Tales from a Last-Minute Chaperone: Venturing into the Dominican Republic

10/09/18

Laurie Wilke responded to a last-minute call from Bellevue Presbyterian Church for a volunteer to help supervise their large group of female students headed to the Dominican Republic on a short-term Venture trip. Here is her unexpected adventure in her own words:

I knew that the students (as well as us leaders) would be positively impacted, but the “how” was awesome to participate in/watch as it unfolded.


Laurie with child


Colin [the head of the Venture team] is a gifted leader, and each evening he led meaningful discussions as everyone shared the frustrations/difficulties of each day and then the joys we’d experienced. I knew the students would come away with a sense of appreciation for how “easy” our lives are in comparison to the poverty in the bateyes. What I was thrilled to additionally watch them discover is, despite the Dominican children's limited resources, how happy and loving they were. And how enthusiastically they embraced the attention of “their Americans.”

 

Our students experienced playing “clapping hand” games, competitions with jumping on old tires, and piggyback ride races. A big “a-ha” for many was the firsthand experience of watching how money/things don’t create happiness.


Piggyback races


It was also a huge joy for me to see how happy and eager our students were to work hard in the heat so as to build the community garden. After the first day of work in the garden, we anticipated at least some grumbling about how hard or hot it was. But no . . . they loved literally digging into the work! We started with “group breaks” for water, but that proved difficult because they didn’t want to stop and “waste time.”


Working with pickax


One of my “jobs” was to insist to individuals that they stop for a few minutes at least to drink more water and apply sunscreen. We had to say, “No, you have to drink that whole bottle before you’re allowed to go back out to work!” They were so determined to finish moving a giant pile of topsoil before we had to break (to go to lunch and then a baseball clinic) on our second work day, that they were scooping it by hand into buckets to move it!


Working in the dirtThis summer, several Venture teams, including Laurie's, worked to build community gardens for COTN–Dominican Republic children and their families.


Hauling dirt


Several of the students were given permission to sponsor a child. And we all watched with joy as one of our students got to meet the girl her father had sponsored when he went on a trip two years ago.


BelPres students with Dominican children


Due to multiple groups being there at the same time, we stayed at a hotel on the beach rather than at “The Casa.” At first, us leaders (and even some kids) said, “Wow, this seems too nice for a ‘mission trip’” because the pool and view of the ocean was so inviting. In truth though, we learned the harsh reality of how their government will, randomly and without warning, just shut electricity down in poorer areas. That meant meals couldn’t necessarily be prepared on time, the air conditioning didn’t work, the water for a shower was cold, and you always needed your flashlight handy. We even had one room that had a couple “fire ant invasions.” Several kids were shocked to discover that even brushing your teeth with the tap water was not okay. (Talk about a good lesson on the value of safe drinking water and the wells that COTN has helped build!)

Another benefit of this change in venue was that the breezes from the ocean really kept the mosquitoes at bay. (No one got sick!) And at the end of a long work day, a quick swim in the pool was super refreshing. It also had a central dining area that worked well for the morning devotion and the evening debrief. Personally, I felt that staying at the hotel, combined with the experience of daily lunch at the Casa, was a great combination.


Quinceanera in the Dominican RepublicBellevue Presbyterian Church (BelPres) was able to join another Venture team to help COTN girls celebrate their quinceañera. This celebration usually occurs around a young woman's fifteenth birthday and marks her transition from girlhood to womanhood. It's a very important milestone in a Dominican girl's life.


Celebrating their quinceaneras


The other interesting part of our “timing” is that we were all looking forward to going right to work the day after we arrived. However, that was a Sunday, so we started our week by attending a two-hour service at one of the local churches. What a unifying experience that was: the people of God, who don’t even speak the same language, together worshiping our Lord! One of the songs they sang is one we often sing in Modern Worship service at BelPres. Since Kyle [the COTN–Dominican Republic liaison] was with us that day (and was acquainted with the musicians), we all got to go up on the stage after the service and sing the song in English. It was so cool that many of the locals came back in to listen to us singing. I felt that God really blessed us and set the “tone” for our week by having us start our time in worship.


In circle with Dominican children


I’d also like to comment on how welcomed and safe we felt by our bus driver Alejandro and two of his sons, Willie and Rambo! The fact that so many of the COTN personnel grew up in the bateyes and completed schooling and have come back to work in their villages was strong testimony to the work COTN has been involved with throughout the past 20 years.


BelPres student holds Dominican child


COTN refers to these trip as “Venture” and BelPres calls them “Impact Trips.” This experience was definitely both!

P.S. Interested in going on your own Venture trip? There are several types of trips available!