When sugar cane production ended in the Dominican Republic, the Haitians who had been brought over illegally to work in the fields found themselves without a job almost overnight. These Haitians lived in isolated sugarcane producing communities called bateys. On March 3, 2013, the Courts for Kids team traveled to Guasumita, a small batey located two hours north of Santo Domingo. As the all female team from Washington DC and William and Mary approached Guasumita, the paved road, which had led them most of the way, ended just a half mile from
the entrance to the town. Although lacking in many resources, the team discovered that Guasumita is rich in spirit and heart. When they arrived they were immediately welcomed by countless children who would be their helpers throughout the week. The team worked tirelessly to build the court, carrying buckets of water alongside grandmothers and shoveling cement with young women – showing the other workers that women could do the job, too.
I have learned again, but more significantly, what living with very little looks like, but how adaptable humans are without much material good. What made the experiences special, though, was the component of integration and the connectedness we felt with the people of Guasumita. Construction jobs and volleyball are pretty common, casual activities but getting to do them with the children and elders and everyone in between was so special. Being in Guasumita reminds me how very little there is to complain about in life, how I have been given so many opportunities, and how it is now my challenge to use my opportunities to strive for a greater good. I hope that every time I’m slipping into a ‘woe is me’ moment, I put myself back to the simplicity of that library porch. Yes, I will be impacted- I will be more humble- I will give back more- I will be kinder- I will have more patience- I will daily appreciate a hot shower and indoor plumbing- I will stop obsessing about my watch- I will remember how little happens on social media in a week- I will drink water out of my tap with joy- I will travel more consciously- I will try to smile as bright as those children at least once a day- I will let things lie more often- I will remember how small the world is- I will keep my eyes open- I will keep my ears open- I will remember Guasumita.
Guasumita is incredibly poor by American standards, and probably by standards of Dominican culture, too, but it’s hard to call the people there poor when you spend time with them. They have so little, but they also make such great use of what they have. In the setting of their village, so many of them seem to thrive. I’m not sure how to reconcile my American perspective on poverty with the apparent contentedness of the people. I don’t want to downplay their circumstances but I also don’t want to assume they’re unhappy or unfortunate because their standard of living doesn’t match mine. I think what I’m going to take from this trip is to be more aware and more understanding. I want to try to be less biased or have less of a privileged American approach to things. So much of the work done on the court was done by the villagers, so it was the people helping themselves, not us coming in to help an unfortunate people.
So much in my life is controlled and comfortable, it was exhilarating to be able to step into a world that seemed so different and to go through a period of uncomfortability to get to a place where you feel almost like part of a family here.
I originally set out to do this trip to cross it off my bucket list because I knew at some point in my four years I wanted to do a service trip and give back in some way, but I’ve come away with so much more. This has been an experience that has taught me so much about myself and others. I’ve met amazing people, both from William and Mary and from the DR, seen amazing things, and experienced a week I will never forget, all on a trip that was meant to benefit others. The people in Guasumita don’t have a lot, but they do live right if sharing has brought me this much joy in seven days, I hope I can live the rest of my life with sharing at the forefront because I know I’ll be a happier person.
Although my family may not have had a lot of money, we always had basic resources such as water. I will leave this trip with a greater appreciation for my life.