Stories from our international boarding schools

The Dominican Republic through a different lens

It was a privilege to chaperone this group of students on a spring break service trip to the Dominican Republic. While we had the opportunity to tour the colonial center of Santo Domingo, the sand dunes of Baní, and the beaches of Juan Dolio, much of our time was spent in the rural communities of Derrumbadero and Caimonial, located in the mountain valleys of the San Juan Province, near the border of Haiti. Working with the non-profit organization Bridges to Community, our mission of the trip was to build a home for a local family living in extreme poverty.

Our days started at 6:30 AM, and included 7 to 8 hours of intense outdoor labor, followed by nightly reflections on both the living conditions and problems faced within the community, as well as self-reflection. We were challenged both physically and emotionally. We not only learned how to build a home, we learned a lot about ourselves. We became a team, and we supported each other daily. The students gave up their time, and a great deal of energy, to support a family and a community that they didn’t even know. Most volunteer groups don’t finish a house before they leave – we not only finished the house, we also added (and poured) a concrete floor!

I have never been so proud, so inspired, and so impressed by a group of young adults than I was on this journey. They were exemplary volunteers, and they are our leaders of tomorrow. Thank you for an amazing trip, and an unforgettable experience!

-Robert Behrens

“We are gonna be best friends” was the first thing that she said to me after I introduced myself. Samanta is 6 years old and she is a kid that I will never forget. Being able to interact with a lot of amazing and bright children in the Dominican Republic has made me more certain of the path I want to follow in life and made my heart grow bigger. The love and affection I got from the children were unexplainable and I will never forget the way that they hugged me and thanked me for what I was doing. I thanked them for making me feel the happiest I had felt in a long time and told them to continue being the sweetest kids that they were. Hopefully, next year I will keep my promise to them and go back to the DR to play with them and see the most honest smiles I had seen once again.

– Natália Naomi

For me, this picture means a lot. It shows our excitement for arriving at Derrumbadero and building a house. Although we had spent two days visiting touristy and beautiful places, we knew what we had traveled to DR for: contributing to something as big as making a home for a family. Don’t get me wrong, the sunny beaches and meals by the shore were more than alright, but our willingness to do anything we could to give back to the community surpassed every gorgeous Caribbean landscape possible.

– María Chávarri

Five days – that’s what it took us to build a house, to help one family, and to understand the people. We got there with zero knowledge of how to build a house, but after five days we built the structure that you see in the picture. The local people that helped us to finish the house were so welcoming and made this project a reality as much as we did. My goal for this trip was to help the community there, meet new people and learn how they live their life, and also to learn something new about myself. I did all of these things and even more. This experience was unbelievable and one of the most meaningful things I have done in my life, and I hope I will have a chance to do it again.

– Gonie Weinstock 

“Mi nombre es Minh.

Tengo diecisiete años.

Soy de Vietnam.”

I faced a lot of disagreements from family and friends before committing to go on this service trip in DR. However, after 9 days on the trip, I’m now confident to tell everyone that this is one of the most valuable decisions I’ve made in my last year of high school. The trip was not only a remarkable experience, but I also learned countless lessons about both physical work and life appreciation. Furthermore, Bridges to Community was my “bridge” to some of the most significant friendships of mine. I’m so glad I made the decision to join this wonderful experience.

– Minh Dam  

The Dominican Republic is a very “real” country. I can see the rich people enjoy the sunshine and the beaches, and I can see the poor people work hard for their life every day. In its capital, I can see many kinds of good cars and the super luxury hotels. But in other places, just one hundred kilometers away, the towns have a lot of people that don’t even earn $100 in a month. I never thought that the gap between rich and poor in this small country could be so large.

 – Zekun Li 

“Why am I here?” was the first question that I asked myself on the first day that I reached the worksite. Maybe someone will take this question as introspective thinking, but I was only complaining. I consider myself a chill person, but definitely not a sympathetic person. I never put myself in other’s shoes. However, my great team members changed my thinking in only five days, because they taught me how powerful teamwork is. After every workday, we always had two hours of reflection time. This activity was amazing. By amazing, I mean that it improves you from every perspective of life, the way that you perceive things and people, the way that you think and reflect. What I immensely enjoyed were the interactions and reflections among my fantastic team members. These two hours were what I looked forward to the most every day in the middle of nowhere, with no hot water, no proper food, no internet and no modern life. But I saw the most beautiful starry night that I have ever seen, the most earnest people I have ever met and the most challenging life I have ever lived. I thought that this trip would make me appreciate more what I have, and it is true.

– Xia Ni 

This is and will be one of the most memorable journeys in my life. I’ve done so many things for the first time in the past nine days: visiting Latin America, standing on a dreamy beach, jumping into the water from the boat, using an old typewriter found in the dorm, stargazing, being a travel photographer, meeting people with such passion and optimism… Most importantly, it’s my first time to help a local community and participate in building a house. It’s a journey about exploring, being thankful, and cherishing. If I have the chance to go again, I’ll take it without hesitation.

– Qiankuan Yang 

If you ask me “What was the most exciting moment in this trip?” I will definitely say that it was the time spent with these kids every afternoon. I still remember the room surrounded by children every day after working in the community. They were so curious about us, and they tried very hard to talk to us. Language was obviously a barrier for the members that don’t speak Spanish. Often, I was translating from English to Spanish, and the most surprising thing was that every time I was translating something, the kids were able to understand through my body language. The time spent with them talking about their lives was very impressive, and most importantly, it is going to be a part of my life that I will never forget.

– Hui Ni (Giada) 

This picture is definitely not the most imposing picture you will find on blog posts or on Instagram. Nobody is paying attention to the camera, as everybody is busy doing their own work. However, I still think that this is the perfect representation of our trip: cooperation. We started from the very bottom with few wooden poles, but we were able to reach the top, complete construction of a house, because everybody contributed in the best way they could. Some, who were less capable of hammering, gave a life to the house by painting while some enjoyed laying out the foundation or hammering walls. When various talents and ideas were contributing to one goal, the whole process went so smoothly. Even when we were separated and could not give credit to each other at the moment, everyone carried out a task in their spot, which all built up and shined together through the completion of the house. I want to thank the whole team for restoring my faith in teamwork and for gratifying me with memories, laughter and lessons that I do not dare to forget.

 Yejin Hwang (Lana) 

The people from the community made me feel as though I was part of their family. Dagoberto, Domingo, Romero, Victor, they were such amazing mentors to get us into the work. Their patience and open-mindedness impressed me so much, and because we were willing to work hard to accomplish the task, we all built a strong relationship. The kids from the community brought me flowers every day and the family used to prepare “special meals for the hard workers”. Then I noticed something: Even if they did not have so much to give and they barely knew us, they would still share their little amount of resources so lovingly with us. Their humbleness and kindness struck me deeply, making me reflect about my life. I learned to be more grateful for the life that my parents have worked to give me and that it was a privilege to be helping such humble people like the people at Derrumbadero. I shared all my thoughts with my friends in the group, making the reflection sessions unforgettable. After finishing the house, I got the strange feeling of wanting to start again – the feelings, the experience, everything. Afterwards, the owner of the house approached me and told me, “You should come back to Derrumbadero. You built my house; this house is your home now. Come back whenever you want, I would be delighted if you could stay one night here, with us.” In addition to taking a bunch of flowers home from this trip, I have taken valuable friendships and memories, smiles and tears and so much love from the humble people from Derrumbadero. I will never forget this experience, because everything on this trip made an incredibly significant mark on my heart that will never erase.

– Gabino Eduardo Martínez Díaz 

Romero, one of our guides, was one of the most cheerful and welcoming people I have ever met. During the week, he taught me many different life skills, like hammering and cutting wood to be specific. He gave me a new perspective just by being there. One moment I most reminisce about is one on the last day of construction, he and I had been working the whole morning on construction and we had stopped for a break. He went to get breakfast and me separately, he then he gave me some of his own breakfast. We sat in the sun and broke some bread.

– Jongsuk Rim (Remy) 

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