I know this is a lofty statement and you’re probably thinking this is another classic clickbait title article. “VoLUnTeeRiNG ChAnGed YoUr LiFE. Pssssh okay.” But hold on, I’m serious! Just keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
A little over one week ago on June 16th, I returned home from the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, I stayed about 5 hours outside of the capitol, Santo Domingo, in a small town called Derrumbadero. I traveled with the non-profit organization, Bridges to Community, to help build a new house for a local family. Read more about the purpose of my trip in my last post, Giving Back in San Juan, Dominican Republic. In that article I lay out why the work we did was so impactful.
First, I’m going to start off with a little bit of background on the entire experience, details about working with Bridges to Community, and then I’ll get into the nitty gritty of how this experience had such a profound impact on my life.
What A Trip is Like With Bridges to Community
I flew into Santo Domingo and got picked up by two Bridges staff members at the airport. I met up with the rest of my group at the super cute, historic Doña Elvira hotel. I stayed in the Habitación Fernando room with two of the other volunteers.
After settling in, we went for dinner next door and headed to bed. The next morning we went for a tour of Santo Domingo before heading off to Derrumbadero. We saw old churches and hospitals, Christopher Colombus’ castle, the French Embassy, museums, and more.
After arriving in Derrumbadero, we ate dinner at a local woman’s house who would be serving us all of our meals for the rest of the week. We ate lots of rice dishes, eggs, plantains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and once or twice the group had fish or chicken available for dinner.
Our accommodations were modest due to the lack of resources in Derrumbadero. We stayed in the town hall/mayor’s office which they converted into living space for our group. We slept in bunk beds with bug nets to keep any mosquitoes away. The bathrooms were behind the building and because there is no running water in the town, we had to take bucket showers. It was necessary for us to use our water sparingly because with a large group, the available water ran out pretty quickly. When it did run out, Bridges’ staff members had to go find some in nearby towns. Because our group only drank and bathed with purified water, this was not the easiest task. Although it was not the most luxurious experience, it got the job done.
The next morning we immediately began work on the soon-to-be Medina family home. It started as a few stakes in the ground and after four straight days of construction work, lifting and cutting wood, mixing and pouring cement, painting, hammering and more in the sun and dirt, we ended with a complete, four-room home for the six-person Medina family. Although it is small, it is a major upgrade from their prior home. Their old roof was no match for any change in weather. When it rained, even just a little bit, all of the water would run through the house. They had dirt floors and no privacy. This new, safe, functional and beautiful home is a major blessing for the family.
We even helped start on another home two houses down and helped clear the road of rocks and dirt for it to finally be paved!
On top of our construction work everyday, the church group we assimilated with from Derry, Pennsylvania conducted Bible study and gave the kids of the community arts and crafts to participate in at the youth center. The Derry church group came so prepared, they even brought reading glasses for anyone who needed them, candy for the kids to eat, and more.
On our last day in Derrumbadero, Bridges organized a party for us and the kids of the community at our local hostess’ house. The kids had such a blast and so did I. It was a bittersweet evening knowing we were departing the next morning.
How This Experience Changed My Life
Since being back in New York, I was feeling extremely emotionally tired. All I wanted was a hug and for the first few days I couldn’t figure out why. I thought maybe it was just draining to be back in my normal 9-5 work routine. But, I realized that it’s more than that.
Being in Derrumbadero and helping to change a community’s life while simultaneously soaking up every single cultural experience – whether that be dancing at night in the streets to bachata and salsa with the shop owner of the town’s general store, immersing myself in the language in order to pick up as much Spanish as I could, playing with the kids after bible study, or even just learning about the effects of poverty and global warming on the country – made me have much deeper and more meaningful experiences than I do in my regular day to day routine. I made myself drink in every drop of what I was sensing and I’m not used to that on a consistent basis. Being down there was a highly emotional experience and I needed time to cope with all of it.
Now that a little over a week has passed by, I have slowly managed to feel more normal again. But what’s changed is that I have accepted that I’m passionate about helping others. That is one of the things that makes me happiest in life. I have known this about myself since I was young. For example, when I first learned about the benefits of recycling, I made my household actively separate our trash from our recyclables. I used to get so upset when I would see plastic or other recyclable materials in the trash bin. I even put signs on our refrigerator saying which items were recyclable and how to do it properly, as well as which items were compostable and which were for the trash bin.
These things bother me so much because it doesn’t make sense to me how the crippling environmental issues we experience even exist in the form they do today. If everyone did their own small part to be conscious about how they personally affect the world around them, none of these issues would even be a thing. I know that just holding yourself accountable for your actions won’t solve all of the problems of the world, but we would definitely be in a much better position than we currently are.
People always say to follow your dreams and to do what you’re passionate about so that each day you will wake up loving what you do. I know that often it takes a few (or even a lot) of stepping stones to get to the point where you can responsibly do that, and I’m definitely on that path, but I feel like this trip gave me more perspective on one of my personal passions. If this is something that has – since I was very young – been a devotion of mine, why not take it seriously? Why not pursue it further and see where it takes me?
I would be remiss to ignore something that God put in my heart so deeply, especially when it’s been there for so long. So as I continue to figure out my path, I will keep this passion as a point of intention for me and I will continue to seek out truth in my other passions as well.
Thank you, Derrumbadero, for showing me the face of humanity. Thank you for giving me direction in my own life’s path. Thank you for spreading love in a way no other country or culture can. And finally, thank you for allowing me to help bless the Medina family.
One thought on “How Volunteering in the Dominican Republic Changed My Life”
Such an eye opening reminder of humanity at its simplest. Loved this post! You’re absolutely right we all need to do our part.