In March of 2012, I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic that proved to be one of the most memorable and life changing trips I've experienced. Some days I feel strangely heartbroken and confused that I'm no longer in Barahona, because all I want to do is be back in the hot Caribbean sun playing with adorable kids and saving the world one day at a time. Not only did I grow incredibly attached to the encouraging group of people I worked with as well as the darling Dominican children, but I also learned a substantial amount about myself and who I am in my faith. This trip brought about so much clarity and opportunities for self-actualization, and quite frankly, it was incredibly difficult to return to reality after coming home. Spending ten days away from technology, material possessions and external stressors was truly revitalizing.
I stepped outside of my comfort zone in so many ways on this trip. I was incredibly taken aback how I, the girliest of girls, was able to do construction and have fun working on cement floors. I felt so much joy while serving and being readily available to help out. Neighborhoods of loving people now have drastically improved living conditions thanks to our hard work, and that astounds me. Not only was it surprisingly enjoyable partaking in vigorous manual labor, but I also had the time of my life getting to know the members of the community. Thanks to my completed Spanish major and gringo-fluency, I was able to get to know the village's elders as well as the children. One of the adults that worked alongside us at Children of the Nations taught me about the Dominican Republic's traditions, like Semana Santa, birthdays and Carnaval. In Los Robles (one of the town's villages), a mother and grandmother of one of the kids I was playing with spent quality time getting to know me and asking about my family, and were eager to inquire why I'm not married or have 5 kids. I enjoyed every minute of playing tag and letting the Dominican niños braid my hair, but getting to know other members of the community was a moving experience for me. Not only did it reassure me that my knowledge of Spanish hasn't gone to waste, but it also allowed me to learn more about the culture that we came to serve.
I undoubtedly fell in love with all of the kids in the bateys of Barahona. They are not only adorable and incredibly lovable, but they are also so unconditionally joyful despite their disadvantaged living conditions. It's evident that they look forward to when "the Americans" visit, for they are anxious to claim their "amigo americano" the minute we step off of the bus. Whether they want us to give them piggyback rides, let them braid our hair or just hug us and hold our hand, they love they show us immeasurable.
When we weren't doing construction or playing endless games of tag with the niños, we watched baseball and softball, swam in the majestic Caribbean sea, basked in the sun at the beach and at the pool at Casa Betesda, indulged on succulent pineapple, strong coffee and a lifetime's worth of beans and rice, watched breathtaking sunrises, stargazed on the beach, played intense games of Uno, and cultivated strong relationships with one another. From the strong sense of community to the epic adventures and memories, I can honestly say that my time in Barahona was one of the best weeks of my life. It was all truly incredible, and I wish more than anything that I could go back and experience it all over again.