Sunday, December 21, 2014

4 Things The Campo Taught Me

4 lessons learned in the campo

1.  Poverty
Before my Campo immersion, I saw people experiencing poverty as individuals who had much less than me and were therefore unhappy or unfulfilled. Living in the Campo completely changed my view of “the poor”. People may be considered “poor” because they lack material things, but I found that they are very rich in other aspects of their life. I felt that the people I met in the Campo had much deeper relationships with their families and community. I also felt that their faith was much stronger and richer than mine. It made me think, who are "the poor"? Are they the people who lack material wealth? Or could they actually be the people who lack relationships with others and self-awareness? 

2. Water
Since high school, I’ve heard many people talk about the issues with access to water. Many times statistics are thrown at us about how many people don’t have access to water. It was not until I was living with people who have very limited access to water that this issue became something I could start to understand. I had never thought about how necessary water is for the daily function of a household. I found myself constantly worried about how much water I was using. I would rarely wash my hands and sometimes avoided brushing my teeth. It really hit home one day when my family asked me to bathe in the river because of their severe lack of water for even drinking and cooking.  The people in the campo were not even working for clean filtered and treated water; they simply just wanted water. Suddenly the statistics I had heard for years had faces behind them, and the shear greatness of the numbers now overwhelms me.

3.  Plastic Chair” Culture
Plastic patio-style chairs are everywhere in the Dominican Republic. I did not realize the significance of the plastic chairs until living with my family in the Campo. Wherever I went around in the campo, I would always be offered a plastic chair to sit in. When people would come visit my family’s house they were also immediately offered a chair. This was a culture I was not used to, but I loved it. Unlike the culture in the United States, people will rarely say more than a simple “hello” to an acquaintance or casual friend and if they do, they ask how they are doing in a matter of 20 seconds. When people greet each other in the campo they spend at least a few minutes to stop and talk. People are much less concerned about time and instead value the relationships with others much more.  For me the plastic chairs were symbolic of the people’s desire here to spend time together. I hope to take this part of their culture back with me and implement it in my life.

4. Unconditional Love

 While living in the Campo I experienced an incredible amount of unconditional love from my host family and the community as a whole. From the moment we stepped out of they bus they applauded and showered us with love. Despite the fact that we interrupted their lives and invaded their homes, they constantly showed us love. They would prepare us their favorite desserts or fruits. They wanted to teach us everything they knew, whether it was digging, cutting fruits, cooking rice, milking cows, or riding horses. They shared so much of their lives with us. I have never been shown this kind of love from complete strangers. The campesinos gave their whole-selves to us. They taught me that it is possible to show unconditional love to anyone, even the people we do not know. 

Clarita, Comunidad 18

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In Their Eyes

People avert their eyes from things that are uncomfortable or out of the ordinary. I feel that this was glaringly true as I reflect on the first time I visited CONANI.  Looking in from the street, one wouldn’t know what is behind the thick bars that resemble a prison. This street filled with restaurants, shops, and food karts galore is home to children who have no house to call their own. They are hidden from the street, confined to cribs behind locked doors.

However, contrary to the desolate appearance to a passersby, those who venture inside are greeted with the most precious smiles and biggest bear hugs. These sweet kids are overflowing with love, but rarely get the opportunity to share it. My first day at CONANI I felt that I had found my home for the next four months. I had heard about CONANI from previous Encuentro students and I always thought I would choose it as my service site as well. However, I didn’t want to blindly pick it before I weighed the pros and cons of the other sites; but when I walked through the doors I just knew. I shared a moment with sweet little Elizabeth and with teary eyes, I heard God whisper to me that I needed to love these kids because they are His. I am so thankful for the opportunity to love on these kids, but it definitely isn’t a modest mission. I have quickly learned there is a great deal of heartache that stems from deeply rooted issues of justice, quality of life, and the basic human need for love.

Justice is defined in the dictionary as “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” I think that the word justice is often casually advocated but not actively acted upon, especially in such instances as the living situation at CONANI. Justice to me is simply treating others the way you want to be treated. Seeing these children covered in unidentifiable bodily fluids, rarely getting their diapers changed and left as though untouchable in their cribs day after day is not doing them justice. Human beings need interaction, affection and nurturing. Looking into these children’s faces, I see my reflection in their eyes and can’t help but put myself in their position. If I were to ever find myself in their condition, I would hope and pray that I would have people surrounding me who love me and would want to fulfill such basic needs as I mentioned. More often than not, these children are left in their cribs staring with distant eyes, lying lifeless in soiled clothes, because their caregivers fail to see their constant yearn for affection.
In just the few days I have been blessed to spend with these kids, I have seen in their eyes their gusto for life when given the chance to live. We took a few of the bed-ridden children outside to play and the joy that ensued was precious. The little things in life are truly the biggest blessings: having a hand to hold, a partner to dance with or someone to embrace you closely. I am too blessed to be able to share these moments with these children in the few hours I am there each week.

Although I am renewed by the slightest bit of hope I can offer these kids, I can see how their caregivers are defeated by the children’s seemingly hopeless conditions. They spend each day surrounded by children that are not their own and who have serious health conditions that will most likely stay with them for the rest of their lives with little to no improvement. It is easy to get caught up in the hopelessness of the situation, but I try to hang on to hope and linger in the moments of joy. It is discouraging to think that despite our efforts during this semester that as soon as we leave the children will no longer be stimulated in the ways we have implemented. All things considered, I will choose to love each time I enter the gate and offer all that I can in the time I have with these precious lives because all people are born with integrity and inherent justice.

Steph Sehon, Comunidad 18 

10 Suggestions for Students of Encuentro Dominicano

1.  Get to know the people in your comunidad.  You will experience so much throughout this semester.  Your fellow comunidad members may be the only ones who will be able to fully understand what you went through when you return home.  Build your relationships so you can trust and support one another, you’ll be happy you did!

2.   Don’t be shy about using your Spanish. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself; stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to improve your Spanish.  Go out of your way to practice your Spanish whenever you can.  The people who do this will end up improving the most throughout the course of the year.

3.  Make friends with the workers at ILAC! The drivers, the gardeners, the cooks, everyone! The ILAC staff is great and they’ll all be there throughout your entire experience.  Talking with the workers is also a great way to practice your Spanish.

4.   Play volleyball! Playing volleyball every weekday at 5 is a great way to get to know the workers and get some exercise.  The ILAC staff gets really into it, especially JJ.

5.  Make friends Santiago. Santiago is your new home, so make the best of it! Making friends with people in the city is a great way to experience the culture and learn about the popular things to do/places to visit within the city.  We’d also recommend reaching out the PUCMM students; they are super friendly and welcoming.

6.  Download whatsapp! Make sure to do this before coming to the country because it often will not let you download it unless you are in your home country. Many Dominicans use the app as a means of communication.

7.   Travel. Although it may seem scary in a new country, now is your time to step out of your comfort zone and be independent.  There is so much to see and do in the DR. Fit in as much as you can with the time that you have!

8.  Climb Pico Duarte.  Mountain climbing may not be everyone’s thing, but is a great way to come together as a group for some serious bonding.  Rain or shine (or hail!), it’s worth it and it’s an Encuentro tradition!

9. Explore ILAC. Sometimes with all the school work and studying, we got sick of being in the same place for so.  Taking study breaks and exploring ILAC is a great way to get a change of scenery.  Grab a snack from the Colmado and eat it on the roof.  Or grab a friend and head to one of the track kiosks for a study break.

10. Go dancing. Santiago has a fun nightlife scene! Dancing is a big part of the culture and definitely something you don’t want to miss out on!

Dani Grobeck, Comunidad 18 

Spanish Immersion Classes

The Encuentro Dominicano program is equipped with the resources for all of the students to learn conversational Dominican Spanish. The program is lucky to have Professor Edwin Paniagua as the instructor for all the Spanish classes. He is a an established Spanish language and literature professor at a local university as well as a published author. 

Each class he instructs on ILAC is individually structured for the Encuentro students current knowledge. The approach he uses to teach the classes are excellent for learning how to emerge yourself in conversation with people you will meet while traveling as well as making connections with host families and friends in the campo. 

A fun aspect of his class is learning the Dominican slang. From personal experience it is a satisfying feeling to have real life progress of comprehension and a widened rang of vocabulary to select from while in conversing in Spanish. Everything I learned in his Spanish class was definitely helpful and I use in my daily life here in the DR. 

Comunidad 18 member

Hiking Pico Duarte

The day after returning from the campo we began another incredible adventure. For three days, we were to climb Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. We bought all of our food and climbed in the taxi at 4:15 AM. We drove two hours to the base and met three genuine men that we would be spending the next few days with. They packed up all of the gear onto horses and mules and we began our first 10-hour day! 
It was very step trail and definitely harder than expected. We had no idea what was coming for us! About 6 hours into our climb the skies darkened and clouds moved in fast. Within minutes the rain began to drizzle and all of the sudden it was pounding down on us. Then it began to hail - hail the size of large pebbles that battered our heads and left welts and bruises on our bare legs. The mountain began to flood and our path became a little - but powerful - stream. We were completely soaked through; our boots full of water and our legs and toes going numb. Amongst all the chaos and torrential storm, I ironically found peace. 
We picked up our climbing pace and I kept ahead and to myself, allowing my mind and body to embrace the storm’s energy and chill. I think my peace came from the realization that I couldn’t do anything to improve the situation and it wasn’t worth fretting about. The only option was to continue forward to our base that we anticipated was just a few hours ahead. (Little did we know we still had about four hours coming.)
Slowly the hail stopped but the rain didn’t let up for a few more hours. Later, we come to find out that a hurricane had just hit the Dominican Republic; hence the torrential hail and rain. The thing we didn’t understand about our trip to the actually mountain of Pico Duarte was that we weren’t only summiting one mountain - we were continuously ascending and descending mountains, each a hike of their own. We had to venture through the mountain range to actually reach the famous peak.
We eventually reached the actual base of the peak around 5 PM and were welcomed by our already arrived horses and soaked sleeping bags and clothing. We put on what was relatively driest and stood by the fire bringing back up our body temperatures. We held up all of our sleeping bags and clothing in front of the fire for the next few hours and our patient guides cooked us a warm and filling meal. They casually smirked at how unprepared and inexperienced we were. Still, I conversed with them in my recently improved Spanish the rest of the night and began developing friendships. We set a fire in our little cabin and all squeezed close on our cold wood floor, shivering in our still damp sleeping bags.
The rest of the trip was much more enjoyable for we peaked the next day. We were high above the clouds and could see the miles of mountains we had climbed through. We came back down to our base and had a much more restful night. The second night was a lot less cold for our sleeping bags and clothing had dried that day. We still slept all in a row and Steph and I zipped our sleeping bags together in order to increase the body heat! It was very successful!

The following day we began our descent around 6 AM and made it down to our starting point around 3 PM. Thankfully, our faithful friend and taxi driver, Big Luis was there ready to take us home. Overall it was a very successful journey of severe body odor, torrential storms, wet clothing and a never-ending mountain range.

Delaney Effeldt, Comunidad 18 

Service site: Caritas

Every Monday and Wednesday, my service partner and I spend two hours at an afterschool program called Caritas Licey. There, kids from lower-income backgrounds who live in the neighborhood can come to get lunch. It is run by a group of nuns who teach the kids crafts and lessons on theology. My partner and I contribute by teaching English lessons and bringing different crafts to do with the kids. Some days we will teach them songs or play games with them in English. Other days, we will do origami or color with them. Then, we help the Sisters serve lunch to the kids.

There have been some very challenging things about volunteering at Caritas Licey. It’s hard hearing about the difficult situations that the kids face. Many of them are from lower-income homes and their family lives are not always the best. It can be challenging to teach sometimes because the kids are misbehaving during our lessons. Sometimes it would be difficult to get through a lesson because they were distracted or fighting with each other. I have also learned a lot of discouraging things about the education system here in the Dominican Republic. For example, most kids only go to school for about four hours a day and many drop out early.

Overall, though, I had a great experience with these kids and the nuns we worked with. It was always great to go to service and find that the kids were excited that we were there and to see what we had planned for the day. Most days they would get really into the crafts we had prepared and the games we played to teach them words in English.

The kids and the Sisters taught me many things that I hope to bring with me when I go back home. They taught me to be creative; for example, the kids did not have many craft supplies, so we would usually have to be very creative with the materials that we used. We would bring toilet paper rolls, soda pop bottles, and egg cartons from the kitchen. They also taught me about simplicity; it did not take much to entertain them. They were perfectly content playing marbles with us or sitting down and coloring for thirty minutes.

I am glad that I was at this service site because it challenged me in new ways, but it was also just really fun. I hope I always remember the kids at Caritas and the things I learned while serving there.

Comunidad 18 member