In late July a group of 11 adults from almost every corner of the US (CA, CO, NY, MD, PA, and VA) traveled to the small community of Doña Lila in the Dominican Republic to build a multisport court. By the end of the trip we would all get to know each other very well, and have an amazing experience that we would never forget.
Doña Lila is home to 140 people, and classified as a ‘batey’ which is a generally small, undeveloped, Haitian‐Dominican community. They were built many years ago for Haitians that were brought over to cut sugar cane. The Dominican government stopped continuing to develop the bateys once they monopolized the industry and slowed sugar cane production. Since the Haitians had been illegally shipped over for labor purposes, but weren’t needed anymore, they became stuck (without an education, jobs, and money) and forgotten about in their batey. It was very eye-opening to learn of all of the
hardships the locals face on a daily basis, and many of the volunteers in the group did not know that this type of discrimination existed in the DR.
From the first day there were many delays waiting for the compactor, mixer, and fill dirt to arrive, and we were worried that we’d never finish! However, one of the locals made the best of the situation and climbed right up a 50 foot palm tree to get coconuts for everyone. After we finished the coconut water, our host cooked up a delicious dessert with the white coconut meat.
Finally all of the materials arrived, we had spread the fill dirt, and we were ready to pour the cement. The heat was
brutal, but seeing all of the community members work together and help out in every way possible, made it bearable. Even the kids were helping shovel sand and rocks, this truly was a community-led project. Together we were able to complete the court on time. Amazing!
While the cement was curing and the sealant was drying we all set off to visit a local organic chocolate farm. Seeing how chocolate is made from the plant to the final product was definitely a tasty experience!
We were finally able to paint the lines for volleyball and basketball on the court as the sun was setting. When it was dark, the court became
an informal stage for dancing thanks to the local electrician permanently installing flood lights on a nearby tree. During the inauguration, you could feel the pride in the entire community celebrating the completion of the incredible project that everyone had helped complete. The paint was still fresh in the court when the dancing and basketball games started, and they continued until 4:00am! I’ve been told that since we left the court is used 21 hours every day!
Before we left one of the local youth told me “We used to have a place to play baseball, and it was taken away from us; we used to have a place to play basketball, and it was taken away from us. Truly, from our heart to your heart this is something we will never forget. ” Now they have built their own court and that is something that can never be taken away from them.
-Court For Kids representative
I’ll remember this trip for a lot of reasons. Usually the things that present as the most challenging end up being the most memorable – sharing 1 room with 11 people who were mostly strangers, having a short period of time to get the court built while operating on “island time”, being faced with a language barrier, residing in the community vs an offsite hotel/hostel. In line with the mission of the organization, I think the most
memorable thing for me was being able to fully immerse ourselves within their culture and community. We donated our time, money and efforts to give to this community, but having the opportunity to live and work with them was more valuable to me. I felt it facilitated a sense of humility but also laid the foundation to form a unique bond with the community; I felt it was important that we were able to do something WITH them rather than just FOR them.
My favorite memories involve the DR nights. After having a great dinner, we all gathered around listening to great music,watching some interesting dancing , and have some good old fashioned conversation. Back home in our fast paced, hi -tech world, we have TVs, cell phones, i-Pads that are always distracting us from communicating with one another . You realize how much happier and fulfilling our lives can be if we just listened to one another free from other stimuli.
One of my favorite memories is of the inauguration of the court when Dana called everyone task by task, big and small, up on the court/stage. The pride and enthusiasm of the batey members was palpable. It made the whole project worthwhile. I especially liked the recognition of the girls and women. They lead such background- material lives always overshadowed by the men.
This trip has reinforced the concepts of community that is often lost in more developed countries, in which there is more emphasis on success and materialistic/tangible things. I saw and experienced a level of camaraderie that takes groups of people and teams months, and even years, to build, and yet we were there for only a week. It also truly reinforced appreciating what I do have without taking it for granted, or continuously wanting more.
After that grueling Wednesday of labor,I remember Chris telling me now we get a small glimpse what it is like to be a laborer in DR who has to this everyday for minimal money. The difference being that we get to go home to our jobs that have their own challenges but no where near what a laborer has to endure with so little reward. It was a clear illustration of the enormous inequalities that exist in this world and how frustrating and overwhelming it can be.