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Another Place MAG
It was an ordinary trip to the mailbox that lateApril afternoon, but that small metal box contained the greatest opportunity ofmy life. I recognized the return address of the woman to whom I had sent anapplication to become a camp counselor in the Dominican Republic.
I rippedit open. I was one of four chosen in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, and Ijumped up and down, screaming with excitement.
In the following weeks, Imet the three other teens, as well as two adult advisors, to learn our duties. Wewere scheduled to work with 30 Spanish-speaking children between the ages of sixand ten for a week in Jarabacoa. Each of us would be responsible for doing acraft with the children and were allowed two suitcases, one for craft materialsand the other for our things. The poverty and conditions on the island wereexplained: we could not drink the water or flush toilet paper; the electricitywould be sporadic; and the food quite different.
After two months, threevaccinations and packing a hundred pounds of luggage, I was ready. I had decidedto tie-dye shirts with the kids, so one of my suitcases held 40 white t-shirtswith 18 packets of dye.
Although my parents were excited, I could tellthey were scared that I would fall off a cliff or get eaten by a wild Dominicanbeast. "I promise I'll be careful," I assured them.
During thetrip, I got to know everyone. For two days we stayed in Santo Domingo with amissionary couple from Nebraska who told us about the culture. On the third daywe took a bus into the mountains to the camp in Jarabacoa. Crowds greeted us, allshouting "¡Los Americanos estan aqui!" which means "TheAmericans are here!" I felt like a celebrity!
Then we met the kids.Although I'd seen pictures of poverty, experiencing it firsthand was different.Their houses were boards with tarps covering them. The children had one set ofclothes, if that. They were dirty from head to toe, but their smiles captured us.I assumed they would be shy, but they hung off us and talked fast. I had threekids hanging off me all the time. Apparently, we amazed them as much as theyastounded us.
As promised, we did a craft with the children every day.They thought beads were precious jewels, and couldn't get enough. My tie-dyeproject gave them a new shirt as well as a lot of fun. They had never seenanything like it, and they ended up with a souvenir.
One day we hiked toan absolutely gorgeous waterfall. We had fun playing with the children in thewater and building a human pyramid. I had brought a towel and some of them triedto take it because they were not used to such luxuries. Since it was my only one,I didn't want to give it up, but then I felt selfish. With a
milliontowels at home, I was telling these children who had nothing that they couldn'ttake my towel? I quickly changed my mind.
I carried one of the littlegirls, Jennie, back to the camp because she had scraped her knee. We talked aboutour families and her life. "Muchos de los niños son tristes porque notienen dinero a venir acampar con los americanos. ¡Gracias por estaraqui!" she said. "Many of the children are sad because they don't havemoney to come to camp with the Americans. Thank you for being here!" She hadthe most beautiful smile, and when I looked into her eyes, I saw happiness. Shedidn't need a Nintendo to make her happy. She understood the beauty of having afamily. I envied her happiness.
Sometimes in my own country I feelabandoned. I feel as if I have nothing and need more. Sometimes I'm greedy, anddo not consider how the poor live. In the Dominican Republic, I have never feltmore selfish. I never realized how lucky I was to have a roof over my head, twoparents who love me, three meals a day, and a toilet that can handle toiletpaper. I always took these things for granted. Looking through that little girl'seyes changed my views about the world.
As the week ended, we all dealtwith the reality that we would probably never see each other again. We had grownso close, I couldn't imagine not being with them the following week. They werethe hardest good-byes I have ever had to say. I told myself I would come back thenext summer, but it's not that easy.
Every day I think of those childrenso many miles away who changed my life. I will never be the same person. When Igot home, I thanked God for all that I have, but mostly for having been given anopportunity to change people's lives while they helped change mine.