Over the summer, I used my Marshall Fellowship funds to travel for two weeks to the Dominican Republic with International Student Volunteers. I worked on the Blue Moon Project Site outside of La Mina. There were eight days of service, two days of break, two days of orientation, and two days of travel.
During the eight days of service, we were divided into two groups of seven and alternated between construction projects and teaching the summer camp.
The construction project was a combination of two projects. The first part was reconstructing/refurbishing the playground at the local kindergarten. Years before, it had suffered from an immense amount of termite rot, and, for lack of a better term, was permanently shut down. We were tasked with fixing it. We started by digging up the foundation of the playhouse, and moving it completely away from the jungle-like area nearby that had the termite nest. We replaced various panels on the playhouse and then repainted it; constructed a swing set; built a seesaw; moved a tire hop; built monkey bars; transplanted some grass to the play area to cushion the area the kids play in; and painted two murals on the white walls surrounding the school. This part took us four days. The second part, that also lasted four days, was the excavation of the old foundation and the laying of a new foundation and floor of a local’s house that was about to fall off the side of a mountain. We mixed a BUNCH of cement by hand, and sufficiently wore ourselves out each day. However, the final product was awesome. The man we were building it for, Catalino, was incredibly grateful.
The second part of the project was teaching the summer camp for the kids. Each day we taught, we had modules that we were expected to follow that gave us a general outline of what we would be teaching for the day. Over the course of our teaching days, each group taught 8 different subjects, for a total of 16 different subjects. Needless to say, neither us nor the kids were ever bored. We always integrated English into what we did, but there were only a few specifically English lessons. For our planning, we had to plan games and activities that pertained to the topic we were teaching, and work with the kids to make sure they would understand what we were trying to convey. Some areas that we focused in included: arts and crafts, democracy, sex education, music, and P.E. One day, we even had a lesson on mosquito-transmitted diseases, and gave out free mosquito nets to the kids who didn’t have one as an additional lesson. Overall, it was very rewarding to interact with the kids on a daily basis and truly learn about their lives in the Dominican Republic. We saw how they interacted with each other, with us, etc. and truly understood some of the racial and ethnic struggles that the DR has struggled with for the past several decades.
Overall, these were a very jam-packed 2 weeks, and I am so grateful that I had the ability to travel and give back to a community in desperate need of these kinds of things. Things that we find so basic that we take them for granted—things that regular tourists would never see if they didn’t want to. It was a true experience of seeing how the other half lives.