“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi

In early January, I had the opportunity to help lead a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic. I traveled with 13 students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University to the community of Las Terrenas. The trip was one week long and I purposefully did not wear make-up for the week so that I would be able to incorporate this experience into my blog! For some reason, I have convinced myself that if what I am wanting to write about isn’t listed on my Day Zero Project, that I cannot write a post on my blog about it. Clearly false, it is my blog after-all 🙂

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the impacts that the trip had, impacts we may have had on the community, but more importantly the impacts this service learning experience has had on me.It has taken me a long time to publish this update because I wanted to ensure that I communicated the epic awesomeness of the students who went, the people we met, and the work we did. Although the main focus of the trip were the acts of service and learning, we did find a little time for some local adventures and exploring. Another reason it has taken me so long to make this post public is due to an article I stumbled across shortly after returning from the Dominican Republic. This online article talked about one young woman’s experience with serving in developing countries.

Immediately after reading this article, I felt as though it discredited the service I had done and that everyone in the social media world, who had also stumbled across the article, would feel as though our group did more harm than good. After spending time thinking about the points in the article, reading peoples’ comments, and reflecting on the purpose of our trip, I was able to identify key differences between her experiences and the experience that the students and I shared.

Mainly our group did not approach our service learning trip from the standpoint of what we could do for those we were serving, but what could we learn from those in the community through our acts of service. We did not set out to solve all of the worlds’ problems or fix anything that was broken by our standards. Our intent was to learn as much as we could about their culture and ways of living during the week we were there working alongside of community members.

I think that it is important to highlight our mindset going into the trip as having the frame of mind of “What can I learn from this” really helped to shape our experience. Our contact person in the Dominican Republic, Jose, did a great job preparing us for the trip. He came to CSB/SJU and talked to our group back in November and really made us reflect on our purpose for traveling to the DR. He emphasized the importance of us not going there to change or fix anything, but going to learn so that we could bring what we learned through our experiences back with us. This really set our minds and hearts in the right place for the trip.

The beginning of this experience started for my last October when, after applying for an Alternative Break Experience (ABE) faculty/staff position, I was offered an interview. I did not specifically interview for this trip, but in general for all of the ABE trips that CSB/SJU offers. I had my interview at the local coffee shop and on my walk back to campus called my mom to let her know that I would not be going on a trip. I felt as though I bombed my interview and did not express my thoughts clearly. Turns out I was chosen for one of the more competitive trips and my first choice preference for trips. Looks as though my interview went better than I thought!

Shortly after being notified of my selection to lead the winter break ABE trip to the Dominican Republic, I found out who the two student co-leaders would be. These two women (Sarah and Chibudom) were phenomenal!! They interviewed and selected students for the 11 other spots on the trip. I know it couldn’t have been easy to only choose 11 students, but the ones they chose were the best of the best! Once our trip participants were all finalized we only had a short period of time to do some fundraising. Since it was a volunteer trip, we were responsible for or all costs associated with the trip including the standard trip participation fee, our flight, food, housing, transportation, and donations to our service site. Want to say thank you again to all of you who donated through my fundraising page! I truly appreciate your generosity!!

Our group had two main projects. The first was collecting donations of school supplies and toys. The supplies (books, paper, markers, glue, tape etc) were donated to local schools and we wrapped the toys while there to hand out to kids from one of the poorest communities at a festival for the 3 Kings. While there, most of our time was spent working to help build a playground for a local school. Both of these projects, as well as the beauty of the country, are better shown through photos so be sure to look through the photos below as I will explain more about everything with the photos! Prepare yourself, there is kind of a lot! Like 70ish, but you can click the little circles on the bottom to browse through them rather quickly! 🙂 I had a hard time narrowing all the photos down so these are the select few I chose. HA!

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Also one of the guys, shout out to Andy! one of the students I was sick with, put together a lovely video of our trip! Check it out here