Definitely can’t be the same

DAY 6 – Dominican Republic

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            Our last full day here 😦  although we were all sad that our trip is coming to a close, we still had a great time at the 27 waterfalls attraction. After a 45 minute hike, we each proceeded to slide and jump down each of 27 natural waterfalls, spitting icy cold water. Good thing our showers helped up build up a bit of a tolerance…we were able to numb up fairly quickly and enjoy the beautiful coves all afternoon! A good way to end a week of hard work. We will all be happy to be home; however, as I said before, leaving is definitely bittersweet. However, I know that each person on this trip took much more out of these experiences than they even thought possible, and we will sincerely cherish these memories for the rest of our lives.

Definitely can’t be the same

Seriously disturbed….in a good way

DAY 5 – Dominican Republic

This morning we returned to the orphanage, got a lot of painting done, and gave the girls a brand new rose colored room with hot pink dressers. After saying our last goodbyes, we returned to the house, ate lunch, and packed up the hygiene packets we assembled for patients at the local hospital. Each packet contained a variety of soaps, hotel shampoos, toothbrushes, etc…a special treat for the patients, seeing as the hospital is only obligated to provide them with a bed and an IV.

The hospital visit truly was mentally draining for many of us. The atmosphere was unlike any hospital I have ever entered. Honestly, the humane shelter in my home town seems more luxurious than the patients’ rooms we entered; and I don’t mean for that comparison to sound facetious…unfortunately, the conditions there were truly unreal. Upon our arrival, the boys and girls were separated, due to the fact that no males, even family, are allowed in the maternity ward. Thus, I am unable to attest for what the boys saw, but from what they say many of the injuries and treatment methods they encountered were fairly hard to stomach. They described devices made of string and milk jugs being used to support broken limbs until patients could afford more advanced healing accommodations.

We girls, however, remained in the maternity area throughout our entire visit, distributing the hygiene packets and snapping Polaroid pictures of the newborns for their mothers. It truly was a blessing being able to encourage the mothers and offer them a nice treat for the day. After making our rounds through the nursing rooms, Carie turned to me, knowing I am a pre-med student, and asked if I would be willing to accompany her into the neonatal unit to take pictures of the babies. As heartbreaking as it is to say this, I honestly felt as if I was possibly taking the last photographs of these babies’ lives…I tried my hardest to find a good angle with the polaroid, as ridiculous as that sounds, because I figured that one instant-print photograph could possibly be the last tangible memory a mother will have of her child. The babies were so tiny, so helpless…and the final picture I took was of the smallest one, probably seven inches from head to toes, inside an incubator located at the front of the room. A true fighter. I have never seen anything like it. At that very moment I couldn’t help but think of Santo…almost equally as weak and helpless, yet hopeful and thankful just to be alive. It was, to say the very, very least, a humbling experience I will never forget.

After the hospital, we returned to the house and finished painting the Bernard’s’ fence…and each other. I think the dog even got paint on itself at one point. Ultimately, it was nice being able to do something for Rick and Carie…they have been beyond wonderful hosts, and it was the least we could do to reciprocate all of their help.

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Seriously disturbed….in a good way

Shaken by pure joy

DAY 4 – Dominican Republic

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            We began the morning with pancakes, which obviously meant it was going to be a good day. On our way to the orphanage we stopped and visited an elderly friend of Rick and Carie’s named Santo. At the age of 15, Santo fractured some section of his spine when falling from a tree and has been a completely immobile paraplegic for over 55 years. Before we left, Carie described Santo as one of the most joyful people she knows…one of those people whose spirit is so contagious you can’t help but feel it to at least some extent. The minute we stepped into Santo’s room I completely understood what she meant. Lying in front of me was a bed ridden man, maybe 50 pounds, complete skin and bones, literally a walking skeleton…yet for some reason I found myself grinning from ear to ear as he welcomed our group so warmly, excited just to have guests for a few minutes. I still cannot wrap my head around the miracle of his condition…it truly is a medical marvel that this man has lived to see over 70 years of age. However, his survival is no longer a physical matter, but it is one reliant upon a seemingly invincible hope. There is no doubt in my mind that Santo’s hope helps keep him alive, and Rick and Carie’s work has definitely played a prime role in his determination.

Once we arrived at the orphanage I saw a few children I recognized, and they recognized me as well. Many of us also bought “expression dolls” made by the girls for monetary profit. We then took five girls with us to the local beach, which was an extremely special treat for them, seeing as they probably have only been there once or twice, despite the fact that the beach is only 30 minutes away from the orphanage. After we dropped them back off, we returned to the house and began to paint the fence out front…at least until we ran out of paint. Regardless, we all still had a great time being outside together all day…it’s awesome to see how close we’ve all become in just a few days, especially considering how awkward our first meetings were back in Auburn. Wow…back in Auburn…that was honestly a little weird to say. I haven’t even thought of that place much recently. We only have a couple of days left here, and I will be happy to be home, however departure truly is bittersweet.

Shaken by pure joy

Reality check

DAY 2 – Dominican Republic

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            This morning we visited a girls’ orphanage sponsored by the Bernards. The children’s’ stories are dumbfounding. One little girl, I think about the age of 4, continued to hang around me for a good part of the morning. I could sense her sweet spirit…she had intelligent eyes, and although she never said a word, she didn’t come off as shy at all. I honestly didn’t even notice she wasn’t talking until Carie approached me, saying that the girl was completely unable to talk. Later tonight she shared with me the little girl’s story: her parents were both witch doctors who were murdered because of their practices, and although she is physically able to speak, she has, as the people here say, a spirit hanging over her, preventing her from speaking. Carie told me she has been trying to enroll the girl in a school for deaf students, seeing as she currently has no schooling whatsoever; however such establishments refuse to accept her because she technically is neither deaf nor mute. Carie says she’s heard her make a moaning sound once, but that’s it. Every girl in the orphanage has some sort of story, and most all of them have gone through more in their short lives than I probably ever will in mine.

The orphanage itself was simple; it even had goats in the backyard along with a single swing set and trampoline. It was truly refreshing to see children playing with one another outside rather than being glued to a TV screen all day. They were all so happy with each other, and even the smallest things brought them joy. My Spanish is terrible and they still stuck to me like flies…I’m not one to be all over all the kids all of the time, it’s not something that comes as naturally to me, but the look in their eyes today will never leave my memory. That’s a reward in itself.

After lunch we rode the bus to an area the family calls the “refugee camp,” which is really a slum housing victims of Hurricane George. I honestly cannot begin to describe the living conditions I saw. Literally shacks. Just like the places I see in documentaries and movies…but in reality, it’s so much more impactful. I didn’t necessarily feel sympathy or guilt, maybe because it was too surreal, but I tried to take it all in and observe as much as possible. However, all I did was take a short walk…all I’m participating in now is a short week of service. I’ll never even begin to wrap my mind around those peoples’ lives. Can they have any hopes or dreams? It seems their only objective in life is survival. I’ve always had my entire world handed to me on a platter, full of opportunity and promise. I feel like I’ve already taken more out of this trip in two days than I would from the entire week. And for that, I am truly, truly grateful.

After walking through the refugee area, we proceeded to set up four folding tables in the middle of the street and unload our medical supplies. The most advanced treatments we had were antibiotics, and most of us were primarily in charge of distributing gummy vitamins, hydrocortisone cream, and other OTC drugs as if we were trained to do so. Mothers were bringing their sick children to us, waiting for a diagnosis and treatment that could be picked up in a local CVS. But to them this was care, which really got me thinking. Medical care in these places isn’t even an economical issue. It’s a means for survival. Honestly, a means for hope. I believe we all did our best today, and I know the experience touched the hearts and minds of each person in our group.

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Reality check

Good morning, San Cristobal and ice water!

DAY 1 – Dominican Republic

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Good morning, ice water. Upon our arrival yesterday evening, our hosts this week, Rick and Carie Bernard, stressed the importance of continuous hydration, assuring us that they will provide a plentiful supply of cool water throughout the week. Little did I realize this term applied not only to the drinking water, but to the shower water, as well. However, regardless of this small inconvenience, the home in which we are staying is very nice, filled with welcoming people and delicious food. After a delectable pancake breakfast, our group of 11 (Brianne, Nic, Tim, Sarah 1, Sarah 2, Callie, Ashton, Brantley, Patty, Peter, and myself) ventured an entire 20 feet across the street to a park previously refurbished by the ASB group of 2012. We spent the morning weeding (not that we really knew what we were doing at all), planting flowers, painting benches, and conversing (or at least trying to) with the local residents. It’s so interesting how a difference as small as the languages we speak can produce such an enormous barrier.

The park ended up looking great. I was genuinely proud to know that I was a part of the work that re-shined a community gem, giving the residents a nice place to relax and spend time in a generally neglected environment. Who would’ve though a simple park could make such a difference in an area? Even basic backyards in the United States have nicer adornments than the concrete benches and flower beds we fixed up today. It truly is beautiful the incredible joy and gratitude that can come from something so simple.

After lunch we rode a van to the home of one of the house employees, Francia. According to Carie, she is one of the most amazing, golden-hearted individuals you will ever meet. She lives in a half-rotten, wooden home about the size of my parents’ kitchen with her husband and three children. The sleeping areas are separated by bed sheet curtains hanging on a clothesline, and the main living area consists of a few seats, speakers, a table, and what looked like a small cooking area. I don’t remember seeing a bathroom anywhere inside. Yet, despite the residence’s shack-like appearance, it honestly had one of the homiest feelings I’ve experienced since we’ve been here. The family was just so excited about the fresh coat of pink paint we were about to put on the outside of their home, and I really can’t think of any words to explain the radiance of their joy. Again, the delight brought on from an act so simple is beyond refreshing.

Good morning, San Cristobal and ice water!

“It is more blessed to give than to receive”

Give Kids The World

We have been so busy the past two days and have quite a bit to share with you all. After our Disney trip Wednesday, we were able to sleep in and we didn’t have to work a volunteer shift until 6 pm Thursday night. Alex worked the welcome hut letting families into the village, Alyssa & John were pool attendants handing out towels, and the rest of the crew worked Winter Wonderland. At Winter Wonderland there were snow cones and sugar cookies to decorate. The children at Give Kids The World were even able to visit “Santa” and pick out a present for “Christmas”. It was a very special night and a great experience for the kids to be able to enjoy a form of Christmas without the concern of any medical problems.

Friday our volunteer shift began bright and early at 7 am. Some of us worked the Gingerbread…

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“It is more blessed to give than to receive”

It’s a good day to have a good day.

Give Kids The World

4 parks. 18 hours. 1 day.

We did it. We somehow managed to visit all 4 Disney parks in ONE day. We were the first ones into Animal Kingdom at 7:30 am and the last ones to leave Magic Kingdom at 1:00 am. Rachel almost knee-d a kid in the face because she was so excited, Kelly almost fell out of Space Mountain, and Logan cried on Mt. Everest. The boys were able to eat lunch in “Germany” at Epcot and spent 24$ on the biggest buffet of their lives. We bonded over long lines and people watching .. We even managed to catch a little bit of the lights parade and fireworks in front of Cinderella’s castle. The night ended with all 10 of us sharing a turkey leg and running into a fellow Auburn student working in Disney who made us buttons!

One of the best parts of…

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It’s a good day to have a good day.