Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” That became the theme of what students are describing as a life-changing trip to the Dominican Republic.
During February vacation, 18 Monomoy students under the tutelage of history teacher John Dickson ventured to the Dominican Republic for an adventure that was part fun and part service.
“There is service with and service for,” Dickson said. “We were not a charity trip, but instead were serving with [people] towards a goal, and getting just as much out of it as you were given. That's part of our goal, to get kids over the bridge and onto a plane to a different country to expand their worlds.”
While the sojourn began with students learning how to surf the beautiful turquoise waves of the tropical region, their main purpose there was to work with students in a local Montessori school, specifically about the importance of protecting their ecosystem by rethinking their approaches to trash.
“In the Dominican there is such a problem with trash,” said Monomoy sophomore Jaymie Buffington. “They just throw it on the streets. They don't know that it's hurting their environment.”
Buffington and fellow sophomore Emma Santoni explained that Monomoy's students worked with the elementary students on experiments aimed at generating awareness about pollution, which can be prevented by proper trash disposal.
“We were working with them on experiments that show how throwing your trash away like that pollutes the water, is not good for the environment, that their animals in the water will get sick and they could get sick,” Buffington said. “At the end of one of the days one of the kids came up to me and said, 'I'm going to go home and pick up trash now.' We actually taught them something they're going to take home to their families.”
While embarking on such experiments seems fairly simple, the challenge faced by the visiting Sharks was a language barrier since the Dominican students spoke Spanish, a language only a handful of Monomoy students know. Help came in the form of sophomore Yodaurys Castro, a student of Dominican heritage, who served as translator for his peers.
For Castro, the trip was not only educational, but also an opportunity not only to see another part of his homeland, but also to share that homeland with his friends.
“Since I'm from there and had not ever been to the place we went, I wanted to see how it was different from my hometown,” Castro said. “It was nice to have some of my friends see what I actually see when I go down there and experience the fun and the new culture.”
The trip brought many surprises, from tasting foods such as plantains, Jugo de Chinola, and something called a jiotilla, to the difficulties of surfing.
“I'd never been surfing, and didn't even want to go surfing, but our instructor was so nice,” said junior Samantha Mahoney. “It was so much fun and was such a different experience.”
There was also the thrill of diving off or sliding down waterfalls, a highlight of the trip for junior Aidan Kotoski. But what resonated most with the travelers was seeing firsthand the differences between the two cultures. Poverty is an issue where the students visited, as evidenced by the fact that the children they worked with were attending their particular school because they couldn't afford to attend the regular public school.
Such disparity gave the Monomoy crew a new perspective on what matters most in life. Junior Molly Daley said being in the Dominican for the week offered new insight on life on Cape Cod.
“One of the things we had to do while we were there was throw our toilet paper in the trash,” Daley said. “You take for granted things like being able to flush your toilet paper, drink the water here, or having electricity for more than eight hours. This really opened my eyes to see that you can go places and teach and learn at the same time, and [to be] grateful you are for the things you have.”
Santoni was struck by the fact that the Dominican students spent fewer hours in school than their American visitors, attending classes for roughly three hours in the morning, and another two or three in the afternoon. But Santoni said her interactions with the children touched her heart.
“My highlight was working with the kids, and taking pictures on the last day. You could really tell how much we impacted them,” Santoni said. “It was hard for me to leave them.”
Junior Caitlin Daley appreciated the symbolism of the school's structural setup, which lowered everything in the classrooms to be within a child's grasp.
“To remind them that their goals are within reach,” Daley said.
Buffington was surprised by the infectious joy of the Dominican students.
“This is a school for kids...who really have close to nothing,” said Buffington. “Yet they're all so kind, they're all willing to share whatever they have, they're not selfish. It's really eye-opening to see that.”
That said, the American students did have to adjust to the affectionate and welcoming nature of their hosts.
“They live in such intimacy,” explained Dickson. “They don't have their own rooms. Everyone is together. Neighbors take care of neighbors because they pretty much live on top of one another, with no fences or yards. Their culture is so welcoming. It isn't like our culture where we have our fences and our yards.”
“I think it was just so cool to see how people live, how they relate to each other, to see the different landscapes,” said sophomore Laura Brown.
Kotoski said for him, the resounding message of the trip was simple.
“Life isn't about all the things we have,” he said. “It's about being together with people and having a human connection. It's about love, and a human connection. That's what I got out of it.”