For nine days I had the pleasure of suffering for and with the small community of Batey Frias and 19 rising Seniors of Jesuit High School of New Orleans to build something beautiful: a handmade basketball court. Before this experience I had been out of the country a handful of times, but never for this long and not as a working member of a community. I would say a majority of the students had not either. The journey to the village located a little under two hours north of Santo Domingo was filled with excitement, expectation, and road-side coconuts.
After the initial shock of realizing what it actually meant to “leave the comforts of home” (mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets, no running water etc.), the students really started to engage with the community and enjoy themselves. The first three days, however, were grueling: long work days filled with digging for dirt, carrying dirt, and wishing to never see dirt again. Then we got to shake things up a bit and prepare the court for concrete. Assembly lines assembled and shovelers got to shoveling. We all thought we were working to the limit , but then we’d watch our 62 year old contractor outwork all of us, covered head to toe in concrete mix, and we’d find the reserve energy we needed to save ourselves from embarrassment.
As hard as it was, it wasn’t all work and no play. Twice we went with the community to a nearby river to play games and cool off. Herman, a local farmer, gave us a personal tour of his cacao farm while we munched on fresh seeds. A local semi-professional baseball team put on a clinic for us, and we played a baseball game with at least two horses in the outfield. Sonia, our resident cook, opened her home to us and she and a few other women would provide meals and teach us how they cook and prepare their food each day.
We played games with the children, danced the night away in the pavilion, and sat together to eat and enjoy conversation. Life there seemed radically different and yet by the time we left it felt so familiar. I never got used to the sounds of chickens under the cabin or the constant rhythm of Reggaeton (or Dominican equivalent) from 6 am to 12 am, but the community was so welcoming that it felt like a home away from home at times.
As we concluded our visit on the last day, there was excitement at the completion of the new court, and we held a tournament with teams mixed of locals and ourselves. But as the energy from the tournament and enthusiasm of the new court started to die down, realization of our departure set in, and there were some teary goodbyes. I will forever be grateful to the community for the experience that I had, and as a teacher I can see how much of an impact it had on the students. Their eyes were opened to people of a different culture, their sense of compassion grew, and their understanding of what it really means to lack increased. ~Daniel Augustin
The arrival of the CFK´s team of was something that changed Batey Frias. Before having the court, there was only an emptiness and silence, on the contrary, now you feel the life of youth and the noise that says pass me the ball, what an emotional moment for me!
During this time, we created a family, as if we were all Dominicans, we learned some words in English but we also taught the students many words in Spanish.
The goodbye felt like a family member was leaving our life, we were left in tears, tears and sadness, but also happiness for such a great gift they left behind, which is a court and a more united community.
Thank you for your great work, I hope in the not too distant future to see you again on another project. ~Sonia, Batey Frias Community Leader
I learned many things from the community, but especially that these people seem to find joy in the smallest things, such as kids playing with toys made of sticks. ~Gabe Walser
Now I think that happiness comes from the people around and not material things, the most difficult part of this trip was going home is definitely not being able to see people every morning. ~Miles Roche
The community taught me to rely on others and to believe in the work put into something. I learned that the world is much bigger than I think it is and that I should not take things for granted. What I see clearly is that everyone, has a big heart and certain differences don’t make a person more or less human. ~Nischal Kasula
The community taught me that happiness does not come from one’s social status, rather it comes from how people perceive their lives, the locals were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met because they knew they had each other and their basic needs. ~Riley Morse
Some of my favorite memories from this trip are mostly due to the locals. Meeting all of these people are developing a board with them was hard with the language barrier, playing with the kids and touching the different was some of the best moments of the trip. ~Nick Woodson
I learned that in our world all cultures have similar goals everyone wants to be happy. Happiness comes in many forms. In the D.R. Happiness amongst those who have nothing shows how little you need to be happy. This trip has taught me not to take for granted commodities that I am used to having in the us. Things such as a/c, in all I will try to be more thankful for the things I have. ~Emile Bruneau
My favorite memory from the trip was spending time with Sonya their family, from making dinner with her to watching the finals game on her tv, Sonya’s hospitality was a real eye-opening moment. Sonya gave me what little things she had and took me under her wing. My appreciation of Sonya’s hospitality can’t be expressed with words. She treated me as a son, and always looked out for me. One specific moment that stuck out to me was helping her wash clothes. I was clueless, but she helped me and showed me the process. That moment where she helped me was truly special. Although there was a major language between us, her constant persistence to make sure I understood her, showed how much she cared about me. Sonya’s radiant out flow of happiness and joy inspires me to be a more understanding person. ~Emile Bruneau
My favorite memory was playing in the basketball tournament on the court we just finished. I got to see my hard days of work pay off while having fun. Despite losing in the finals. I enjoyed it and had a great time. This trip changed me a lot. I learned so much about me and about other cultures . ~Jake Moorvant