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My Own Casa Libre This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Casa Libre: The most beautiful place on earth. If you take away the mosquitoes, dirt roads, wooden toilets, and poor village, it would be considered a five-star hotel. But in my eyes, it is better than that. It is a home. My uncle named his house Casa Libre because it is a “free house” where everyone is welcome. If a villager is sick, in need of help, or even hungry, he knows to come to the Casa Libre.

I was only seven when I first visited my uncle in the Dominican Republic. He had a two-room house constructed of wood and banana leaves in the village center. At the entrance was the living room with a coffee table and four plastic chairs. The second room was just large enough for a full-size bed. Since my family could not sleep in his house, we stayed at a hotel for two dollars a night. There was just one bed with a mosquito net around it. The sheets were so dirty that I ­couldn't see their real color. There was no sign of electricity or running water, not even a bucket of water to wash my hands. The restrooms were outside – any spot I chose. We locked our door with a rusty hook because there have been murders in this small fishing village.

The next day, my mom, dad, brother, and I gathered the whole village together. We brought out suitcases filled with new and old clothes. The villagers lined up and accepted these with the most joyful smiles. “Giving is one of the best rewards,” my mom would tell me.

To this day, I still remember one ­little boy's face as he received a pair of sandals that fit him perfectly. He kept saying “gracias.” But one of my most vivid memories of that day was a girl. My worn-out soccer T-shirt became her most prized possession. She was overjoyed with the feeling of wearing something “new.”

Since I was only seven, everything was new to me. I'd never seen starving children. My views on the world changed after that experience. I no longer take for granted the food, water, electricity, clothes, or even the education that I receive. When my friends complain about the food their parents make them eat, I tell them that there are people starving in other countries and they should cherish every bite. Not only am I more aware of the world, but I think maybe someday I would like to have my own Casa Libre.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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