On New Year’s Day, a group of 13 students from the University of Cincinnati landed in the Dominican Republic ready to start their Courts for Kids DR experience. After a two hour bus ride taking in a variety of new sights – from the clear blue water of the Caribbean sea to four people riding on a single motorcycle – and reviewing old Spanish worksheets that one of the students had brought along, we arrived at our destination. El Pintado, the site of Courts for Kids first court of 2015, is located on the eastern side of the island and home to approximately 1,000 people, including Maria Rodrigues, a Peace Corps Volunteer in her second year of service. Due to the lack of safe spaces for children and youth, Maria had helped her community apply for a project with Courts for Kids, so they had been eagerly anticipating our arrival! When we pulled up to our house, we were welcomed by presence and smiles of almost 100 community members. A group of youth from the community performed a dance that they had choreographed, combining the most popular music and dance moves in the DR. Only a few hours in country and the group had already been introduced to Dominican’s amazing hospitality and love of dancing!
On Friday morning, we were rested and ready to work! However, after rushing out of the house, we quickly learned that our scheduled 8:00 start time was on “Dominican time,” which is MUCH less rigid concept of time than we are accustomed to back in the U.S. We adapted; as one of the student, Gika, put it “I understood the importance of acclimating with the foreign culture, instead of forcing yours on the foreigners. Wink,wink…Dominican time”. And as the days went by, we even started to enjoy alternating our time between work and play (as we waited for materials to arrive).
Community participation on and off the court was incredible. Hours each day were spent mixing cement and pouring the concrete floor. Even when we weren’t working, we were busy spending time with locals and learning about Dominican culture. We played sports – volleyball in the river, and baseball and soccer on the “pley”. We learned how to play dominos, make empanadas and dance bachata and merengue. We hiked through the fields and ate sugar cane, and went on a cacao tour to learn about how chocolate is made. Despite the language barriers, we talked, laughed and made friends.
After a week of working hard and playing hard, we inaugurated the court in El Pintado. We played basketball and volleyball until the sun went down and then turned the court into a giant dance party! We said goodbye to our new friends that night. Katie, one of the UC students captured the moment perfectly and wrote “I had tears in my eyes as I was saying goodbye as they were walking us home. Every person in this community will forever hold a special place in my heart.”
“This trip changed me and my life. I’m so grateful for this experience and the people I met here. I realized happiness honestly is not based on what you have, but the people you share it with . . . I learned to live in the moment. I have become more grateful for everything I have . . . This trip has been an experience of a lifetime and has given me a new outlook on life.”
– Meredith Bodkin
“The most important thing I learned from the community was to just be happy. The people always had a smile on their face. Any American could find a thousand reasons to complain or be upset with their situation. The people of the DR are happy, welcoming and fun loving people. The community showed me I have every reason and more to smile like they do.”
– Jacob Hood
“My favorite memories of the trip were working with the community to build the court. In previous service trips, it was very much just the students building the houses and doing the work but in the DR, everyone in the community came out to help from the kids carrying buckets of cement to the guys helping to shovel to the women making meals. It was an amazing experience with an amazing community of people.”
– Sarah Carpenter
“I have changed because I now know the value of having all the opportunities that are available to me in America. On this trip I recognized that many people have few opportunities available to them. Education is a privilege, as are job options. Politics, economics, and social structures prevent individuals from reaching their full potential. I now understand that if an opportunity is available for me to improve the lives of others that I should take it.”
– Sam Schroeder