Reflection by John Hunt – parent, chaperone and CFK participant
When my daughter asked me to be a chaperone on her trip to the Dominican Republic for Courts for Kids, I had to say yes. After all, to share such an experience with her would be well worth the time and money, and if she had to be 3,500 miles away from home, well, I’d be a lot more comfortable in the D.R.
“Now, don’t go into it thinking it will be a life-changing experience,’’ I said, “just experience it.’’ After nine days in La Ceiba, a rural campo north of Santo Domingo, my daughter and I agree: This was life-changing, enriching, transformative. Those high expectations I warned her against? All exceeded.
The group of 15 high school students from Camas and Battle Ground spent their spring break bonding like cement, sand and rock. They spent their days acquiring blisters with shovels and picks and their evenings singing and dancing with just as much fervor.
But it was the bond with the community that was so striking. After the Dominicans cast wary eyes on the Americanos on that first day, a few hours playing dominoes broke the ice, and for the rest of the week the volunteers and locals were inseparable. The Dominican and American girls and boys worked side-by-side, held hands, danced and laughed.
We marveled at the work ethic of Ramon, the 58-year-old, former sugar cane worker who shoveled rocks in his bare feet. We laughed with Eduard, the joke-telling English language student. We all wanted to bring 12-year-old Franye home after he touched us all with his big heart and smile that melted the language barrier.
After tearful good-byes, we Americans boarded an air-conditioned bus for Santo Domingo, as The Manhattans sang on the radio, “I’m gonna miss you, I can’t lie/Understand me, won’t you try.” All the Dominicans had asked when we would be returning. The answer is clear: In our hearts and minds, we will return many, many times.
Overview by Stacey Cooper, In-Country Director, Courts For Kids DR
After a more than 24 hour journey from southwest Washington, including a 5 hour delay in NYC, a group of 15 high school students and their 3 chaperones finally arrived in Santo Domingo early Easter morning. Peace Corps Volunteer Megan Careiro and I met the group at the airport and then headed off to La Ceiba, a large campo in the north of Santo Domingo and our home for the next week. We arrived shortly before 4am and with flashlights and headlamps, settled into our houses and under our mosquito nets for a few hours of much needed sleep.
Tired, but excited to start our adventure, we set out on Sunday morning in the back of pickup trucks to explore La Ceiba and the surrounding communities. After the tour, we joined community members at the pool and spent the rest of the day celebrating the end of Semana Santa with the Dominicans – playing volleyball, swimming, learning how to play dominos, and dancing (lots of dancing!)
From Monday through Friday, our mornings were spent at the court site, working hard alongside the locals, preparing the land, mixing cement and pouring the floor. It rained every afternoon, so we alternated our time between working in the rain, running from the rain and playing in the rain! Most nights were spent dancing – learning bachata, merengue and some dembow and teaching the Dominicans some stellar moves from the U.S., including the cupid shuffle.
On Saturday morning, while waiting for the basketball hoops to be finished, we, along with many of our Dominican friends, visited the local national park and cooled down by jumping and swimming in the lake. As the sunset on Saturday night, we put in the hoops, and then headed off to celebrate with cake, soda and more dancing!
After spending an entire week sharing with and working alongside the community of La Ceiba, it was very difficult to say goodbye. We all met at the court on Sunday morning for speeches, a few final laughs and some tears. We left La Ceiba late Sunday afternoon to spend our last day/night at the beach and close to the airport. Swimming in blue waters of the Caribbean was a great way to end an amazing week!
“There’s one big thing I understand a lot less clearly now and that is how the rest of the world live in their own safe bubble, not caring to learn about the world. Sure, they’ll vacation, but they won’t do what we’ve done. They won’t take bucket showers and sleep in damp beds after spending all day working their butt off in the heat of the sun It actually scares me a little bit.” – Caralee Ellis
“There are a lot of different [hard] parts of going home – one being that I know I will never see the faces I did everyday for 9 days ever again. We all got so close to the La Ceiba community and I will miss their thankful smiles and laughs. It’s like being thrown into another life and loving it, and suddenly being ripped away from it. The kids loved us and we loved them. We were able to give them a change in their everyday lives and they changed us as well.” – Abby Engel
“My favorite memories from this trip would have to be the relationships I created on this trip. With all the locals, it was amazing to me how they embraced me and everyone else to the community. I most definitely have friends in the DR now. Also, with the people who came on the group, I didn’t know half of them bit at the end of this trip I feel way closer and like we will always have a connection.” – Jordan Del Moral
“This trip definitely changed me for the better. I didn’t have a sheltered point of view of the world at all but I would say that it did open my eyes to the way people live in other parts of the country. Also, it made me appreciate the little things and the big things more, such as being on-time, clothing, shelter, cold water, education, etc.” – Mia Hunt
“For me, a person who has never been out of the country before, traveling to a different country was a huge eye opener for me. The world is nothing like I thought it was. Before this trip I never put too much thought into what lay outside the US borders – at least, not enough thought to matter. But now that I have seen a part of the world so different than mine, I’ve realized a few things. One, if people are considered to be in poverty that does not mean they are unhappy people. The citizens of La Ceiba were kinder than 99% of Americans. Before this I had always considered the poor people of the world to be linked with unhappiness, now I know that that is not the case. Second, being in La Ceiba made me realize that there is still love in the world. In the US, there is so much hate and greed that I didn’t realize things could be any different. Being in La Ceiba and seeing how loving and genuinely kind they were gave me hope that love is still alive.” – Hallie Wyles
“Dominicans and Americans are very different so it took a little time to adjust to their carefee lifestyle, but now that I’ve adjusted I don’t want to go home” – Payton Beres