On June 25, 2011, my mother, our family friend, and I left for a two week trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) to visit my two sisters and their husbands. My siblings moved down to the DR approximately five months prior to our visit simply to live and experience a new culture. Now it was my turn to experience the culture, practice my Spanish, and get a relaxing vacation all in one trip. Little did I know, there was something else in store for me.
Our first week in the DR was mainly filled with tourist-style activities such as visiting the castle of Diego Colon (Christopher Colombus' son), relaxing on white-sand beaches, and exploring Los Tres Ojos Caves. I rode horses on the beach with some of the locals and got to know the neighbors. It was a slow, relaxing week, just what I had thought I'd wanted.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
The second week, however, was quite different. One of my sisters' neighbors, an American man, leads a group called Global Leadership Adventures which brings American teenagers down to the DR to do service projects. I had the privilege of joining the group of eleven teens as they worked on various project sites.
Asunción, the first and most astonishing site, is a Haitian camp in the DR where Haitians have been forced to live due to Dominican-Haitian racism. The Haitians left Haiti because it is even poorer than the DR and there is little hope of a life there. The Dominicans are prejudiced against the Haitians though, because they crossed the border illegally. The Haitians aren’t allowed to leave the camp, providing little job opportunity within. Consequently, it is one of the most poverty stricken places in the Dominican Republic. While there, we were plowing a field and getting it ready to be planted, the idea being that we can plant a field with vegetables and provide the Haitians with a sustainable food source. Both days we were in Asunción we spent the first half of the day clearing the field and plowing it. The latter half of the day, however, was the most impactful. We spent it with the Haitians, walking around the camp, through the streets and past the shacks they called home. Locals would practically attack us, trying to sell the trinkets that formed their primary source of income. Naked children would fearlessly run up to us, the white strangers, and jump in our arms or grab our hands. These kids had one simple desire that we all experience, to be loved. I cannot even describe the smiles on their faces as we held them and played with them.
I loved working the field and playing with the children but upon my return to the United States I realized that these two services, no matter how personally fulfilling, are merely band-aids on the gushing wound that is the injustice being done to the Haitians because of their ancestry. If we want to attack the true problem, we need to find a way to show the Dominicans that Haitians are not bad people simply because they were economically forced to cross the border.
The Dominican Republic trip, originally intended as a relaxing vacation and visit with my sisters, turned out to be a life changing event. I now realize the excess that we Americans live in, and though I appreciate what I have more, I am eager to return to the DR and continue helping. I may start by putting on band-aids but one day, with a lot of help, we can stitch up the wound and watch it heal.
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