By Jack Forrest
In today’s American society, the value of community service has, in large part, been forgotten, with very few people opting to physically participate in aiding others in need, and instead choosing to donate funds to charitable organizations. While fiscal donations are an integral factor in fighting many social injustices, they do not have the same effect, both on the people receiving and providing the aid, as does someone giving their time to actively participate in relief efforts. In the Dominican Republic, specifically in the mountainous Luperon region, the people are destitute, with little hope of reaching a more prosperous state at any point in their lives. The people live in shacks pieced together with any available materials, have no running or clean water, and rely on a rudimentary electrical grid. However, these people are some of the happiest and most uplifting I have ever encountered.
In the past, any service missions that I have volunteered for have been domestic, aiding the victims of natural disasters and other unfortunate circumstances. The concept of being immersed into a new culture, and seeing firsthand how those in third world countries live their everyday lives, attracted me to travel to the Dominican Republic to volunteer for The Village Mountain Mission. The experience could not have been any more rewarding. I, along with twenty-one other volunteers, spent our spring break volunteering for the mission, working towards building a home for a single mother of eight. Not only did the family members aid us as we worked, but also various members of the greater community helped throughout the entire week, reflecting the strong camaraderie and goodwill shared amongst the Dominican people. By the week’s end, we had transformed an undeveloped plot of land into what would be a home for this wonderful family.
Throughout the week, all the volunteers gave their all in the construction efforts. We were also able to build new, strong relationships with one another, along with many members of the Dominican community. Other than two of my fellow volunteers and I, nobody spoke more than a few words of Spanish, and very few of the Dominicans spoke any English. Even with this language barrier, everyone was able to connect with members of the community, especially the children. Whether it was through simple games, jokes, or gestures, we were all affected by the genuine love of the Dominican people, and the beautiful simplicity inherent in their culture. While we were the ones who had traveled to aid the Dominican family, we gained just as much, if not more, from working with and getting to know them as they did from us. Through our interactions, we learned much more about what genuine happiness and love are, and what is truly important in life. In an American society focused on economic success, it is easy to lose sight of the most important aspects of life, but this trip served as a reminder and reorientation to what should be our main focus in the search for authentic happiness in life.