The idea of going to the Dominican Republic to help a few small communities became very appealing to me. I knew it would be a cultural immersion and it would definitely help to increase my cultural awareness and competence, which is something that is stressed in my chosen profession, social work.
Our task was to level the ground surrounding the Women’s Center in Las Palmillas, paint a mural, and help to prepare for a fence to be built around the center. We only had a few pickaxes and shovels, but we quickly learned to work with what we had. I got to speak with some of the women who emphasized the fact that we were empowering them. Because of all the hard work we were putting in and them physically seeing us make progress, they knew that they could also accomplish much. This was my first indication that I was making a difference in this community.
By the end of the week we had completed what we had set out to do and the Center looked beautiful. We also were able to put on workshops for the women and children on proper nutrition and hygiene. Later that night, I was asked if I wanted to spend a day at the clinic which is where some of the other students had been all week. I agreed because I wanted to see how their health care system differed from the system in the United States.
When I arrived at the clinic I was amazed at how many people were lined up to be seen. I was able to work in pediatrics in the morning and this was truly rewarding. I got to hold a baby and try to cheer the kids up who were sick. Many of the children just needed a simple antibiotic, but their family just could not afford it. In the afternoon I got to work on fitting people for eyeglasses. This was rewarding because something so simple as a pair of readers made a significant difference for these older individuals. They expressed much joy after they realized they could see clearer and read. They were truly grateful.
I never imagined spending my off campus study in a foreign country, but I am so glad I did.
As I reflect back on my time and experience in the Dominican Republic, it is very difficult for me to narrow down all that I learned. First of all, the Dominican people are some of the most respectful, caring, and grateful people that I have ever come to know. They welcomed us every day, laughed with us, fed us, the list goes on. Most importantly, as they learned from us, I know we learned from them. Although a barrier, language didn’t matter. We related to one another as people with rights and worth. It was difficult for me to see that the women and children had so little when I have so much. The trip really allowed me to reflect on American culture and develop a sense of cultural awareness for other cultures that I am not familiar with.