Live in the moment. For eight short-lived days with BLUE Missions in La Piragua, Dominican Republic, along with 25 other high school students, this phrase became my motto. We woke up everyday at the crack of dawn to the sound of roosters crowing at our door and Spanish music blasting from a speaker. We slept on cots, took freezing cold bucket showers and ate arroz con frijoles y yuca — a traditional Dominican meal — for lunch and dinner, prepared by the locals. We lived so simply: we never knew the time of day, we had no air conditioning, no Snapchat or Instagram, but we were so incredibly happy.
During my week in the campo building latrines for 16 incredible families, there was one family in particular that stood out to me the most. They lived in a tiny wooden house with only a kitchen and a bed — as did most people in their town — and had never experienced any form of bathroom sanitation. Despite having nothing, their faces beamed with gratitude and they never complained about their situation. When we arrived at their home ready to build, we were greeted with sweet crackers and Kola Real, a Dominican soda. The family explained to us how those were the only two things they had left in their refridgerator and they were sorry that they could not give us something more valuable to pay us back.
As I spoke with people that had gone on trips to different towns, I encountered a girl who had experienced the same generosity. After she had built a latrine for an elderly family, the woman felt so overwhelmed and grateful that she thought the only way she could pay the girl back was by offering her wedding ring.
This experience made me realize how little I knew about the world. Although I read the news everyday, both local and international, I had no clue as to how pervasive the sanitation crisis is and how many people it affects globally. Seeing the lack of access to proper sanitation firsthand taught me how important it is to reach outside of your community and become globally aware.
From the simplicity of the campo, I learned how superficial materialism is. Whenever I am overwhelmed with small things, I try to remind myself that, as BLUE Missions emphasizes on all their trips, I “get to do things.” For a lot of people in less developed countries, going to school or washing the dishes is not even an option.
Apart from the countless lessons I learned about the importance of service, the smiles on the faces of the Dominican families when they saw their finished latrines for the first time made me realize that helping others is something I want to continue doing for the rest of my life, and going on another BLUE missions trip is the perfect way to start that journey.
Months after returning from La Piragua, I still remember and cherish the lessons that these families inadvertently taught me and all of those who have been on a BLUE missions trip.
“Most high school students sign up for a BLUE trip because they want to complete their service hours, but the truth is it leaves you with so much more. It gives you lessons you take home and can apply to your everyday life that shape you into the best version of yourself,” BLUE Missions fellow and 18-trip veteran Carolina Consuegra said. “Volunteers go into this experience not knowing what to expect and thinking they’re on this trip to impact the community but leave with a whole new perspective of life.”
Whether you travel across the street or to another country, reach outside of your comfort zone to better someone else’s life. Get to know your neighbors; smile at strangers; volunteer. Helping others not only improves their lives—it will improve yours too.
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