By Lindsey Hanes
It is nearly impossible to try to explain the extreme poverty that I witnessed on this trip. However, it is even more impossible to explain the people that I encountered and the amazing relationships I formed with these people. Despite how very little they have, these individuals are always happy and smiling. Spending time with these incredible families has taught me so much. They are all people I will forever look up to and respect simply because they have such positive attitudes that inspire me. They have given me a different outlook on life and have taught me to never take anything that I have for granted. Throughout the trip, I had many different encounters with children, and each of these encounters was special in its own way. Holding these children, dancing with them, holding their hands, and seeing them smile truly brightened my day and my life, and they will always have a place in my heart. Although we were the ones helping them and working to improve their lives, there is so much that I have learned from them and they have impacted my life in ways that I can’t put into words.
The happiness and selflessness of the families and individuals that I met truly astounded me. They all have this tremendous sense of hope and faith that is so inspiring. Even though they are at such a low point in their lives and they have no idea if anything is really going to ever get better, they remain happy and they have so much hope that things will get better for them in the future. These people are living in conditions that are unimaginable to the majority of people and they have close to nothing, yet they are some of the happiest people that I have ever met. Not only does this show how great and selfless these extremely poor people are, but it also shows how selfish and spoiled we can be. Why are so many Americans unhappy and grumpy so often in their lives?? Is there something that this unhappiness stems from that makes this negativity acceptable? In most cases, the answer to this question is no. I believe that a lot of people need a reality check. In the United States, I encounter so many unhappy people who have so much to be thankful for. It seems unfair and rather ridiculous that people like us are so negative for no given reason. Or at least for no reason that is truly worth complaining about. If the people I met at Batey 50 and Joe Hartman school are happy, there is no reason that we shouldn’t be happy. It is obvious that we need to learn to appreciate life and all that we have.
People in the United States are so much more spoiled than they realize, and we need to learn to show our appreciation for everything that we have, no matter how big or how small. The individuals and groups of people that I had the privilege of meeting in the Dominican Republic are so selfless, and their happiness and selflessness should serve as an example for everyone in this world. Throughout my experience, I witnessed young children sharing with their families. Even though these people are starving and barely clothed, they are always looking out for their families. There were many instances where someone would offer a child something like a snack or a sticker, and this child would take one and offer the rest to their siblings or their mother. This is such a kind, simple gesture that shouldn’t be overlooked. These people have so very little, yet they are always thinking of others before themselves. Another example is the way in which all the children tried to help us work at Batey 50. No matter how much we resisted and insisted on them sitting down and relaxing, these kids were unstoppable. They would take shovels and wheelbarrows from our hands, and sometimes it was extremely difficult to stop them and tell them no. Just seeing how much they wanted to help and how tough they were was pretty amazing. I remember being in the schoolyard raking under the extremely hot sun, and this young boy came up to me and started taking the rake out of my hands. I refused to give it to him, but just the kindness of his gesture was enough to make me smile.
Although I see myself as an extremely happy person who is very grateful for all that she has, I believe that everyone, including myself, can learn a significant lesson about gratitude after getting to know these incredible people at the Dominican Republic. I am so thankful for everything that I have, and I know that I am extremely lucky to have all that I have. However, I can definitely express my gratitude even more. Furthermore, when I find myself complaining about something, I will immediately think about the children and families I met on this trip and reevaluate what it is I’m complaining about. There is no reason for us to complain about the most stupid and tiny things when people who are starving and don’t have homes are able to find something to smile about every single day. I just hope that I have made half as much of a difference in one of their lives as they have made in mine.