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Reflections on Cambiando Vidas

February 17, 2013

In December, I spent a week with fraternity and sorority students in the Dominican Republic. We prepared for the trip for a few months before but no level of work beforehand could have prepared me for the experience we (I) had.

The 13 students I went with wrote beautiful reflections of their experience and prompted me to draft my own reflection of the journey we took. Here is a sample of their words first to share some basics about our time together:

The moment we landed, we passed through the aisle of people watching us as we left the airport. On the bus ride, men would pull themselves into the bus to sell us something. The first night we had dinner with the family and went to a festival with so many unfamiliar faces in literally the middle of nowhere. When we returned to our motel, we found a Dominican policeman armed with a rifle standing outside. The first day on the job site, we ate a chicken that had been killed that morning, and that I typically would never even be able to stomach. In all of these unfamiliar situations, I learned more and more about the culture and people of the Dominican Republic, but I also learned a lot about myself.

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Our first morning on the jobsite tested my limits—passing cement cinder blocks, learning how to build the walls up with mezcla, standing on a very unsteady scaffold while very scared of heights… The day proved to be a test in other ways as well. I found myself feeling sad that a family could live in a house such as Elena and Kiko’s, that the kids didn’t have anything to play with except an old tennis ball and a hula-hoop, and that they lived off of what they could: chickens that pecked around the yard, rice from the fields, and fruit. As the week progressed, though, these feelings of soreness and sadness quickly dissipated.

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Have you ever had an experience when you feel your most absolute, truest, authentic self? When you can feel pure happiness seeping through your skin? When the scream of excitement from a child makes you want to cry because it is so pure? When you pour so much of yourself into something that you do not know how you could ever describe it? I have never wanted more in my life than to be able to articulate and bottle up the experience I had in the Dominican Republic with Cambiando Vidas – and I have never been more at a loss for words. Which is a difficult place to find myself. To hear students talk about personal history, feelings and well, diarrhea has never made me so excited for the potential they have and it’s never made me sadder that this is isolated to so few.

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Early in the semester when our Fraternity and Sorority Life area was a crazy town, we entertained the idea of cancelling the trip due to lack of planning. If we had cancelled it I can’t imagine how one decision could affect so many lives. Where would Keiko and Elana sleep? Where would Jadolin and Kimberley do their homework? Would they be seeking shelter during hurricane season at a local school because their home was unfit to protect them?  While we worked harder than my wildest expectations and built a home in less than one week. I learned more than how to make concreto or dig a ditch. I thought about feeling guilty that I had such an impactful experience over the students but then I read their reflections and knew it wasn’t just me. We all learned about being human, about the word community. It is not simply a group of people living next to each other or claiming the same town or group name; but instead, the process of us coming together, bringing the best version of ourselves to show up, to create, and to heal. Through this process of showing up, simply as we are, we can begin to belong, relate, connect and dwell in possibility.

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