When you think of the Dominican Republic, you probably think of white, sandy beaches and clear blue water. All of that exists here, but there is a whole other world within Puerto Plata that people don’t know about. On Friday, we witnessed first-hand the poverty that plagues this country. We were able to visit the Dove Missions Youth Development Center and spent time playing and learning with the precious children there. They were all so loving and excited to see us. They were also so excited to help teach us Spanish and learn English. The little boy who sat with me was so incredibly patient with me and worked so hard to teach me Spanish phrases such as how to introduce myself and say words like “shirt” and “green eyes.” We came up with a game while we were drawing in which we would pick an item in the room and teach each other the word. It cracked me up when he repeated the words back to me in a Southern country accent, mimicking my own pronunciation of the words. All of the children are just so eager to learn new things. Their happiness was truly contagious.
Two of the older children from the center took us to their homes so we could get a better idea of the community where and how these children live.
Anna Milka, one of the students from the Center, lives in a small, brick hut with at least five occupants. They washed and hung their clothes outside and used the bathroom in an outside stall; the house did not have a door. To me, their living conditions seemed unlivable. I truly cannot imagine myself living that lifestyle, but she did not seem phased. Her mother welcomed us with open arms into her home, and Anna Milka translated happily between her mother and our group. With all that these people are lacking, they are not lacking in joy.
Domingo, the other older student, lives in a similar home with at least eight other individuals. Their home is right by the ocean, which presents problems for the family when it floods. Their house and belongings have suffered devastating damage in the past when the water level rises. For a family that has so little, even losing just a few essential items in a storm can be devastating to their family. Behind their home are chickens and goats which help them bring in money and serve as a food source for the family.
While we were visiting, we saw a small boy on the beach who touched all of us. Amongst the trash, sewage, and debris, he found his joy in flying a homemade kite made from a garbage bag, string, and an old soda bottle. The phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” applied perfectly to that moment.
We experienced other aspects of Puerto Plata’s culture on Saturday. We had lunch at a small, open-air restaurant where we had our first real taste of Dominican food. It was so strange to see stray cats roaming in the restaurant and to order in Spanish. We were all shocked by the driving habits in the city. Juan, our van driver from Dove Missions, navigated the roads beautifully; but we were all a little on edge to see cars swerve in and out of lanes and have mopeds speed past us. The first day here was definitely full of new cultural experiences and exciting moments with our new friends at the center, but best of all was meeting such joyous people.
Anna, Senior Gerontology/Social Work student
(Follow the experiences of our students as they have been serving in the Dominican Republic during spring break. Visit the blog at the Barton College School of Nursing.)