March 2008 UVM service-learning trip
The March 2008 University of Vermont service learning trip was a great success! We had ten students on this trip, 9 girls and 1 guy (he was very busy dancing on Merengue night!). We did a lot of traveling on the guagua with Ramón and got to see many different sides of the Dominican Republic: from the dry land surrounding the border near Dajabón to the lush green mountains near Jarabacoa, and the beautiful blue waters in Cabarete. Our main objective on this trip was the construction of a house for a Dominican family. The first day at Batey Libertad we got a chance to meet Vidal, the father, and his two daughters. We started work right away by moving concrete blocks that would become the walls to their new house. One of the main jobs that we ended up spending most of our time on was digging up very hard, dry dirt, breaking it up into smaller pieces and leveling it out in the floors of the rooms to raise their height by about half a foot. The whole group pitched in and we finished the ‘dirt’ project in no time. Although we weren’t able to see the completed house while there, we definitely enjoyed a feeling of accomplishment and joy in having such a positive impact on this family’s life. Some of the students have written their own comments about the trip that I would like to share. ~ McKew Devitt
Here’s what senior Carrie McLean had to say:
We spent a total of 4 days and 2 nights at the Batey Libertad. A lot of time went into working in the garden and on Vidal’s house. The garden is looking like it’s in good shape! It has come a long way from the pictures we saw in January. Plenty of habichuelas, corn and cilantro…lots of cilantro! I’m sure everything will grow well, especially with the pollywogs we added to the soil when we watered all of the plants. It was great to see that some of the kids at the Batey had their own plots, and they were beginning to look pretty green! I have some great memories of lugging buckets of murky water, swimming with pond life, and kids running around me with tons of enthusiasm to help out. One of my most entertaining memories from the garden has to be the cow who had just given birth. She was walking around with a large placenta still attached…just mooing away with a yippy little dog chasing her around. Possibly after that placenta? We had a lot of great interactions in the garden and I really hope that it will take off. It seems like there is a lot of potential for the garden to turn into a tool for building community on the Batey.
This next one is from sophomore Carey Dunfey:
In trying to find the best way to coherently organize all of my thoughts and reflections from the trip to the Dominican Republic, I stumbled upon this quote from Mitch Alborn’s book Tuesdays with Morrie: “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Upon returning to the states, this is exactly what I feel I have learned in the Dominican Republic. I saw happiness in the faces of struggling, working parents and trust in the innocent eyes of children. Material goods are not what is important here, community and making each day better and more fulfilling than the last are. I have seen that the things that are the most important in life are not what we own or what we have done, but are the day-to-day experiences we share with others, whether people we have known for 10 years, 10 days, or 10 minutes. I shared the trip with people basically entirely of the latter two and have been truly impacted by that experience. I have learned, even in this short time, the powerful connections that can develop between people and community, no matter how diverse the ages, cultures, ethnicities, or past experiences. I have also learned that no matter how little or insignificant the things we do in life may seem, everything that we do with complete good intentions should improve ourselves and the people around us. I will carry this experience with me forever, although I hope for a chance to return and relive it.
This next entry is from Vanessa Patten, also a sophomore:
The Spring 2008 trip to the Dominican Republic was an incredible experience. I learned so much about an entirely different way of life and also a little bit more about myself in just ten days. There are far too many things to say about the trip in the short amount of time I have to write this, but I will do my best to summarize my thoughts. The trip offered an incredible first hand look into a very different lifestyle. We were able to live The Spring 2008 trip to the Dominican Republic was an incrediblewith families at Batey Libertad and experience their language, food and home-life. Despite the language barrier we were able to form friendships with the people from this town, which is probably the part of the trip with the longest lasting impact on me. The plights of the people in this community, and of the Haitian workers in general, became so much more real when we met these people first hand and saw the conditions that they live in every day. We were able to see that despite all of this these people still lead very normal and happy lives. We witnessed their music and dance and passion for soccer first hand. In our short time on the Batey I feel like the people of the community had more of an impact on us than we did on them. Despite this we inspired an energy that I hope remained after we left so that the work to improve the Batey can continue. The garden is growing larger and greener with every group from UVM that goes down. New additions like the new community center will hopefully serve to bring the community together and not maintain the separation between the Dominican and Haitian residents. I am so excited to hear about future trips and projects that are started on this Batey and others. I cannot urge other students any more strongly to participate in this trip. These ten days, although they felt short, were full of so many new experiences and memories that I could never mention them all in this entry. From building the house and working on the garden in the Batey, to Chinola juice with breakfast at the hotel and of course surfing on the beach and learning to dance with Ramon … there were just so many incredible experiences that we shared as a group. I miss everyone from the trip and am so grateful to have met them all and to have been able to share such amazing memories with them! Remember…. “never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
And one more, from Continuing Education student Jo Stead:
Visiting Batey Libertad was for me an unforgettable experience. I met people there who were friendly, kind and hospitable in spite of living conditions most of us would consider substandard. Hopefully, through a program to raise AIDS awareness, by raising money to construct better housing, by supporting and encouraging the development of a community garden, and the staffing of a health clinic, living conditions at the batey will continue to improve and that Batey Libertad will serve as a model for improving the living conditions of people wherever such needs exist.