St. John’s Jesuit High School experiences “A feeling that money can’t buy” in Judea Nueva, Dominican Republic

June 2019

Two St. John’s Jesuit students, Andrew and Chet contributed their perspectives and experiences to make this story.

Service in the Dominican Republic was as powerful and impactful for me as it was helpful for the community. Yes, helping to build the court was hard work. We filled, lifted, and poured thousands of buckets into the concrete mixer in incredibly hot weather with no shade in sight. Yes, the sleeping arrangement was not ideal, and no air conditioning in a room so cramped we had to put our bags in another room gave me the worst heat rash I’ve ever had. And yes, there was a severe lack of amenities such as cold water, electricity, and running water. But I would not have wanted the trip to be any different.

All of these temporary hardships helped me to feel that I was making a difference. I remember talking with my classmates during one of the breaks. We were talking about all of the service we have done before and what made this service trip different. This trip felt much more fulfilling and meaningful to both us and those we were serving. For once in our lives, we were a part of a team that didn’t just drop in and do something for someone. We were an integral part of a system that included those whom we were serving and doing work that meant a lot to the community. And when we finished, we all had this wonderful feeling of accomplishment that money can’t buy.

The work was only three days of the trip. The rest of the time was spent with the community and the kids. Even though many of us did not know much spanish (I knew none at all), we played games and made many friends. We played baseball and soccer, danced with the girls, and gave lots and lots of piggyback rides. I remember playing soccer with Dobinson on my back. Whenever I would take the ball from someone, he would start laughing the most contagious laugh I have ever heard. These genuine relationships with the people of Judea Nueva were priceless.

When we were leaving, our connection with the community became even more apparent. I remember leaving right at sunrise as the kids came to us to say their goodbyes. I will never forget one kid, Lulu, who was so sad to see us go that he started to cry, but in order to prevent us from seeing him cry, he put on two sunglasses to hide his eyes. Reflecting back on the experience now, I feel much more worldly as an individual, and even though I will probably never see Judea Nueva again, I will always know that I, Andrew, made a real, meaningful, and profound difference in the world.  -Andrew , St. John’s Jesuit student

My time with courts for kids in the Dominican Republic has been deeply transformative in ways which I never could have never initially imagined. While I knew that the main goal of the trip was to interact with the community through constructing a basketball court, I was terrified of many possible obstacles that might hinder our success. Mainly, I did not want to be viewed and disliked by the community as a “white savior,” as if I were thinking down on the people of Judea Nueva, or ignored for my lack of sufficiency in the Spanish language. To my relief, the community took instant interest and liking to the entire Courts for Kids crew and kept coming back to talk to us, whether it be over a game of baseball or a cup of coffee. The people of Judea Nueva surprised me with their strong sense of community and even stronger hospitality, especially the Haitians of the village. The racism against Haitians which we had previously heard about did not seem that apparent in Judea Nueva, except for the natural residential segregation caused by differences in house pricing. The Haitian children would always be the first in line begging to play baseball or soccer with us as soon as we finished working on the court, and stayed talking to us deep into the evening. Should there be any odd jobs required of us, the Haitians leaped to help, hoping to better befriend us or ask for our spare food and water. The Haitian community of Judea Nueva solidified the idea that those who are on the farthest lines of poverty are truly abundant in spirit and good will. Lack of resources did not force the Haitians and Dominicans into greed and fighting, but into tightly knit communities of hospitality and charity. Such immaculate behavior dramatically increased my rage when I realized that there was no reason for the community of Judea Nueva to be marginalized, aside from the greed of the rich. During my time there, I learned that a large majority of the Dominican Republic’s economic traffic comes from resorts that pocket the income, not aiding in keeping the country’s economy healthy. The neglect from wealthy resort owners, politicians, or even everyday United States citizens all keeps the impoverished Dominicans from enjoying the quality of life that we do every day (even though they appreciate and enjoy what they do have). Despite their hospitality and happiness which they gave to us, the people of Judea Nueva left me uncomfortable; through living in their conditions and talking to them, I realized that I take so much of my normal life for granted, and have the unused potential to increase their quality of life instead of wasting time and money on useless luxuries. I have learned the value and effectiveness of charity through my time with Courts for Kids, and now have the knowledge, understanding, and opportunity to enact it. – Chet , St. John’s Jesuit student

“Interacting with the locals was a blast and couldn’t be stopped by the language barrier. I learned kindness from the community. The family that hosted us for dinner every night was the nicest family I have ever met. The main woman was so loving and generous and set a good example for me to try to achieve.”  – Sean

“I learned plenty of things from the community. They taught me how to welcome outsiders and make us feel like we were at home. They taught me how to take nothing for granted…. The community also taught me how to stay strong and find God. For example, they almost went through a strike and they are in poverty, but the community sticks together, stays strong, and finds God.” –  Justin

“I embarked on this trip with the expectation that I would meet the kids, work on the court, and leave with a new Outlook on life. This did happen, but along with so much more. I formed bonds and memories with the community of Judea Nueva that I will never forget.  [They] showed me great amounts of love when they did not have to. Because of this, I learned to show love and to be welcoming to new people….” – Christopher