“Bienvenidos a la Republicana Dominican!”—Welcome to the Dominican Republic.
I had been anticipating for over a year to hear those words and when I walked into the Puerto Plata airport with several other Global Leadership Adventures™ students, my mind was blown by the band of men greeting me with Dominican rhythms, hot aroma of humidity, and hundreds of emerald palm trees standing straight and tall. Never in my life had I witnessed a sight more beautiful. Not to mention, this was my first time out of the country and I had no idea what to expect. Growing up in a conservative household where traveling abroad to foreign countries was forbidden, here I was—away from my parents and waiting for the program instructor to pick me up along with thirty-one other strangers whom I thank for making my Dominican Republic experience memorable.
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
On day thirteen, we loaded the bus and drove an hour to a Haitian Refugee Camp known as Ascension. The sun felt like a sauna; I have peeling skin and sun burn marks to prove the incredible climate from that day. While at Ascension, we helped clear lands of trash formed by years of untouched gardens. As we later discussed at home base, this was the refugees’ only source of food and the devastation scarred by their unwillingness to take care of their home was unbelievable yet sad because they are ultimately destroying their food. The refugees are known as “ghosts” with no legal documents to prove that they are either Dominican or Haitian. Most importantly, they do not have property rights and are known as squatters, living in a camp that belongs to a foreigner who owns the entire sugar cane field where the refugees work. Perhaps that is why the refugees do not care for their home—since it is essentially not their property.
“Un poco agua por favor?”—a little water please. A group of children formed around me, and that is all they asked for. Seeing them made me realize the unfortunate living environment these children have to live in because they have nowhere else to go without legal documents. One girl that stuck out to me the most was Andreina. An intelligent, multilingual thirteen year old who begged for water because she was thirsty. When I gave her my water, she took one sip before handing the rest to her best friend Anaxeli, who is ten years old. By giving Andreina and Anaxeli water that I probably would not have drank, I saved them a trip of walking a mile to a contaminated river filled with trash and chemicals from the sugar cane fields. Little did I know, Andreina and Anaxeli eat only a meal a day—if they are lucky.
Then reality hit me. When the program instructor handed me a to-go box of chicken, rice, and beans, I took five bites before I realized that I was not hungry. A dozen children stood in front of me. I looked up and saw Andreina and Anaxeli and remembered their favorite meal was chicken, rice, and beans. I suddenly felt disgusted, selfish, and greedy. It became unbearable to eat in front of my new friends because I knew that this might have been their one meal while I got to go home to a beautiful mansion in Los Brazos and eat dinner. So I gave Andreina the rest of my lunch and told her to share. Never in my life did I expect chicken, rice, and beans to turn around somebody’s day.
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