Cristo Rey Brooklyn students to the DR

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The excitement of our group, from Cristo Rey Brooklyn, was palpable when we arrived in the Santo Domingo airport on the afternoon of July 5th. We had spent several months fundraising intensively and preparing to help a small campo town build a basketball court, and the moment had finally arrived.

We were met at the airport by Ashley Brock, the Peace Corps volunteer who lived in the community of La Guama. Several of the kids’ families are from the DR, and so they helped interpret the landscape to the rest of the group as we spent a long day, led by our trusty “chofer” Juan, through Santo Domingo, then into the beautiful, green countryside, and finally into the mountains north of Tenares. The road took many twists and turns, and the group was nervous when we started ascending a very rough, rocky road. But “Juanderful” Juan, as he’d come to be known,

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guided us expertly up the terrain until we stopped in front of a house overlooking an incredible mountain vista. The house was of Sefo, a community leader, his wife, Antonia, and his family. We were taken up a rocky path to a house that a fellow Doña had very generously donated to us for the duration of our stay. After getting settled we went down to the worksite, where we discovered, as our resident basketball pro Greg Durbin said, that when finished the court would be the prettiest we would have ever seen.

After touring the worksite, we went up the hill again to Doña Deisi’s house to eat dinner. It was there that we first discovered the truly incredible hospitality of the community. We were plied with a dinner banquet of meat and “viveres” and juice and fruits. And for dessert, we were given limoncillos, which we all quickly became addicted to. After a beautiful nighttime reflection under the stars, we called it an early night.

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The next day we began work on the court. We split into three groups, all named in honor of the chofer, Juan. We had the “Juanabees,” the “Juanderwalls,” and “Juan Direction,” rotating between leveling, digging the ditch where the goal post would go, and break. During break we sat in a lovely shaded area where we made sure to drink lots of water, and where we also got to know the kids of La Guama. The group quickly fell in love with Julio and Sefelina who were both about ten years old, but loved helping out on the worksite, and finding us delicious limoncillos. When not on break, we bonded with all of the incredible community volunteers, like Felo, Confesor, and Chula. We fancied ourselves hard workers, but we all marveled at Wilian’s amazing feats of strength, like when he pretty much moved the whole goal post himself, and how he lifted whole bags of cement 

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over his head and dumped them straight into the mixer. The cement mixing would not have been even possible though without Sefo’s selfless dedication to the project, which manifested in him and some muchachos making countless runs to the river to get water for the work, and also for our group to bathe.

Over the next few days the court came along. Every night we ate lunch up by Deisi’s house, followed by limoncillos and bachata/merengue parties. At first a bunch of us were reluctant to join in the dancing, but by the end of the trip not only were we all dancing like pros, we also shared our music with the community and had an American music dance party. After work everyday we walked the 15 minutes down the road to the river where we bathed, the boys in a puddle, and the girls in an epic waterfall that cleaned everyone’s hair very thoroughly.

 

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The afternoon before we finished the court, we took a trip to the northern coast to a beach called Playa Grande. We went with Deisi, Sefo, Julio, and several other community members, and it was an incredible experience getting to just hang out with everyone and be happy. That night, we finished the court around 11:30 at night. It was pitch black, but the night was punctuated by our signing of Disney and 90’s pop. It was a good night.

The next afternoon we inaugurated the court. Lots of La Guama Arriba showed up for the speeches, cake, and games. Confessor made most of us cry when he said, “We treated you as well as we could, but not as well as you deserve,” because, to us, their hospitality could not have been any greater. After the speeches we played several epic games of Knockout with the community, and a few rousing 3×3’s, then went up the Deisi’s house for our last dinner. It rained during our after dinner dance session, so Deisi invited us in to her house where the music was blasted and all of us, Dominicans and Americans, danced together in a big circle.

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It was hard to leave La Guama the next morning. Our goodbyes and thank-you’s could never adequately express how grateful we were to the community. Their kindness and openness towards us changed how we see the world, especially what we think of as important, and we left knowing that there isn’t a greater gift in the world that can be given then that.

I will always remember how welcoming the people have been, starting from the airport at Santo Doming, to the friendly community of La Guama Arriba, to the merchants at the beach of Playa Grande.

           

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     Building a court for this community has been an absolute pleasure and extremely rewarding in so many ways. Hearing how grateful the community is to the Peace Corps volunteers and to our group was very special and touching. It shows that our work paid off and will be appreciated forever.

                   -Tessa Durbin

 I learned that people are all the same in every community and even though there was a major language barrier, I still connected with a bunch of people. I love that we earned the respect of the workers by working hard. I also loved that music is an international language.

Another life lesson that I learned was how great it feels to give back to a community in need. I will 

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continue to serve/help people in need because of the joy that was given to me on this trip. [Before coming here] I didn’t realize how easy it is to give my time for a great cause. I love what we did at La Guama Arriba!

 -Greg Durbin

 I made so many close friends while building the basketball court. I am very thankful for being given this amazing opportunity. If it wasn’t for this trip, I wouldn’t of never met so many wonderful people. I 

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will never forget all the memories that have been made, from waking up at 6 in the morning, to working in construction, or taking a shower in the river to dancing bachata at night; I’m very thankful for all of it.

                 -Ofelina Rodriguez

 A few of my favorite memories include the meals with an impressive amount of fruit, the sing-a-longs and rap music blaring at the work site that kept us motivated, getting to know the Doñas and their families, Playa Grande, and lastly, the joy the community expressed when they were finally able to play on “la cancha.”

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 -Aris Clemons

                I feel like I learned so much from the people in the community. I don’t feel many people would have been able to keep up the level of hospitality that La Guama Arriba did. From the Doñas to the kids, everyone truly seemed to appreciate our presences. I’ve learned that when people open their doors to you, it really is a unique experience to be cherished. I hope to be able to return the favor to them or people similar to them.

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-Aris Clemons