After meeting the full team, we headed to the furniture store to buy 3 beds, 2 dressers, 2 rocking chairs, and a table with 4 chairs. These were to be a surprise for the family in their new home. We then headed to Los Robles for the last time. After finishing up details such as building a ladder to get to the loft and installing the door, we moved in the furniture. After presenting the family with their completed home we said our goodbyes and drove off.
We returned to the hotel to change clothes and get ready to go to the beach and the larimar mines. At the beach we enjoyed lunch and swimming in the very cold waters of the river which ran into the ocean. The rip current is too strong in the ocean to go swimming, but it was delightful just standing up to our knees. We then dried off and headed to the base of the mountain, got into two trucks, and started our hours long journey up the mountain. The view of the mountains was just like something taken from Jurassic Park. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if a dinosaur popped up. We arrived at the mines and we were able to walk through one of them. It smelled earthy and nasty, it was very damp, moist and muddy. We didn't go in very far but we learned that that mine stretched almost 800 ft under ground. After everyone got a chance to go into the mine, we gathered together and we were able to purchase any of the larimar merchandise some of the miners displayed for us. We started to make our descent down the mountain, which was very bumpy but enjoyable nonetheless.
We got back into our bus and made our way back to the restaurant for our final dinner in Barahona followed by the celebration of Mansi's birthday with cake. Last, we headed back to the hotel for our final debriefing and preparing for our flight the next day.
Hasta la vista,
Kelly and Mansi
[Before I say anything, shout-out to Amalia, my adorable little friend in the photo! She is the same one who is pictured as the blog header above this post!]
As I write this, I am currently sitting in Fort Lauderdale International Airport on a five-and-a-half-hour layover with many mixed emotions, so you may want to grab a cup of coffee prior to reading...
Having to leave the team a day early that you spent so much time with for a week and have been through really high highs and really low lows together, one side of me says, “You are an adult, you are honoring your prior commitments and being responsible,” but the other side of me says, “Get back on the next flight back to Santo Domingo and finish what you started!” Kelly said something great this week about how there was a moment she felt a sense of peace while in Los Robles (the Batey we worked in all week) and I feel the same right now because I know I am not needed anymore since we have an absolutely incredible team who put the final touches on the house today and furnished it for the family! A few of us talked about how we like to get the job done and move onto the next thing, but this week stretched us to learn to be patient.
Last night at our debrief meeting I was asked what my takeaway from this trip was, but so many good and bad things happened this week that I was not able to share right away since I probably would’ve talked forever, so for those currently reading this blog, congrats, you get to hear my word vomit about my experience this week. Having slept on it and thinking about it while riding in an over-crowded bus from Barahona to Santo Domingo this morning for four hours, I have a simple takeaway that I will expand on.
I cannot live the same way that I used to before this trip.
This one simple statement addresses so many areas in my life; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Even though I have been to the DR before and served in the Bateyes back in 2008, I came at a different stage in my life this time, a little older and a little wiser.
Physically, I saw maybe five heavy-set Dominicans the entire time being there, so I began thinking, why is that? In the Bateyes, it’s no surprise. Most families aren’t wealthy enough to have a daily meal for their family and sometimes parents will eat only every other day because whatever money they have that comes in will go directly to the children for their sustainability, not the parents. The average family in Los Robles has just enough food each day to survive. One family, generous enough, when Kaysa got extremely ill one day, they even made a soup for her to boost her nutrition out of the kindness of their heart. I want to start living like they do in the Bateyes, but an Americanized version of it. I seem to always be on the go, so I will normally eat at fast food restaurants and drop a bunch of money to buy food I really don’t need when I could’ve waited a bit longer and made food at home. I want to remember Junior, a young boy who asked numerous times for peanut butter crackers when we had them for Matthew when he wasn’t feeling well, each time I decided to make a choice towards a life of gluttony.
Emotionally, I have focused too much on myself over the last year or so. Being able to help lead a team of students and parents to the Dominican Republic was enough drive and desire to begin thinking about other people to help our team get fundraised in order to successfully build a home for Nocilia and her family, but also when we got there, making sure that the team was having a good time to remember their experiences forever. A focus on selflessness begins today and I know I am not going to be perfect at first, but I will be setting myself reminders to stay persistent in my quest to be less self-centered and more others-centered.
Spiritually, I am a Christ-follower and struggle every day at maintaining a thought process that reflects and honors Him. I tend to let material possessions get in my way and let them distract me from strengthening my relationship with God. The thing that rocked my world this week is that even though they might not have a lot in their homes, enough food for the whole family one day, or even a home that might not withstand a severe storm, they are EXTREMELY happy people. Some of the Christians in the Bateyes that I communicated with through a translator stated in a summarized fashion, “We don’t have much, but what we have comes from God and that’s all we need!” I want to say the same thing six months from now when I have purged a lot of my things and really think about what I own to refocus my purpose and my relationship with Christ.
And lastly, mentally, this is going to be the toughest for me. I focus too much on what others think of me and tell myself I am fat (el gordo) all the time; I even did it multiple times this week in front of our team and the locals. There was a man we met on this trip that forever changed my perspective on the way to treat people, but also the way that one should think on a daily basis. He knows how to communicate and relate to anyone, no matter what mood you are in he can make you smile, and he is loved by EVERYONE. What if I told you that he was deaf and a mute? That isn’t a typo. I don’t know his real name, but the locals and our team call him El Mudo (the mute). The Dominicans are a straight-forward people and they call it like it is so calling him that is not derogatory. He makes up his own sign language and we clearly understood him in every interaction and he could care less what people think of him, especially when he tries to rap (see Aaron Foley for an impression). He may never know the level of influence he has had in my life, but he is an example of the way that I will carry myself from now on.
That’s it. If you made it this far, props to you. Thank you for reading. If you have never done missions work, I’d highly recommend it as your life will radically change for the better. You don’t have to go far as missions are all around you, but there is something special about the Dominican Republic. Just saying.
All the best,
Andrew John Griesemer
This morning was just as routine as any other. When we arrived to the Batey we split into painting and construction groups. The painting group started to paint all the concrete windows pink and the concrete base of the house blue. The construction group started to hammer in the siding panels onto the house. In order to reach the higher panels we had to build a tall platform out of scrap wood and left over concrete blocks. Eventually we moved up onto the second floor and worked our way up from there. This process took up all morning.
After lunch, we arrived back to find a large pile of unpainted side paneling. We had to quickly set up more paint stations in our area from yesterday and immediately start painting all these boards so that they had time to dry. As a distraction for the kids so that they gave us some space to work on this task quickly, a group of us took them away to do craft activities such as bead bracelets and necklace making and face painting. By the end of this a whole pirate ship crew had been made and many kids had presented us with gifts of bead jewelry.
Once more of the siding was complete, the student volunteers gathered the kids of Los Robles and had all of them sign our BRP shirts with sharpies. At the end of the day, the house was complete except for windows, the main door, and interior details.
Kelly and Mansi
After eating breakfast we headed out to the Batey and started the wood work for the home. When we got there we meet a really cute little puppy. He was very friendly and at first we picked out the name scabies for him. That name was later rejected so Ralph it was. Ralph was very friendly and loved to play. Once the work started we were separated into groups of three and were all assigned a wall of the house. Then we measured and drilled holes into the base wood which would be attached to the cinder blocks.
After lunch, when the bottom frame was completed, construction began on the full framework and second story of the house. While this was being done we also started to paint all the side paneling using the signature BRP blue. Some of the breaks included playing baseball with a piece of wood and stones as well as impromptu dance parties with Mr. Griesemer as our DJ.
It was a busy and routine based day. When we got back to the restaurant for dinner there was a big cake for our teammate Ashley to celebrate her Sweet 16. Today was an amazing day full of hard work and celebration.
Kelly and Mansi
Today we were supposed to take a tour of the larimar mines and go to the beach. However due to rain in the morning we made the decision to postpone those activities until Friday since we are very ahead of schedule on building the house. Instead we decided to bring over some of the children and women from Milton so that they could bathe, get new clothes, and eat a meal. These women and children will be part of the new Batey Girls initiative providing resources to the women in the Bateys. This was the first shower that any of the kids had ever had. The two little boys loved it whilst the two babies and the little girl cried through it all.
After eating all together we split into two groups of eight so that we could rotate between learning about the craftsmanship of larimar and just staying at the hotel. At the workshop we were given the opportunity to shape and polish our own pieces of larimar which were then given to us as a necklace. The workshop was incredible since Alejandro had jerry-rigged many different machines, such as a car motor, in order to be used for crafting the larimar.
Back at the hotel we went and took gorgeous pictures of the families of Milton from earlier on the beach. After saying our goodbyes we went and had dinner and came back for our debriefing meeting. The meeting that night was full of emotion with many people sharing the impact that this whole experience is having on them.
Bye for now,
Kelly and Mansi
We woke up at 7:15am, had breakfast, packed the truck, and headed to the Batey. Upon arrival the kids who weren't at school greeted us and walked us to the work site. To start work we formed another chain of people to help transport the cement blocks onto the house plot to begin building up the cement base of the house. We went off and mixed cement, cut rebar, and jammed to music playing over the speaker at the work site. Mr. Griesemer was giving a music education to the locals with music ranging from One Republic and Justin Timberlake to Skillet and Fall Out Boy. We did this up until we left for lunch.
During our lunch break we made a trip to the grocery store to get snacks and milk for our morning coffee. When we arrived back at the Batey, everyone broke off either stacking the cinder blocks, mixing the cement, or entertaining the children. During the afternoon, we achieved a sense of unity between the BRP Team and Staff, creating a smooth two hours of complete focus and fun. From Mr. Foley dancing on the work site to the kids gathering around teaching us hand clap games and playing/singing the cup song, it was a great time.
We ended our time in Los Robles on the basketball court teaching the kids how to do the hokey pokey and in turn the children taught us their songs. Overall, it was a great day! (But a little hot of course)
See ya later alligator,
Kelly and Mansi
It was our first day of building the new home for the family in Los Robles. We woke up and had breakfast, packed the bus, and headed to the Batey. Upon arrival, we greeted each other, and immediately started working. We began with moving 550 cinder blocks from the truck drop off zone to the building site, which was about 125 yards away from each other. We initially faced difficulties with stamina throughout the team members as we are not all accustomed to extensive physical labor. We got through about moving half of the blocks before we took a break.
As we were moving the blocks, Mr. Griesemer noticed that there was a barber cutting someone's hair near where we were working. Jokingly, Mr. Griesemer and Katie asked Kelly if she would like to have her hair cut. Kelly, always open to trying something new to immerse herself with the people, said yes and before we knew it the barber was putting on the barbers gown to get started. Within minutes, many of the community members and children were gathered around the front porch of the barber's home to watch the ordeal. It was an exciting moment when the two different cultures combined in a unique manner - with both parties experiencing something completely new and unknown. By the time Kelly's hair was completed - with precise fading and detailed designs - the BRP staff and local community had completed the digging of trenches, putting the group ahead of schedule.
After the BRP staff taught the team how to tie rebar together to hold the foundation in the trenches together, we headed off to lunch and took our usual siesta on the office floor. While the group was sleeping, one of our team members, Patricia, was a able to meet with some of her family members who came to visit from five hours north of where we are staying. The group headed back to the site, where Patricia and her family educated the locals about oral hygiene, providing them with toothpaste and toothbrushes. Meanwhile, the rest of the team finished moving the cinder blocks to the site, one-by-one.
In the blink of an eye, the days work was completed and we were given time to bond with the children. Using Mrs. Feliz, B, Kelly's crafts, we were able to do face paint and make beaded jewelry. Also, some of the kids played sports with Mr. Griesemer, Mr. Foley, and some of our other team members. Sadly, the day had come to an end and we had to depart.
We made a pit stop to surprise Mrs. Feliz and her in-laws in the batey of Altagracia. The townspeople greeted us as we stepped out of the bus and it was a special moment to see Mrs. Feliz's family. Before leaving, we were able to see Mrs. Feliz's in-laws home, followed by the chanting of our team members name, Matthew Walker, which translates to "Mateo Caminar" in Spanish. After saying our goodbyes for the day, we headed back to the restaurant for dinner, followed by team time at the hotel.
Hasta mañana, Kelly y Mansi
I teach philosophy and one major branch of philosophy is called "epistemology." Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It helps us understand what we know, why we know, and how we know. When I agreed to come on this trip to the Dominican Republic, I knew something very concretely: I was going to a whole other world.
It was a world completely alien to my American bubble. It was a world with poverty. But not just any poverty. America has poverty. This was going to be a world of abject poverty. A type of poverty barely imaginable to someone like myself. After all, my father was a college professor with a doctoral degree and my mother is a public school teacher with a masters degree. Plus, I live in the very posh town of Celebration, Florida. What I don't know about poverty is so immense it could fit inside the Grand Canyon. I was finally going to experience something different. This trip would transport me to a group of people with a completely different life than myself.
And then something happened...
When I got off the plane I was underwhelmed. When I drove through the Dominican Republic on the way to the hotel, I was underwhelmed. When I went to the bateyes, I was again underwhelmed. Now, this may seem cruel. It might seem apathetic, or uncaring. And at first, believe me, that thought concerned me. How could witnessing this new and alien environment not overwhelm me to the point of tears?
Then it hit me. I was underwhelmed not because I did not care, but rather because the new and alien world I thought I knew I was entering was not actually a new and alien world at all. I saw the same exact things I see everyday in the United States. I saw mothers loving their children. I saw friends laughing at a funny comment. I saw people going to and coming home from work. I saw people at bars blowing off steam with a bottle of beer and some billiards.
Suddenly, I realized what happened. The world is made up of lines and borders that differentiate towns, states, provinces, countries and continents. The United States is not the Dominican Republic. We do not share the same borders. But the truth I discovered this day is that, though countries may have borders, humanity does not.
This, though, highlights a very cruel irony: we seem to have an innate desire to create unnatural, man-made borders that differentiate mankind. We create borders based on race, religion, gender, political affliction, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation, among others. We create these borders specifically to differentiate ourselves. This act destroys the bond shared by all people. It makes us strangers to those we know the most. And I fell victim to this.
I now look back to what I concretely knew. What I knew was wrong. And it's something people have been wrong about since the earliest conception of man. I am not smart enough to know how to fix these issues. I am just one person. But at least I now know that I am never alone. We are all people.
~ Aaron Foley
Alright y'all! Day 02!
We began the day at 7:15am with a wonderful breakfast on the courtyard. After loading the bus, we headed to the BRP offices where we met the rest of the BRP staff. We had a quick team meeting and then loaded the truck and the bus with supplies. Katie announced that we could ride in either vehicle, so there was a race to the truck, but eventually everyone was able to find space in the bed of the truck who wanted to ride back there. About halfway to our destination of the first Batey, Cuchilla, we stopped at a gas station where old friends reconnected. We knew we were getting close when the paved roads we are used to back in that states turned into a very rocky off-road surface. A few moments passed and we found ourselves parking our transportation in between two homes.
By the time our feet touched the ground after climbing out of the truck, we knew something felt different and our curiosity about this new environment increased. At first we all clumped in a group unsure of how to proceed in the community. One small boy stepped forward breaking away from the gathering of curious children and was immediately swept up by Katie, which ended up breaking all hesitation held by both parties. Before we knew it, we all had a child grasping our hand as they accompanied us down the street. The children constantly operated on a monkey-see monkey-do system. Once one borrowed a pair of sunglasses, suddenly we all surrendered our sunglasses to the delighted faces of the other children. We all definitely got a workout carrying the children around the community, some of us having multiple children hanging off of various limbs. At the end of our time visiting in Cuchilla, we said our goodbyes after many photos were taken to commemorate the moment.
We began our journey to the second stop on our Batey tour, Milton. On the way there, we passed by multiple herds of cattle casually grazing upon sugar cane. A truck drove by and was losing pieces of fresh sugar cane, so Jonathan, Katie's husband, prepared fresh sugar cane for us to try while heading to the next village. After consuming the delicious, super sweet snack, we arrived at the house of Yosenia, our 15 year old youth leader who is accompanying us this week. Her house was built by the BRP when the organization first started.
In contrast to the previous Batey, the children of this community immediately surrounded us and we were prepared with fun activities such as face paint and using beads to make basic jewelry. While some of us strung colors together with the children, others drew the faces of Spiderman and pirates on the rest. Before we knew it, an hour had passed by and it was time to make our departure back to the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, a group of us went to the office and collapsed on the cold tile floor for a quick nap. Soon Richie, one of the translators who works with BRP, woke us up and we were back on the road heading towards Los Robles to begin demolition.
Upon arrival we unloaded our materials and met the family of Nocilia. Within 30 minutes the house was torn down and we began to level off and clear the land. Many of us with arachnophobia had multiple scattering instances fleeing the area of massive spiders. We ran into a small issue with our wheelbarrow when we got a flat tire, but we manually finished moving out the remaining slabs of concrete and we leveled out the remaining dirt pile so that we may resume moving out all the dirt tomorrow with a fresh new wheel on our wheelbarrow. Our goal for the day was accomplished, so we once again headed back to the restaurant for yet another delicious meal. We felt sweaty and gross and we were all very relieved to get back to the hotel for a well-deserved shower. We completed the day with a team meeting recapping events from the day and what is to come in regards to construction followed by jewelry making and blog writing.
So long for now,
Kelly and Mansi
Kelly and Mansi here! We are two Juniors at Celebration High School in Celebration, FL! We are a part of the International Baccalaureate Program, a rigorous, internationally minded academic curriculum. About six months ago, we had the idea to partner with Batey Rehab Project and assemble a team to build a home in the Dominican Republic. After months of long preparation and fundraising, we arrived in Barahona, Dominican Republic to begin construction! Here is a rundown of how today went!
We headed out to the airport around 4am this morning to board our flight at 7am. As everyone filtered in, anticipation and excitement mounted to a peak. After waiting for awhile, it was finally time to board our first connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. For those of us who slept, it was very uneventful. However, for those of us who were awake, we got to witness our fellow travel companion, Matthew, get called our needy friend by the flight attendant.
Once in Fort Lauderdale, we walked through the most boring airport terminal, according to Mr. Foley, our Philosophy teacher and fellow travel companion. Before we knew it, we had boarded our final flight headed to Santo Domingo. This next flight proved to be very entertaining because we were all able to sit together, thanks to a very friendly Spirit Airlines gate agent! Matthew, Mr. Griesemer, and Mr. Foley kept everyone laughing.
Upon our arrival to the Dominican Republic, we had a very long wait through customs, we were greeted by the smiling faces of the BRP team! With the help from the BRP Welcome Team, the change proved to be more difficult than anticipated with everyone trying to find tricks to convert from dollars to pesos due to the differences in exchange rates. We then packed ourselves into the bus, equipped with air conditioning and wifi, and departed from the airport to the hotel!
During a long and freezing 5 hour journey across the beautiful Dominican Republic, we witnessed the shift from city life to rural life. We also experienced quite the culture shock at the restroom break as the bathroom stalls were only about 4 feet tall so you would practically stare at strangers whilst going about your business. At last, we had arrived at the very welcoming Hotel Rea. We got settled in our rooms following a wonderful dinner consisting of alfredo pasta and fried plantains. As we were composing this, we witnessed the largest sound system in a vehicle drive past the hotel followed by a motorcade of at least 100 motorcyclists.
This is proving to be a very memorable trip already! Each day we will be posting a recap and photos of each day, so stay tuned!
Kelly and Mansi