“Bienvenido a la Republica Dominicana!” were the first words I heard after disembarking my 6:00 am flight. It was the start of spring break my senior year of college, and instead of joining my friends on a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, I opted for an alternative spring break trip coordinated through Stonehill College’s Campus Ministry.
You are probably wondering why I would ever pass up the opportunity to partake in the exciting, all-inclusive, "ideal" spring break trip to Acapulco. To be honest, I am not sure why I chose an alternative trip. I must have asked myself that question a hundred times before departing for the Dominican Republic. I guess I thought that there was a better way to spend my weeklong vacation. This was the first time Stonehill offered a trip to the Dominican Republic, and it sounded like a great opportunity to travel and practice my Spanish while helping those less fortunate.
After a few months of getting to know my traveling companions, making sure I had the necessary vaccinations, learning where (sadly) the DR was located, and some second-guessing of my decision to go, it was time to leave. While my housemates were packing their bikinis, sunscreen, and flip-flops, I was searching for outfits that covered both my knees and shoulders (so as not to offend the local population), finding my Spanish/English dictionary, and secretly questioning my decision to volunteer abroad.
My group volunteered at Hogar del Nino, an incredible institution dedicated to helping the children in an area called La Romana. On the first day, we were joined by an eager-to-help group of teenagers from the school that was just as curious about us as we were about them. As one of the more comfortable Spanish speakers of our group, I felt extremely fortunate to be able to communicate with the Dominicans, and I made many friends by offering to interpret. Among our tasks that week were sanding, staining, and painting five wooden outdoor playgrounds and over one hundred infant cribs. We also repainted a number of faded murals inside the school, planted shrubbery, and organized various crafts and activities for the children.
Our spare time was spent visiting some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and eating delicious raw sugar cane. Alternatively, we were also exposed to the most extreme poverty I've ever witnessed.
As it turns out, I didn't need to second-guess my decision to volunteer. The trip was amazing and it was the best spring break of my four years in college. To say that time spent away from our "work" at Hogar del Nino was a relief would be untrue. We all enjoyed working, even if it was physical labor over our vacation.