Lessons from the Dominican Republic - My Family Travels

   One week without phones, ipods, or internet had me worried!  How was I supposed to survive!  My youth group was headed to the Dominican Republic to help add classrooms to a school.  The trip was planned through an organization called Unto Inc., and we weren’t allowed to bring any electronic devices with us.  However, my fears soon disappeared as we found plenty to do between working, swimming in the pool, and just hanging out with good friends.  I would never have remembered thinking those thoughts, if it hadn’t been for what I went through and learned over the course of that week. 

   On the first day, we walked through Los Alcarrizos, the village we were staying in.  As our group left the camp we were instantly surrounded by little children with huge beaming smiles lighting up their faces.  They ran next to us, occasionally breaking out into songs or playing games with each other.  I was astounded by the smiles and laughter because when I looked around at the buildings and houses, which were little more than shacks, I couldn’t understand how people living in such a poor and desolate community could ever be happy.   Our leader told us later, “We can’t imagine anyone being happy that does not have tons of stuff, yet they are. We equate stuff with happiness. They equate happiness with family, friends, and community.”  The fact was their stuff wasn’t what mattered most to them.  It was the community and the fun experiences of life that really made the difference. 

   The next day, I was sitting during a water break, talking to Felix, a worker at the camp.  In our conversation, he mentioned that his motorcycle had been stolen the week before.  I replied, “Wow Dude, that sucks.  Did you get pissed?”  In America, this question would make perfect sense in such a situation, but in the Dominican things are different.  He answered, “No.  Why would I get upset?  I can always buy another, and the person that took it probably needed it more than I did.”  That completely blew my mind.  That someone who had so little to start with would be so forgiving, when his most valuable asset was stolen, completely amazed me. 

   Then, it rained.  For the next five days, it rained almost nonstop.  Everything was constantly soaked, we stopped work several times because of lightening, and the local kids couldn’t come to play baseball or basketball in the constant downpour.  It seemed like our week was virtually ruined.  As some people started to complain, Christian Santiago, the head of Unto, explained the situation for us.  We were upset because of the rain, yet this was the only rain the locals had seen in three months.  Now, we were finding out that many Dominicans would finally be able to wash their clothes and drink clean water again.  I realized that we were being more than a little selfish in how much we wanted to have fun that week, while the Dominicans were happy just to have water to drink. 

   When we finally returned home, I discovered that my stuff wasn’t as important anymore.  What I had really missed, while I was gone, were my friends and family.  I learned that if people have nothing and can still survive and be happy; then I can be happy too. I just have to remember, stuff does not equal happiness.

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