Columbia River High School volunteers in Arroyo Grande, Dominican Republic

exploring the campo

It was a first for Courts for Kids. After months of planning and preparation with the Dominican community (including a huge fundraising effort with the Peace Corps Volunteer in site), the local government told us we wouldn’t be able to build a court on the land…and just two weeks before the group was scheduled to arrive.  Forced to switch communities at the last minute, we expected some obstacles on the construction front, but as usual, Dominican hospitality and warmth really shined through and characterized this trip.

Trip participant, Hannah Edwards writes:

This trip was so incredibly successful for everyone that participated, although in a different way than you’d suspect, since we didn’t even come close to finishing the court. We now have such a close bond to the Dominican Republic as well as the community we visited, and wouldn’t change anything.  As much preparation as we had for this trip (or that we thought we had), we had no idea what to expect especially with group of people that wasn’t so close to each other. I had no idea what to expect, let alone the realization this was about to be the best week of my life so far.

Community members eagerly awaiting our arrival

Community members eagerly awaiting our arrival

On April 1st we left the whirlwind of the USA at the rough time of 6:00 am, and landed our feet on the ground of the DR at midnight. We were all surprised how alive the country was at this time. While the US would be sleeping, the DR was living and ready to take on the night. That was the first sign we weren’t home anymore, along with the fact I was already sweating after being there for all of 5 minutes. I repeated to myself, this is not a dream, and remained in awe at the simplistic beauty this country showed us from the start.

community friends

community friends

We took a 7-9 hour bus ride after sleeping in a small hotel room for only 4 hours.  Our first glance at the Dominican Republic outside of these bus windows was so influential to our excitement, but it was just a brief visual introduction to a very heart-warming culture. A vendor jumped on our bus, we drove in the opposite lane frequently, and eventually drove up very steep and bumpy dirt hills to get to our very rural community of 200 people- Arroyo Grande, in the municipality of Pedro Santana. So rural it had no electricity other than limited solar power, and we saw the hills of Haiti to our west.

hiking to the waterfall

hiking to the waterfall

We were greeted with the warmest smiles you’ve ever seen. We grabbed our bags and put them in the rooms of the school, and set up mosquito nets and mattresses on the ground.  The next days were filled with more laughter than use of energy. This trip went different than other trips due to our inability to do the work without the supplies.  Did we sit around? Definitely not. While the kids were not in school, we played many games with them. We played baseball in the streets with the locals. We talked to the locals of Arroyo Grande about their dreams and goals, about their past, and we played Dominoes with them. We danced away every night, with each other and with the locals to their music. On Tuesday, we hiked an hour up a steep, dirt road to a waterfall they led us to.  We taught the locals how to play card games, and every day we would swim in a river that was only a 3 minute walk away from the school that we stayed at. But, on the latter, we did land prep alongside the community. We helped mix cement, and carry many grueling buckets of sand and gravel where it was needed. We struggled to get supplies but Stacey and Natalie (our Courts for Kids representatives) worked hard for our group and the Dominicans.  An example is one day, we stood in front of a truck carrying sand to another town, and were on strike in front of this truck while we negotiated receiving half the sand for the court, which did happen. This CRAZY situation would never happen at home, and it’s something none of us will forget.

Setting up mosquito nets

Setting up mosquito nets

court site

court site

We all learned so much from this community, and helping them at least develop a safe place to play made the trip that much more amazing. Throughout the week I watched people laugh longer and harder than I had ever seen, and I got out of my own comfort zone by interacting with the locals and gaining so much amazing knowledge I would never learn at home. We had bug bites, sun burns, bruises, and scrapes that we looked at with wide grins because we knew they were from such a beautiful experience. The day we left, we worked our “gringo” (Dominican word for white people) butts off helping them in the morning, and when there wasn’t any work left we packed said goodbye with immense sadness. The bus arrived, and no one will deny there were tears. We were so attached this community, I received the tightest hugs I’d ever gotten that still remain in my heart.  We arrived at our hotel, where electricity and a bed became a weird concept we weren’t ready to accept because it meant we weren’t in Arroyo Grande anymore. Now, back home, our hearts are full of love towards that community, and gratitude towards the opportunity we were given to go on this grand trip. – Hannah Edwards

Hannah Edwards is a sophomore at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington.  While this was not Hannah’s first time out of the U.S., it was her first trip to the developing world.  Hannah hopes to work in humanitarian aid in the future.

Abuela story telling

Abuela story telling

“Our trip to the Dominican Republic was full of surprises, challenges, adventures, and even some disappointments. While we were not able to finish the court, we hope that the work we accomplished on land prep and helping with the retaining wall will one day lead to the completion of a safe place for this community’s children to play. Thank you to the wonderful community of Arroyo Grande for being such gracious hosts and for teaching us so much about the world and ourselves.”
– Jeni McAnally Brown

Working!

Working!

“My low point on this trip might be an obvious one: we didn’t finish the court. To me, however, this was a blessing in disguise. We worked, served a community and land prepped like no other. This trip allowed for me and the rest of the group to be challenged in so many other ways. We were challenged by the culture of Dominican time, treatment, gender roles, dancing, distance and mentality.  Overall I can say that knowing that this court will eventually be finished, I am so glad that we had the opportunity to have the full Dominican experience.”
Allison Corlett

From live chicken to lunch

From live chicken to lunch

“As I am sitting here reflecting on all that I have taken in, experienced, seen, heard, tasted and smelled etc, I can conclude that the community taught me more in a week than I once thought possible. The village members were kind and open.  They valued relationships sometimes over work. They taught me the extraordinary value of team building and also revealed how different genders take on different roles. Living with less is possible. Having no electricity and all the things Americans and me take for granted aren’t needed in this life in order to be happy.”
Ellie Furth

striking for materials

striking for materials

“One of my favorite memories from the trip was meeting all of the new people from Arroyo Grande.  I loved playing with and meeting all of the kids, helping the cooks in the kitchen and speaking Spanish with the community members.  Saying goodbye to them was really hard because of how welcoming they were.”
– Claire Pardue

bathing in the river

bathing in the river

“Dominican time” was something I came to enjoy.  Not getting supplies on time was slightly frustrating but it was kind of a blessing in disguise because it meant we could continue integrating ourselves into the Dominican culture.”
Isabelle Parkin

domino time

domino time

“This trip gave me a newfound respect for all the people that live these lives every day and I learned how hard life is for so many outside the US.  Many people never get the chances I do just because of where I live.”
– Colin Chase

waterfall time

waterfall time

“With the community we were able to learn about their everyday lives and passions when we weren’t working on the court.  I was able to connect with the locals and share my life with theirs – and that was really special to me.”
– Maddie Hosford

school kids helping on a break

school kids helping on a break

“Surprisingly I understand even less clearly now how to the help the DR.  It isn’t as clearcut as I thought it would be.  There are so many issues that need to be solved and no obvious place to start.  This trip really opened my eyes to the hardships of the world.”
-Cameron McKedy

Hand mixing cement