Although I’ve been home for days my mind is still living in Batey Altagracia. Every morning I walk down my street in Oregon but if I close my eyes for one moment I’m transported back to the Dominican Republic. The paved roads turn into dirt, the impressive houses turn into tiny ones, and the preoccupied neighbors locked up in their homes turn into friendly Dominicans wanting to start a conversation. This trip has made such an incredible difference for me, it was undoubtedly the most memorable experience of my life.
The reason that this trip existed was so that our group could help the community build a volley ball court for the girls of Batey Altagracia. The community already had a basketball court but, due to misogyny, the boys would constantly kick the girls off the court and not allow them to practice. By building the volleyball court we hoped to encourage the girls to keep playing sports and work to overcome the adversity they face daily.
Our typical workday consisted of shoveling, carrying water buckets, and mixing cement. After a long day of work, the community would gather to play sports, talk, and dance. It was mostly through our hard work, our competitive sports, and our entertaining dance and rap battles that people from both communities came to see that although we all live very different lives, we are still so similar. The days we were not working we spent hanging out with the people in the community or traveling to various beaches, hiking trails, and going to places in the capitol. These adventures enabled us Americans to further learn about the culture of the Dominican Republic.
From day one I was shocked by how much discourse there was within the community. In addition to witnessing the most extreme poverty I’ve ever seen, I saw people discriminating against each other based on gender and race, children getting in fistfights over the attention of Americans, and adults spanking and yelling at children – as it was the only way the kids would listen. I also learned about many underlying issues within the community such as children not being able to finish their education, girls marrying at age fourteen, and most people not having even the smallest chance to pursue their dreams. Yet, looking past all of this chaos, I was astounded by the unity of Batey Altagracia. This community was like a large, caring, at times dysfunctional, family that stuck together through thick and thin. The love each person had for another surpassed any differences between the two people. No fight or argument ever seemed to lessen this closeness. In the end, the people of Batey Altagracia would always be there for each other when it counted. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to witness this community and be a small part of it for a few days.
Coming back from this trip, one of the biggest realizations that I’ve taken away is how similar we all are and how different our circumstances make us. I remember a conversation I had with one of the rare locals of Batey Altagracia who had gotten the chance to get a good education. We talked hypothetically about what our lives would be like if we followed all of our dreams. We would be pilots, and runners, and world travelers, we’d have families, and a good education, and learn so many different languages, and experience so much of the world. Slowly, the conversation shifted to what would you do if you lived in America, and the answers remained the same. Lying out in front of me was the bittersweet realization of how limitless my life is compared to so much of the world. I never truly comprehended just how easy I had it. And yet, it was the local I was talking to that ended the conversation by saying, “I really love my life and I can’t wait to experience everything”.
– Written by Carli Wood, Jesuit Portland rising junior
“The community has taught me about family and the importance of strong relationships. The whole community is one big family. They have such a strong connection that everyone’s family. They are happy, sad, mad and experience every emotion together. I haven’t seen a closer group of people. If you give everyone some of your time, your relationships will be stronger.” – Brooke Elorriaga
“Coming in I was expecting to change something about the community… Now I know that we weren’t to come here to change anything but just to help out and show love. I’ve learned more in a week in the DR than in my while life about unconditional love.” – Hannah Malin
“The community taught me about positivity. Although they had little materials items they were satisfied. I asked a young man if he would change anything about Altagracia and he said no. This attitude of little want and much satisfaction is very admirable. I hope I can emulate their satisfaction and generosity in my daily life.” – Nicolas Pernas
“I learned a lot of things from this loving community. I learned that to grow closer in our relationships we have to understand each other’s struggles and happiness. I learned that you don’t need to be surrounded by materialistic things to be happy.” – Jack Gilroy
“The most difficult part of going home will be that I will miss the friends that I have made in the community. I will miss being able to talk and hang out with the community. I was miss being able to learn from the people. It will also be hard to go home and try to incorporate what I have learned into everyday life.” – Tristan Parker
“After spending tie in the community I understand more clearly that poor communities need our understanding rather than our pity. I thought I would feel really bad about the conditions people were living in but I learned that in many ways they pity things about us so we need each other’s understanding not pity. We can both teach each other so many things.”
“The people from the community have taught me the true importance of having a strong community. I learned that people are the true genuine source of our happiness, not electronics or materialistic items. I learned the importance of finding joy and strength despite the struggle and poor conditions. The community has allowed me to branch out of my comfort zone and has created opportunities for me to create friendships I will never forget. I came into this trip thinking maybe I could teach the community something. However, it turns out, I feel I have learned more from them than I could ever ask for.”
“My favorite memory from this trip was playing basketball with the locals. It was really funny to see their reactions when a girl like me would make a shot. They would turn to each other and say “ooh!” This experience made me feel like I was doing something good to empower Dominican girls.” – Sejal Dua
“The most difficult part about going home for me is figuring out how I can live out and actually do some of the things I have learned on this trip. It’s really easy to talk about how you’re going to change your ways. I want to be able to be a light to the people around me when I get home. I also want to effectively tell my friends and family about everything I have learned.” – Carly Suter