Going to the Dominican Republic was a scary choice from the start. I have never left the country, or traveled alone without my family. I heard about this trip through a friend I worked with and was instantly drawn to the idea of serving in a different country. I knew absolutely no one I was going on the trip with. As much as that though alone would make me almost not go, I knew I wanted to and that there were more important things other than me being scared to go. God obviously likes taking us all out of comfort zones.
In order for us to get to know each other the church helped set up a retreat to go to. I actually met quite a few people who were also going on the trip for the first time and that made me feel relieved.
When it was finally time to go to the airport and arrive in the DR, it was incredibly hot and humid. We had a bit of a jam when our resort hotel didn’t have any rooms. We ended up going to an alright place… a little creepy, a little dirty, but who knows, maybe that was one of the best hotels there. That was my first eye opener. The DR definitely does not have the same rules and health precautions the U.S. has. Since I was last in line I got a single room which instantly freaked me out. Also my light in my bathroom did not work so I had to ask some man, who spoke no English as I spoke no Spanish, to fix it. That was the first time I’ve experienced such a big language barrier.
So when the real work began when we visited Casa de Pastoral where we would be staying in the next couple of days, once Week 1 left. We went to Joe Hartman, Kilometer 6, to see the children and to celebrate. When I got there the school was beautiful and the kids were all in their uniforms waiting to be picked by a sponsor. After walking from classroom to classroom not knowing how all this worked, I began taking pictures of the kids and they seemed to love that they could see themselves. I came across a little girl who was quiet and was definitely shy. She did not reach out for my camera or phone and did not seem to be as a crazy as the other children which made me feel like she was the one I should sponsor. She was so sweet and although we couldn’t talk we found ways to communicate by dancing, playing hand games, drawing and using gestures. She had so much love to give and every time I would come back to Joe Hartman she would run from her house and always find me. I went to her house to drop off gifts and like all the houses it was the size of a living room and held up by boarded up wood. At the moment for some reason it really clicked that this little girl lived here along with a family in these kinds of decisions. Throughout the week we did a lot of cement filling, bucket passing and painting. It’s crazy to think that they have no machines to build anything and they use their own hands to do everything. With that I learned to appreciate and admire these hard workers who do this day in and day out. Atleast, I had a home with a bed, air conditioning and food to go back to while who knows where they would go. Maybe back to their shacks with the little food and water they had.
I didn’t go to Batey 50 except once and that was a shocker. Sugar Cane stretched out for miles and there were no bathrooms so we had to go in the actual sugar cane. People would swarm you if you were giving something away and there houses were nothing but boarded up wood and metal sheets on the dirt ground. There, week 1 built 5 houses along with the help of week 2. They handed out food and made a garden.
I went on the medical team for a day and participated in taking blood pressure and assisting our medics by providing women’s health to the women over there as well as dentistry. It was interesting to find out the clinical needs and how they even get to a hospital which is not as easy as you’d think. Speaking of hospital I never knew that our group years ago built that hospital there in La Romana, a three story hospital using nothing but their own hands and tools. The hospital is beautiful and fully running. It’s absolutely incredible!
Unfortunately I did get sick and had stomach problems for the majority of the trip. I’m pretty sure it was from my water bottle, because when I finally left to go to the airport to go home I smelled it and it smelled like straight mildew. So if you do use the same water bottle up there make sure you wash it with soap and water and you don’t leave it out in the hot sun. After I stopped drinking from it I felt a lot better. I did have a lot of fun with the people there and my group. To be honest it went by really fast. There are so many more details and adventures like pranks, bathroom dilemmas, mosquitoes, and just feelings that cant be explained I could write forever. I’m just glad I met the people I did over there and I’m glad I could experience something so incredible. So now whenever I’m having a bad day and think my world is ending, I can put my time and energy into them and know there are more important things in life then a bad hair day, or no internet service. I do believe everyone should do something like this and get this kind of experience.
– Deanna Westlake
For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.