Hello! This is Nat and Sarah speaking! Throughout this semester, we have been blessed to be able to spend time with, teach, and love hundreds of children at our service site: The school of Santa Lucia in Cien Fuegos. Cien Fuegos is an urban slum right outside of Santiago where many families are living in poverty and searching for jobs to provide for themselves and their families. You can obviously see the poverty all around you wherever you go here, but meeting and loving the children that live in it brings poverty to a whole other level.
Every Monday and Wednesday we would go to the school for three hours and attempted to teach some English. Little did we know, this task would be a lot more difficult than it sounded. In the beginning of the semester, Sarah saw a statistic that stated that primary education in the Dominican Republic is rated 140th out of 142. We have unfortunately seen this statistic become a reality throughout this semester. At Santa Lucia, most of the teachers are indifferent to being an educator, the children are more concerned with fighting than learning, the school lacks proper facilities such as a bathroom, and pencil sharpeners and other random necessities are nowhere to be found. The children have so much potential but there is a lack of concentration and mental focus, making it hard to succeed. When they are punished for their lack of attentiveness, they are hit and yelled at. Education is such a valuable asset and we seem to take this for granted in the United States. Here in the Dominican Republic, good education is unfortunately a privilege, and is commonly the only avenue out of poverty. It is disheartening to see little to no progress in the education of these wonderful children because we understand why their learning is crucial.
Another frustration that we encountered was the realization that coming to the school to teach English two days a week was not enough for the children to remember and learn anything. There was no repetition, practice, homework, or quizzes, and we would go to a different classroom every week. We finally understood that our purpose at Santa Lucia was to focus on loving the kids around us, forming relationships with them, and showing them how much they are worth. These relationships enabled us to encourage the children to work hard in school, behave, and always work to the best of their abilities. Our time with these amazing individuals helped us realize that our mission at our service site was not only to teach a tiny bit of English to the kids, but to also create bonds that will last a lifetime.
Encuentro Dominicano has been an amazing experience for us, and we have learned so much. One of the main ideas from the Dominican Republic that will stick with us throughout our lives is the concept of being with those you are serving as opposed to simply looking for an idealistic end. By serving in this manner, you receive more love than given, and this type of love is irreplaceable. Through the school, the campos, and throughout our time in the Dominican Republic we have experienced this love, which only makes us hungry for more. We are very blessed and grateful to have formed relationships with so many wonderful people, and we wish we could spread this love in a similar way.