University of Cincinnati Bearcats in Hicaco Blanco, Dominican Republic

Serve Beyond Cincinnati Volunteer group

Serve Beyond Cincinnati Volunteer group

2015 in the Dominican Republic started and ended with the Bearcats! Right after New Years, University of Cincinnati students completed the first Courts for Kids project of the year. Then, 11 months later, right before Christmas, another group of Bearcats completed the last court of 2015!

On Sunday, December 13th, 15 students from the University of Cincinnati landed in Santo Domingo to spend part of their winter break volunteering with Courts for Kids. I met them at the airport and after a three hour bus ride, primarily though sugar cane fields then through the mountains, we arrived in Hicaco Blanco shortly after dark.

Dominos

Playing dominoes with the community.

Hicaco Blanco is a small community that stretches out more than a mile along the new highway that connects Miches with Punta Cana, the well known resort area of the east. The community, especially the women, was eagerly awaiting our arrival. While the highway was being built, the basketball court was damaged and the community was very anxious to be able to provide a safe place for the kids to be able to play again.

Gregory, ready to play

Gregory, ready to play

We spent Sunday night setting up our beds and mosquito nets, settling into our home for the next week and meeting members of our host community. The UC group was ready to start first thing on Monday morning, but the community and the equipment were not, and like most projects in this country, this one was destined to begin on Dominican time!

Hard at work

Volunteers and community members hard at work.

Team work

Team work!

Although it took a couple of days for the construction to get started, the “compartir-ing” began right away. The word compartir translated into English means to share. But here in the DR, this popular concept means more than just sharing things – it encompassed everything: time, experiences, food, space, and culture.  As UC student Jen Morand put it: “The community taught me countless things from how to take it easy to hard work…I learned from the family what pure kindness is. They gave us a home to sleep in, food for every meal, their backyard to hang out in every night, their time and their culture. They showed us pure love. The community also taught me how to dance. They taught me what hospitality is. They taught me what family is: always being there for each other and not thinking twice. They taught me that you can accomplish something bigger than yourself when working together. They taught me that life is more fun when you take it easy…”

Hanging with friends

The week was full of laughter, smiles, dancing, dominos and court building. Despite the work challenges, the Bearcats and the Hicaco Blanco community finished the court on Saturday morning and were able to spend the last afternoon enjoying the beach together. We were able to play on the court for a few minutes before leaving Sunday morning and pulled away from the Hicaco Blanco community with a sense of accomplishment, watching the kids play on the court the Bearcats helped provide the community.

-Stacey Cooper, Courts for Kids Dominican Republic Country Director

Serve Beyond Cincinnati volunteers and community members on the finished court

Volunteers and community members on the finished court

“Blood. Sweat. Mosquito bites. This has been the greatest service trip I have ever taken. It was great to be welcomed by such a loving community who taught me so much.” – Abi Rebholz

Beach time after court was finished

Enjoying the beach after court was finished

“This community taught me that life is too short to not enjoy every day to the fullest. They taught me that life isn’t about living to work, but that if you work to live you will have so much more time to spend enjoying your friends & family. They taught me the true meaning of hospitality and acceptance and they showed me the beauty of their country and their culture.” – Melissa Harlock

work break on the rocks

Work break on the rocks

“What I learned from the community was the power of love, friends and family. I have never felt so close to so many people at once in my whole life. And even though we are all so different, we truly felt like family. I hope to take their love and happiness back with me and spread it to my family.” – Bailey Baker

Salon time

“I have never witnessed the beauty of overcoming a struggle like I have during my trip here in the Dominican Republic. I’ll never forget this.” – Mariah Phillips

Getting the backboards ready

Getting the backboards ready

“Spending so much time with the family and the guys we were with every day was really impactful for me. I loved talking (trying to talk) to them and mixing our cultures together to form lasting friendships that I hope will still be relevant years from now.” – Celina Powell

“In the past six years, I have lived in three cities in two different countries and I have traveled to multiple countries. My method for adapting to new environments is to look for similarities between my culture and the new culture I am experiencing. This trip has proved to me that despite our differences, we have a lot in common. The similarities are best noticed when you build a close relationship with the people who represent the other culture.” – Anwar Mahajna