Since I’ve been home from my week in the Dominican Republic, I’ve been asked, “was it what you expected?”, and I can honestly say both yes and no to this question. While the videos and pictures I had seen prepared me for the visual aspects of the trip, there truly is nothing that could have properly prepared me for the reality check that I would experience. I certainly expected the extreme poverty, with people living in makeshift homes, wearing the same battered clothing day after day, but I was in no way expecting to encounter the types of people who lived in Batey 50. These were some of the friendliest, most kindhearted and grateful people I have ever met, yet they have nearly nothing to their name. The kids were particularly amazing to me- taking shovels from our hands when we seemed tired, begging us to let them help push wheelbarrows full of rocks, all while smiling the entire time. Never once did I hear a child complain about their condition; I only heard them ask to help us help them. And they never gave up hope that things would get better for them. It made me realize how ironic it is that the people who have nothing are the most thankful for what they do have, while people who have more than these people ever will in one lifetime can still find things to be unhappy about. Now, every time I find myself wanting to complain about something, I think about the people of Batey 50 and I stop myself. If these people can’t find anything to complain about then why should I?
Every day our school bus was greeted with smiles and waving hands as we pulled into Batey 50. Every person who walked by me greeted me with “hola”, and a smile. Right before my eyes, people who had once been complete strangers from a different part of the world became familiar faces. I was thousands of miles away from home in a foreign country with people who I had met only a few days prior, yet there was not one moment when I felt uncomfortable. There is something about the feeling of comradery in Batey 50 that is contagious to anyone who enters it. I truly felt as though I was making a difference in the lives of these people, because we were able to connect with each other so quickly. But little did they know, they were impacting our lives more than they could ever imagine.
There is one memory in particular that stands out to me from Friday, my last day in Batey 50. The tradition on the last day is that the Americans give their shoes away to someone in the Batey before they leave. I couldn’t decide on anyone specific to give my shoes to, because I didn’t want to just give them to anyone for the sake of giving. I also didn’t want to be unfair to anyone. I decided I was going to leave them with the church so they could give them to someone who they knew for sure needed them. Then as I was walking to the bus to leave Batey 50, I walked by the old man who I had been walking by all week. He was always sitting near his house, watching everyone work and greeting me with a friendly smile every time I passed by. I could tell that harvesting sugar cane his whole life had taken a serious toll on his body; on Thursday, he had needed to be picked up in order to be able to move just fifty feet to get to his house. I felt so bad for him being in that condition that I immediately knew who needed my shoes. Every time I had seen him that week, he was always happy and never seemed to want much, since I had never seen him ask for anything from anyone. When he saw what I was giving him, he was so thankful- his eyes lit up and he said in Spanish “god bless you”, and shook my hand. At that moment I knew that I would never forget the look of pure gratefulness glowing on this man’s weathered face, and the feeling of joy that stayed with me the whole way home knowing that I had made an impact on someone’s life.
While it may be easy to measure what we gave to the people of Batey 50 during our time there, It is impossible to measure what the people of Batey 50 have given us. My perspective on life has truly been changed for the better, and I have them to thank for that. I’ve learned to be thankful for everything that I have, and never to take my opportunities for granted. But most importantly I have learned that we have a lot to learn from those who are less fortunate than we are.
Public Relations Major
Class of 2015