Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just Back from Yale Alumni Service Tour, Dominican Republic

Dear Friends,

Our son, Tyler, and I just got back from an amazing trip to the Dominican Republic that was organized by the Yale Alumni Service Corps, in conjunction with a group called Cambiando Vidas.  I have a lot to say about this trip . . . it was one of those experiences that, it is safe to say, was life-changing for Tyler, for me and for many of the participants.

In the DR, Tyler and I joined about 90 other Yalies/friends/spouses/kids (including classmate Kathy Edershein and her son, Teddy).  We worked in an area called Las Charcas de Gabarito, which is outside a small, mountain city, San Juan de la Maguana.  We served an impoverished, mostly agricultural community not far from the Haitian border.  Part of our group built a house for a Las Charcas family.  Another part of our group ran a medical clinic.  Kathy's group consulted to local businesses. Our group taught kids in a local school -- Tyler was a piano instructor, and I was his assistant.  And, on one day, we all went door-to-door to distribute information about cholera, which people fear will soon hit this area.

Because internet access has been in short supply for me, I could not blog about this experience in real time.  Instead, I will use my notes from our trip to start blogging tomorrow about our trip day-to day.  I hope you enjoy the posts.  If you don't want all the details, here is my quick summary of what we took away from this experience:

1)  This was an amazing trip.  We met a great group of people who went down to help.  The Yalies/friends/etc. who went with us were an engaged, alive and diverse group.  I was blown away by their energy, creativity and enthusiasm.

We met an even greater group of people when we got there.  The people of Las Charcas were warm and inviting, eager to learn and incredibly friendly.  The kids we taught were bright and engaging.  They touched our hearts.  Tyler and I both left having been touched by their grit and determination to make their lives better.  If you have ever considered a service trip for yourself (or your family), I would encourage you to check out the Yale Service Corps and Cambiando Vidas.

2)  This sort of trip isn't for everyone.  Like any movement of 90 people, there were some logistical glitches and some waiting.  We also did a lot of on the job training; Tyler and I both learned enough this week to greatly improve the work we did.  (We ended up teaching piano to dozens of kids, some of whom ended the week playing with both hands and starting to read music.  Knowing what we know now, I think we could have gotten even more accomplished.)   And, our surroundings were humble.  For instance, the hotels we stayed in were clean and safe, but were certainly not high end travel.  And the neighborhood in which we worked was a poor, rural area.  That is a lot for some people to handle, so if you consider a trip like this, it is important to go into it with your eyes open.

3)  It's going to take me a while to process fully what we just experienced.  I will try to tell you the stories of the kids we worked with and the families we met.  I will even try to add some color commentary here and there.  What I am struggling with is to explain why things were they way they were.  How can a group of kids I meet in school in the morning, all in clean, pressed uniforms, with smiles on their faces and plenty of good questions and obvious ability, be the same kids I see outside of very humble homes without potable water or plumbing, with chickens and pigs running around the yard in the afternoon?  How can it be that a whole community with hundreds of families that is just 20 minutes from a city has no idea when (or if) they are going to get electricity to their homes and school on any given day?  And, what is going to become of the kids we taught, who were every bit as bright and inquisitive as the kids my children go to school with in Greenwich, Connecticut?

So, please stay tuned.  I look forward to telling you about our travels.



Some of our Las Charcas students


2 comments:

Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Takahashi said...

It was a great trip indeed. One particular quote from the trip actually stuck with me well after we returned. One of the kids, when asked what they would sing about if they became a famous singer, said they'd sing about their hometown (Las Charcas) because "it doesn't make men bigger than they really are".

Those were some very insightful words from a very bright kid.