Before arriving in in the south of the Dominican Republic in a small town called Pescaderia, the members of our group, made up of 19 students from Jesuit-Portland, and Emily and Dan, knew we were in for one of the most challenging experiences of our lives. During our information sessions, we had heard that the language barrier might be too difficult to overcome, and that building a basketball court would push us to our physical limits. And so we were nervous when we were picked up at the airport in Santo Domingo on June 8th by Kate Weschler, the Peace Corps volunteer who, alongside her community counterparts would be hosting us in Pescaderia.
The four-hour long ride down to the South introduced us to many new sights and sounds, including the delicious taste of over 20 types of mango we tried at a mango festival we passed. It was just one of the many treats of that first day, the next one coming when we pulled up to the Catholic Church that was kind enough to host us, and we were greeted by a group of youth from Pescaderia. They applauded as we stepped off the bus, and immediately calmed our fears by welcoming us warmly into their community. We took a tour of the town, greeting everyone we passed, and marveling how the simple act could transform a person’s face from blank to full of joy. We went over to Gina’s house for our first dinner, and afterwards were quickly invited by the little kids to play games, and the older guys to play basketball. We clapped along to the kids laughter when we taught then “Pato, pato, ganso” (Duck, duck, goose), and our nervousness completely disappeared, replaced by excitement at the aspect of getting to know these warm, smiling faces further.
We started work the next day. Having split into three groups, we fell into a rotation system that saw us rotating from leveling and water work, to cement duty, and finally, to break. We were amazed at the sheer amount of community members on the work site, and how hard everyone worked, even the little kids! It made us realize just how badly the people wanted the court, which inspired us to work even harder. We quickly bonded with our co-workers, particularly the guys from the Grupo Juvenil de Basketbol, like Rojino and Rocky and Allan. We were surprised that, although there was the language barrier, we could still understand one another through gestures, our rudimentary Spanish, and because of the human element of communication. We especially loved all of the kids we got to know, like Otto and Victoria, who often were the hardest workers on the site.
As we worked on the court, these bonds strengthened, so that when we poured the last bit of cement on the fourth day of working, we stood side by side with the Dominicans and felt at home. Even outside of the worksite we were treated like family. The kids always wanted to play and share with us, and the older youth taught us things like how to play dominos, gave us a tour of the incredible goat cheese and yogurt project, and, most memorably, how to dance, an event which basically turned into a big block party. When the lights were out at night, we’d journal by the moonlight, or take long walks through the fields surrounding town.
After a relaxing day at the beach, we inaugurated the court alongside hundreds of people from Pescaderia. After several moving speeches and some delicious cake, we played several amazing games of pick-up against the local team, the crowd cheering loudly whenever a positive play happened. After a few games, the volleyball nets were brought out, and the games went until it was too dark to see.
After an early morning Mass on Sunday, we packed up the church and said goodbye to our new friends and family in Pescaderia. As we rolled out of town, we reflected on the nervousness we had felt when we arrived, and how the open arms and smiling faces of the community had made those fears so unfounded. We also left with new understandings of what poverty actually means, about the importance of community, and our own places in the world. We waved with heavy hearts goodbye to our friends as we left Pescaderia, but also full of happiness that, in this small town in the south of the Dominican Republic, we would always have friends and people we loved. -Zach Gerth
One of my favorite memories from the trip was playing basketball on the court after we had finished the building process. It was really fun to be playing again after having watched many of the locals play pickup games before dinner. I really hope that I showed the men (and women) there that females CAN and DO play basketball . . .
One thing the community taught me was how important relationships are. Just the simple act of saying “Hola!” literally brings smiles onto peoples’ faces. I also have come to appreciate the little things after having stayed here for a bit. Many kids would come up to me and hand me a piece of candy or fruit while I was working and it was such a small gesture but it touched me immensely, considering they hardly knew me at all.
The community showed me how a group of people can love one another and care for one another more than I think I ever could. They also taught me what it really means to be generous. They opened their hearts homes, and lives to us. We shared laughter and discussion These people share everything no matter how little they have. I hope to go home and share with my family the love that was shared with me. – Jenna Koury
This experience has helped me to better understand the true meaning of happiness. It is not the tangible things that bring one joy but rather the people you get to share the smiles with. Having fewer expectations and letting life bring you joy as it comes is the key to happiness.
– Payton Wade
Work was hard but really rewarding. I felt like a part of something bigger while shoveling sand alongside both paid and volunteer, Dominican and American workers. We weren’t just building a court, we were building connections between our cultures and replacing stereotypes with friendships.
The community has taught me more than I ever thought possible. I have learned that there is no limit to the love you can share with someone. I have learned that being in union and relationship creates lasting bonds and boundless trust. I learned that regardless of the circumstances, seemingly impossible tasks are conquered and achieved with love and laughter. – Emily Preble
My favorite memory from the trip was when I was shoveling rock all by myself while other people were getting more rock for the concrete. All the wheelbarrows and bag holders had stopped coming except for one five year old. This kid wasn’t very strong since he was small so he would only take one scoop of rocks and then I would help him put it on his shoulder and he would carry it to the court. Me and him probably did this for around 20 minutes. We never talked we just had this nonverbal interaction which I thought was really cool. After awhile I had to change stations and I told him “No mas.” He said, “Un momento” and ran off and got me a
mango, and said, “Adios.” That will stick with me a very long time because it showed how the young kid had a huge desire to work and people can really have a great connection without actually saying a word.