In the afternoon of Sunday, May 8th, a group of student-athletes from the University of Nebraska landed in the Dominican Republic for a week of work and cultural exchange. We started our trip in the Santo Domingo where the evening was spent exploring the Colonial Zone, eating dinner in the first tavern of the New World, then listening to and dancing to the music of Grupo Bonye at the Ruinas de San Francisco.
On Monday morning, we left the city and headed out east, through fields and fields of sugar cane to the community of Las Pajas. After settling in to the community center, our home for the next 5 days, we assessed the court situation. Unfortunately due to rain and other circumstances, things were running way behind schedule – the community did not have the land ready to start building the court and materials to finish land prep were not going to be delivered until the following day.
While we were frustrated, we tried to follow the lead of the locals and not worry about the situation! Instead, we set out to explore Las Pajas and followed a group of community members on a hike into the sugar cane fields, where they taught us how to cut, peel and eat sugarcane.
As the week went on, we got used to the unfamiliar sights, smells and sounds of the community, and started feeling more integrated into Dominican culture. However, despite the hard work and positive attitudes of the student-athletes, we struggled with making progress on the court. We worked on the court whenever we could (when we actually had materials to work with!), but also filled our days with other activities: playing with the kids, completing a mural project with international muralist Xaivier Ringer, talking to the locals, chasing away bugs and animals, eating Dominican food, learning how to bucket bathe and flush, and taking a trip to the Kansas City Royals baseball academy.
On Friday, all of the land prep materials finally arrived and with the help of community members – men, women and children – we were able to finish the land prep. Although we were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the court completed, we knew that because of our hard work and example, the community would be able to finish the court on their own.
“What I learned about myself on this trip is that I am willing to push myself to great lengths in order to achieve what I’m trying to go after, no matter how tough the circumstances.” – Tiara Tingle
“I learned not to stress about things that are out of my control from the Las Pajas community. I learned to enjoy the people around me and enjoy the moment no matter what the circumstance are.” – Tyler Berger
“What I learned about the world is that some places are way different than America…I’ve learned so much about how having an opportunity can sometimes be your only way out. Not everyone in this world will have an opportunity to advance economically and this is important because it can dictate your kid’s future. The experience most definitely makes me more grateful for the opportunities that I have because the other side of the world may be different.” – Byerson Cockrell
“My low point of the trip was of course not being able to complete the sports court before we left. Although I was understanding for why they were so behind I was looking forward to experiencing the community having a final product.” – Coleman Toker
“What I learned about the world is that someone always has it worse than you. Instead of complaining about certain things we do not have we need to be blessed for what we do have. This has been a humbling experience for me.” – Briana Holman
“One of the best memories is when Coleman and I got to do some gymnastics with the local kids and then I began to try and teach one of them a backflip. Another memory that sticks out is the first day wheelbarrowing when a little 6 year old would follow me up and down the big hill and carrying the wheelbarrow for me. This trip will always be in the back of my mind and has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.” -Connor Adamsick
“What I learned from the community was to help others, to take care of each other all the time, to enjoy the little things of life. I learned that you don’t need to have all the luxuries and material things we have to be happy. Health and family are more important.” – Alexandra Mosquera
“This week was a real as it gets and forced me to open my heart and mind to these people who really aren’t that different from us. I am changed in my perception of dirty and gross as well as scary (spiders, bugs). This trip made me more mentally tough and a better person too.” –Emily Wood
“This trip taught me patience. There were a few times I was pep talking myself in order to survive “island time”. It taught me not to worry about things out of my control. It taught me to be more personal and present.” – Sam Hardewig
“I think the hardest part of going home is leaving the people we grew close with behind. Saying goodbye today was way harder than I imagined it to be. Once we are home, we will only have the pictures we took to remember them and they will only have their memories to remember us. I hope I left a big enough mark on their lives for them to remember me because I will remember them forever.” – Krista Van Wie
“The most difficult part about going home is knowing that we didn’t finish the court even though we accomplished so much more than I expected.” – Collin Jensen
“The high point of the trip for me was the last day we were there, when the remaining subgrade finally arrived and we filled in almost the whole court. It was really amazing to see how many women participated and how the men didn’t mind them working side by side with them.” – Michaela Cunningham