Before I went on the Courts for Kids journey to Guayajayuco, Dominican Republic, I spent numerous hours visualizing how the trip would be. I imagined the people, the community, and the scenery. No matter how much I let my imagination take control, I never grasped the true reality of the trip. When I set foot in Guayajayuco, I was simply breathless. The beauty amongst the distant mountains, the clear blue sky, and locals could not be given justice through words, or even pictures. Immediately, the Triangle Volleyball group of volunteers I came with were emerged into the daily life of the locals. In this community, passion and love are everywhere – from children still learning to walk, to elders that have trouble finding strength to stand. The people love and care for anyone in their village. If they don’t have food to feed their own stomachs, they will find food to fill yours. Along with the constant generosity, the people I met truly know how to live. Here in the United States, it is typical for individuals to value things over people. In this town, they value people over everything. Each moment, each breath, is cherished. I learned what life is all about. It doesn’t matter what you have, it doesn’t matter where you come from. What matters is how you take in everything around you.
Throughout my sixteen years of life, I have never seen so many smiles. As our group moved dirt for many days in order to level the court, children continued to pile in and contribute. Instead of moaning at the repetitive labor, they wore bright smiles and made the best of the situation. Young boys started racing with wheel barrels of dirt, and young girls started to shovel as fast as they could. Through days and days of moving dirt, the children never showed any signs of negativity. They embraced the opportunity and continued to enjoy each moment. The relationships built with the children truly opened new perspectives for me on how to approach situations in life. I will be forever thankful for all of the learning experiences from the community of Guayajayuco.
Most people don’t get the opportunity to take on a mission through Courts for Kids, but I wish they could. This trip has changed not only me, but many other individuals in my group. We obtained so much knowledge and appreciation for life and the people around us. I personally am beyond grateful for every Peace Corps Volunteer, every local, and Courts for Kids rep Stacey Cooper for making this a journey I will always remember.
Written by Alexis “Ally” Harper.
Ally is a rising Junior at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, NC. She’s been a part of the Triangle Volleyball Club for 3 years.
“This community gave me a new standard of what ‘community’ truly means. True community takes care of each other, is always selfless and contributes however they can to help others. I saw mothers and grandmothers taking care of other children in the community. I saw trucks carrying 10-20-30-40 people to get to the next town or simply to the river. I saw perfect strangers picking up shovels just to help. I was given the perfect mango at the perfect time from a new friend. I saw Peace Corps volunteers walk miles, hitch a ride, jump on the back of a truck just to work long hours in the sun on a project not their own. This, this is community. This is love.” – Mike Schall
“Another memory I will take away from this trip is definitely being about to progress to build a volleyball court with the community. It may have been hard to grasp that we weren’t successful in accomplishing our goal but being able to build a court that will last a lifetime is such a great accomplishment.” -Destiny Cox
“I learned that hard work can be enjoyable. Though we did not finish the court with the community I learned from a few boys named Modo, Jonny and Ari to enjoy the experience and not just cherish the outcome. This made it a lot easier to deal with the fact that we were not able to finish the court.” -Caroline Hall
“This trip changed my life forever. It made me realize how simple life could be lived and that being so focused on materialistic things has little or no benefit on our lives. Having this opportunity to work with the community from Guayajayuco showed me this and I want to return home living a simple and free life, enjoying the world and people around me.” – Meg Gasper
“I feel like this trip has changed my perspective on what I am capable of. I’ve never traveled outside America so this was a bit of a shock to me. But I survived and thrived in this strange place and now I feel like I could do anything. I am ready to take on new challenges and be independent. This experience has given me new energy to be my own person and live life to the fullest.” -Sydney Rowan
“My favorite memory from this trip is meeting all of the locals and all of the Peace Corps Volunteers. Just watching and seeing all the joy on their faces even when they were doing hard labor. How the kids were so excited to see us and were so happy to play with us.” – Amaya Williams
“This community, residents and Peace Corps Volunteers made us feel very at home. We felt like part of the community. I didn’t want to leave. Driving away again there was a surge of tears and guilt as I am so lucky for so many reasons.” – Tania Stafford
“From the community, Guayajayuco, I learned that while it’s important to keep the destination in mind, the journey is just as important. On our trip, we only got to finish what was supposed to be done before we got there. It was hard leaving and not being able to finish the court but I still had just as much fun interacting with the locals and spending time with my teammates. Dominincan Republic time is much more laid back than in the US… so we had to get used to that and make the best of it.” -Erin Boone
“My favorite memory was on the final day when we played games with all the children in the community. After having a lot of setbacks with the progress of our court, it was nice for all the stress to come to a halt and play with the children. The community really felt like a whole and it was amazing to see everyone smile. Seeing the community like this was a glimpse of how happy they would react when the court is finished” -Erin Westberg
“I learned so many things from the community over the past 9 days. Between the shining stars at night to the big bright smiles on each of the kids faces, the community showed me what genuine happiness looks like. I will always remember those sweet faces and immediately turn my mood around.” -Emily Claire Knight
“I learned that I can adapt fairly quickly to an uncomfortable and limited environment. It was my first experience in a culture that lived without so many modern conveniences like electricity, running water and technology. While I say it was limited in the materialistic things, it was NOT limited on authenticity, love and generosity!” – Sarah Schall
“My favorite memories from the trip were setting up games for the local kids, dancing with the community and talking to the Peace Corps Volunteers. Their experiences and knowledge of the DR sprouted my love for the country.” – Katie Lawson
“My favorite part of this trip was feeling fully immersed in the community and eliminating the language barrier. When we had the two dance parties and we danced with the locals, I truly felt part of the something bigger.” -Mary Wilkinson
“I’ve learned from Guayajayuco that life doesn’t always go as planned. Instead of trying to keep our life on the road we want it to go, we should sit back and enjoy the ride. These people have so little but you wouldn’t be able to tell. These people were so happy and embraced us into the community.” -Parker Moody
“I also loved playing the outdoor games with the children and seeing how happy they were to be playing with us. This trip was so much fun and full of memories that will last a lifetime.” – Nan Parrish
“My favorite memory from this trip…I don’t know where to start. The beautiful scenery that left me speechless. The hot chocolate with a hint on cinnamon in it. The adorable puppies we held on the last day. But I think that hands down my best memories were with the locals. Hearing Lydia, the amazing mother and chef as she replied with a big smile and an “okay!” after our “thank yous”. Seeing Nelly smile as she handed me too many limoncillos to hold.” –Katie Huge