This past summer I took a trip that I didn’t realize would change my life forever. I took my first steps out of my country and onto the soil of the Dominican Republic. I went with the intentions of teaching the children there, who are not privileged enough to get the kind of education that we get here in the United States. However, I returned knowing that I was the one that learned the most valuable lesson.
My youth group and I arrived at a site run by a volunteer group entitled Outreach 360 and were immediately corrected on our intentions of being there. We were told that we were not there to help, but to serve, and when I had the chance to meet the children, I understood. The people there have it so much better than we have here. I know how strange that must sound since they don’t have half as much as we have in the United States, but what they have is love for each other and other people. I have never seen such a loving community. When we walked down the street practically every person we passed would say, “Hola!” with a big smile on their face. They welcomed us into their community right away despite the fact that most of us spoke only a small amount of Spanish.
On the first day of camp, or “campamento” as they called it, we really didn’t know what to expect. My dad and I were running a music class and didn’t know how we were going to be able to do it since we didn’t know any Spanish songs and both spoke very little Spanish. To our surprise, when the kids came in, it honestly didn’t matter one bit. We had boys camp in the morning and then girls camp in the afternoon, which put us at a total of ten music classes to teach a day. What we found was that there really was no language barrier. Music and love are two languages that everybody can understand, so we hit the ground running from there.
One of the most shocking discoveries that we made was that Justin Beiber is loved even in the Dominican Republic. We asked the children if they knew the Itsy Bitsy Spider or Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and they returned blank expressions, but as soon and they heard Justin Beiber their faces lit up, so we sang “Baby” to them once and they asked for it every day after that. We taught them The Macarena, The Chicken Dance, and The Limbo, and the joy on their faces was completely worth the buckets we were sweating.
The most amazing feeling in the world is when a child bursts out in a sprint as soon as they see you because they want to hug you and love on you. They taught me that love is all that matters, and there really is no need for material possessions. Love is understood worldwide, without having to say a single word. My week with them ended far too soon, but my heart remains with them still. It is in my plans to go back next summer and stay for a longer term, but even if that fails to happen for me, one week was enough to teach me more than I’ve learned in my lifetime. This past summer I took a trip that I didn’t realize would change my life forever.
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