Friday, July 8, 2011
Alternative Spring Break in the Dominican Republic
Written By: Angel Garcia
As a Latino in the field, community service is a lifestyle. It is also seen as a key experiential learning component for colleges and universities. I would like to share a personally rewarding and inspiring experience: Dominican Republic 2011: Cambiando Vidas in Lavapie. (Translation: Changing Lives in Lavapie)
For the first time in my professional career, I had the opportunity to participate in an Alternative Spring Break Trip. Dominican Republic was the site, and Cambiando Vidas our community partner. Cambiando Vidas is an organization whose mission is to provide housing to the poor neighboring communities of San Juan de la Maguana in Dominican Republic including communities such as Lavapie and Las Charcas. Cambiando Vidas is an Elon University community partner through the Kernodle Center for Community Service.
Our mission was to build a house in five days for Luisa, a single mother of two young daughters. As any other project, the trip’s preparation was a key element for its success. Student coordinators did a phenomenal job preparing the trip by being inclusive. Every student had a part preparing for the trip. Groups were made and given the task to study and research the culture of the Dominican Republic; politics, food, weather, and language were some of the topics that the groups studied.
From the moment we arrived in the Dominican Republic, student’s experienced overwhelming hospitality provided by our local guide, Jose. Pepo, as he is known, was our guide and he is also the founder of Cambiando Vidas. We took a three hours bus ride from Santo Domingo to San Juan de la Maguana. During the drive, Pepo talked to all the students giving an overview of the trip, and thanking the students for their participation. We arrived at the hotel in San Juan at 11pm; seventeen hours after first beginning our journey on a plane in Charlotte.
Each of the five days was hard worked but enjoyed. Every day, we had breakfast at 7am and started working at 8am. We took a 15 minute ride, and on our way to the community, we drove by rice fields, sweet potato’s fields, and the scenery was spectacular. San Juan is surrounded by mountains so the weather during mornings and nights is very pleasant. Our first day at the site, we were able to experience the sense of community in Lavapie. Each day, about twenty community members, joined forces to build the house; Luisa and her two daughters included. We all shared jobs, asked for help, laughed together, and after five hard working days, Luisa’s dream of owning a house came true: two bedrooms, one bathroom, six hundred square foot house. But, size didn’t matter. What was importance was the service provided for and by the community and the experience shared those five days.
When I think of community service, I think about giving, sharing,learning and reflecting.
Giving: seeing the community of Lavapie come together and help each other without expecting things in return was a very admirable and inspiring experience. Community members worked for one or two hours and then returned to their daily lives. But those two hours were hard-working and full of joy. Students noticed that each day, there were new people and each day was a new adventure for them. Daily, students wanted to match the efficacy shown by the community members, and it soon became a friendly competition among the groups to see who helped the most. We were all supervised by professionals of course. Ultimately, it was a team effort. I recall forming assembly lines during concrete pouring and stacking up the blocks, and even when it was about 95 degrees outside, everyone had lots of fun.
Sharing & Learning: as a Latino advisor for a group of American citizens, it was essential for students to learn as much as possible from the experience and the Dominican culture. This learning outcome was easily achieved due to the community’s hospitality and friendliness, and the students’ willingness to share and learn. Students were learning and practicing Spanish through conversation and, at the same time, teaching English. The fun and outgoing Dominicans were teaching students to dance Merengue and Bachata. Lunch was, in my opinion, the most valuable learning experience during this trip. It brought up the concept of familia or familismo, which Latin cultures are known for. The kitchen where lunch was made consisted of a few stones and wood; but the flavor, simply remarkable. The community as a whole came together during lunch and simply enjoyed an hour of peace and deserved rest. Enjoying each others’ company, the whole community and students talked and joked around as if we knew each other for years.
Reflection: Before going to bed, we would come together and reflect on our workday. What did we do, what did we learn, what we liked the most and the least, etc. But, the most important part of our conversation took place when we talked about what we were going to do after this trip. If possible, we wanted to come back to Dominican Republic and continue to help the community. But, we also talked about the communities within the U.S. that could benefit from our service.
Acknowledging my own Latino heritage, I find a desire to help communities such as Lavapie every chance I get, or at least try to help. But I know that, by keeping in touch with them via facebook, our friendship will continue to strengthen. Ultimately, I don’t believe that service is a onetime type of event. I believe that the goal and meaning of community service should be to become agents of change for the development of our communities. The success of community service depends on what we do after the initial act; after the trip, after philanthropy, after the clean-up, after building a house. We have to weigh the outcomes of our service however, and make sure that we are maximizing our efforts while also maximizing our resources.
About the Author:
Angel Garcia is an Assistant Director of Residence Life (East Area) at Elon University. He earned her master’s degree in College Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University (’10) and her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University (’08).