By Olivia Tattory
When people asked about my decision to leave the country to volunteer my time and effort, they almost seemed disappointed. “We have enough people here in the U.S. to help,” they’d say. “What about all the hungry and underprivileged children in Trenton and Camden?” my aunt ranted. And at the time, I didn’t really have much of an answer other than I saw flyers around campus for a service trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
However, once the trip concluded, the number of answers I had for all those skeptics was countless. But I’ll get to those later.
In the weeks leading up to our departure, I found myself thinking about the trip more and more often. I only knew one other student who was going on the trip and was excited to meet everyone else and get my hands dirty.
As the 10 of us gathered at Emmaus House in the early morning hours (and by early I mean 3:30 a.m.) of Jan. 7 and awaited our shuttle to Newark Liberty International Airport, I knew the trip would prove to be, at the very least, very interesting. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the 10 of us represented nearly every single student organization at Rider: the Latin American Student Organization, Greek Life, Black Student Union, Athletics, Residence Life, Association of Commuting Students and of course, The Rider News, just to name a few.
The relationships and degree of teamwork that developed, from our first meeting to the plane ride home, is something I can say I’m sure most students have not had the opportunity to take part in. Sure, we’re all members of some organization, but few have spent nearly 24 hours a day for 10 consecutive days working together one way or another.
During our time at the Hogar Escuela Armando Rosenberg, a home and school for orphaned, abandoned children or children from severe poverty, we were responsible for the maintenance of various tasks on the premises. Primarily, we painted basketball and volleyball courts and stacked the yearly shipment of canned food supplies.
Now I know what you’re thinking — painting a court doesn’t seem all that intense or difficult, especially when you have 10 people. But you need to remember, we had limited supplies and funds to get the job done. Once we were finally finished sweeping the courts, which alone was one day’s work, we were able to begin painting. With rollers, brushes and brooms in hand, the 10 of us worked diligently to continue sweeping and painting over the court that had faded from the previous year.
I cannot tell you the degree of satisfaction I felt when we completed the basketball court. And I can say with absolute certainty that the other nine students felt the same way.
Our teamwork was put to an even greater test when we formed an assembly line from one room to another and passed restaurant-supply-sized cans of food to each other. Something that seems so simple to us, can actually mean so much more to others.
Once we finished our work for the day, we had the opportunity to interact with the children at the orphanage. The first day we met them was slightly awkward — I don’t think any of us really knew what to do really. But once we got back to the hotel and discussed our day’s work, nearly every person said they wanted more time with the kids.
We played monkey in the middle, hand games and, of course, took tons of pictures. Each child had a favorite student and in the end, it was really hard to leave them. Pulling away from the school the last day filled us with so many different emotions: happiness, thankfulness for the opportunity and, sadness because we were leaving.
Looking back at the experience, I can’t think of one thing I didn’t absolutely love about my time in Santo Domingo. I just wish I could go back every year and lend a helping hand.