by Samantha Green and Giuliana Bianco
Over the winter break, eight students travelled to the Dominican Republic, taking part in the annual service trip to an orphanage which SMUS students have been volunteering at for four years. The Senior School students brought stockings made by the Grade 5 classes and books (courtesy of last year’s Latin Fiesta fundraiser) to the children. Grade 11 students Samantha Green and Giuliana Bianco report on the trip, which has become a core part of SMUS international service.
“Oh My God!” were the only words that came to mind when our alarm clock went off at four in the morning. It was not the groggy disoriented response we would do out of habit every morning before school, but the jittery and excited feeling of going on a big trip that got us out of bed so quickly. Truth be told, we hadn’t really slept at all that night and the one before and it’s safe to say that the rest of the group didn’t either.
This big trip was the service trip to the Dominican Republic that is offered at SMUS. The school connection with Hope for the Child orphanage started four years ago, when two Grade 11 students asked Mr. Cook for a place they could volunteer. The rest is history and the school has taken groups down for the past four years now and will continue to do so.
This year’s trip consisted of eight students in Grades 11 and 12 and two chaperones, along with many suitcases full of donations. We stayed overnight in Miami before flying into Santiago, Republica Dominicana, where we embarked on a three-hour bus ride into the town of Monte Christi. We left Victoria with no preconception of the town or the orphanage. Fortunately for us, we arrived on New Year’s Eve and experienced the Latin culture celebrations to bring in the New Year.
In retrospect, the time we all spent in the Dominican sparks different memories for each of us. We feel we took with us similar feelings about the people, culture and environment we were exposed to. The initial reaction we got from the kids at the orphanage was so genuinely friendly, we immediately felt comfortable.
It is truly amazing how these orphans are so quick to accept complete strangers into their home and their lives, and simply enjoy the short time they spend with volunteers like us. The Latin culture in the Dominican is quite laid back compared to the lifestyle we live in North America: it taught us to live in the moment and appreciate the time we have together. If things did not go as planned, we learned to go with the flow or to be “gumby” as they say. This trip was also a great opportunity to get to know people in the group, as well as other volunteers there at the same time.
Before we left on the trip, we both were concerned that we would be disgusted with North American materialism upon returning. However, what we left with is quite different. Although we were exposed to extreme poverty, what was truly prominent was how happy these people were with what little they did have. We realized that we live in a consumer-driven society where we have so much, but that’s okay as long as we appreciate what we do have instead of always wanting more.
It is quite difficult to express in words what the whole experience means to us. Even with all the stories and pictures to reflect on our time gone, the only way to understand it completely is to experience it yourself and “jump right in.” On the three-hour bus ride back to Santiago, we listened to a fitting song to bring a close to the end of the trip: “All Good Things Come to an End” by Nelly Furtado.
It is true in this case that all good things do come to an end, although we know that somewhere down the road we will be back there again.