and they were some of the most amazing little kids I've ever met. They were full of energy and loved to play. They loved to climb on our shoulders and have us run around and chase people. They loved to read and use English flash cards. They were little balls of energy that I loved and never wanted to leave.
Thursday was the most amazing day of camp. In the D.R., girls are inferior to boys. Girls do not have a right to play on the same field as boys in their culture. However, on this day those rules and gender stereotypes were broken down. The girls and boys came together and played one inning of baseball then one inning of softball and it continued on. It was amazing to see them working and playing together. I would like to say that the girls did just as well as the boys or even better. That was a great way to end my week of camp.
Throughout the week, we did more than just camp. We did Zumba in the park with the locals, and just to point out, I did not know people could move their hands, feet, and hips all at the same time in different directions. We hiked up a small mountain with the most amazing view to watch the sunrise. We got dance lessons from the Dominicans. We played in the park with the funniest kids I've ever met. You could hear them screaming our names to come play with them. We ate ice cream and went out to dinner. (Still don't know what I ate). Went on a salt flat tour and learned how salt was made.
The last day was the most eye-opening day of the week. We took a trip to Dajabon, which is the market that is open every Monday and Friday on the Haiti and Dominican border. It was sad, incredible and busy. You could feel every emotion while observing and walking through the market. The two countries do not speak the same language and do not get along. But to see the two countries work together was incredible. It was heartbreaking to see the work the runners (people who were paid to run back and forth between the market and the distribution center on the Haitian side of the river) were doing for almost no pay. The Dominicans were buying supplies from the Haitians and the Haitians were buying food and things that are necessary for life. This was easily one of the most moving parts of the week.
Overall the week was an incredible experience. I learned more about myself and the Dominicans than I ever thought possible. I am incredibly blessed and grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip with my best friend who mentioned this idea and opportunity at Christmas time. I cannot wait to be able to go back next summer (for a longer period of time) and being able to serve this country even more.
I am especially thankful to everyone who donated to me to make this trip possible. Without you, I would not have had this life changing week.
How often do you think about the trip?
I honestly think about the trip all the time. I have a few reminders of the trip that I constantly have on me. One reminder I have is three bracelets that I bought while I was there. One of the bracelets has the Dominican flag on it. The other reminder I have is my wallpaper on my cell phone is a picture of me with some of the kids from camp. They are good daily reminders to keep me humble in my life back in the states.
Another time I think heavily about the trip is every time I step onto a softball field. I think about the girls that came to camp every day and how they were not required to come, but they had the desire to learn about the game. Sometimes I find myself wishing I did not have to practice, or go to 8:00 a.m. games. Then I remember that I have the opportunity to step out onto a well-groomed field, without big holes in the outfield and cow manure on the infield. Those were the only fields those kids have access too. I have the opportunity to play on some of the best fields in the world that are groomed, sometimes every inning. It made me appreciate the sport I have been playing since I was eight years old more than I ever thought possible.
Do you think about the people?
The people from the D.R. pop into my mind all the time. The moments I reflect on the most is playing in the park with all of the local children. We played soccer, volleyball, danced, chased each other around.
One little boy has forever left a mark on my heart though. I never did catch his name, but I met this boy a few times. He was a Haitian boy, no older than eight years old. The tensions between the Dominicans and the Haitians are high. Haitians sneak over the border for a better quality of life; however, since the island was separated, they have not got along.
The first time I met him was at the local ice cream shop, Bon. He was asking to clean people’s shoes for 25 pesos, which is equivalent to about 50 cents. One girl, Bekkah, let him clean her shoes, and I was so impressed by the quality of work he did with the little he had. This little boy had clothes that were barley in tack, shoes that were broken, but a heart of gold.
Later in the week he came up to our house, Maddi and I happened to be sitting outside when he came up. This is common because our house gives the local children balls and toys to play with in the park. We asked him if he wanted to go play volleyball in the park, he hesitantly responded yes. We started playing volleyball, but we were not doing very well because we were playing with a soccer ball and our arms started to hurt. So instead, we started playing soccer.
This is when my heart swelled and my mind was blown. He was amazing. He was so skilled with his footwork and was having such a great time. The little boy was smiling from ear to ear. You could tell this boy had to work extremely hard for the little he had, and there was limited time for fun. We had a language barrier because he spoke a form of French that neither of us was familiar with. That however did not stop us from having the best time of my life. He was just one of the many kids I came into contact with that left a lasting impression on my heart.
How have you been different since you have been back?
I am more humble. Everything I do, I appreciate more than I did before. Simple things such as clean clothes, windows, internet to larger things such as proper health care, for example. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience life in a different country, maybe they would be more grateful for the things we have here.