"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain

Reflections from Hato Nuevo: Harvey Gamage Crew

>> April 2, 2013

Sarah Holdner, Washington, New Hampshire

Today was our last day working on la escuela and playing with los niños. It’s crazy how much I’ve been able to learn from these kids. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is just how easy it is to play. The first day I only knew how to say a few random words and partial phrases. My new friend, Dorquedia and I had to communicate through sign language and basic actions. She taught me how to say “I love you” and danced with me and played with my hair.

The second day, I played with some other girls, and it was similar. I really loved learning from them. I feel when you get older you feel that children should be taught—that they don’t have much to teach you. But here, in El Baté, I didn’t come to “help the poor kids” or make myself feel better about the world, or to teach them about how I live.  I came to learn and have fun while helping them change their own future for what they wanted.  I didn’t teach them any English.  I asked them “¿Cómo se dice...?” and “¿Cómo estás?” By the last day (with Mira’s help), I was able to carry on short conversations and get to know them.  It feels really good to speak to the kids in their own language.

In America, we often expect that the rest of the world will know our language and our customs. We don’t expect that maybe WE should be the ones learning new languages or customs. Being American and reaching out to a culture on their terms and not mine, made me feel like I was breaking a stereotype. The experience was so much richer because of the language barrier.

The D.R. has been my favorite place so far. I love the city and El Baté, and the children we worked with, as well as waking up in such a beautiful place. It makes me recognize what is important to me, and gives me ideas for my future. I hope one day I’ll be able to see what impact my short time in the D.R. has been, and perhaps someday I’ll return to help finish this.

The last thing I said to the last little girl was, “Adiós, mi amiga. Gracias por compartir tu escuela, tu vida, y tu Corazón.  Gracias, te quiero” I meant it.

Teagen White, Tunbridge, Vermont

The Dominican children don’t speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish.  I arrived with polarized sunglasses and nice clothing while their clothes must have been hand-me-downs.  I was stepping out of my world, an air-conditioned bus, into their world, a blistering hot and dirty backyard filled with trash.  I had never seen them before and they had never seen me, but when I stepped off that bus, children ran to my side and wrapped their arms around my waist and held my hand for the rest of the day.  It didn’t matter that I could only say “hola,” “gracias,” and smile like an idiot.  They loved me anyway.  One girl, Dorquedia, would dance down the street with me singing “All the single ladies, All the single ladies…” over and over again.  It didn’t feel like fake love either, but honest love for being a human being. 

I felt the vast difference between my world and the one that was planting kisses on my cheek and then to its own every half hour.  I was raised to be shy, and not to touch anyone unless asked.  Until proven otherwise, we are also taught to distrust strangers.  They are not people experiencing the day like you, they are foxes calculating every move and expression. 

Where does that love come from?  How did it end up in a place which some would consider the lowest of the low?  Do you have to have nothing to trust a stranger with your heart? Or is it something that we see in youth?  If I met Dorqedia five years from now would her face still light up the same way to see me?  Or when she learns all the reasons for grief in life?  I think that as humans it is much easier for us to only see the bad and so much harder to live in the light.  I think it was truly us who received gifts from these wonderful kids. 

Mira Watkins Brown, Burnsville, North Carolina

We brought some toys—puzzles, bubbles, etc.—from the U.S. for the youngsters to play with which were seemingly very much appreciated.  I have some reservations about bringing the toys to them, not because I see anything inherently wrong with the toys we were distributing, but because the consumerist culture within the U.S. from which such objects come has contributed to problems within the U.S. and abroad ranging from environmental degradation to movement toward individualism at the expense of community support and inter-reliance.  As gringos bringing in toys as the first or primary source of entertainment makes a statement about what people with power and money value which is something to note if you have limited opportunities and are interested in moving up economically.  We eventually did play games and such with the children, but I have to wonder about the effect of bringing things from our culture immediately without asking about what is valued in their culture.  What games would they have chosen to teach us?  What toys might they make from things readily available in their environment?  How can bringing in outside resources (be it food, toys, clothes, etc.) to a place, until the community no longer remembers how to provide for themselves, be a good thing?  There is a place for such resources by all means, but not without considering the implications carefully.  We played games with the little ones once the lure of the shiny toys wore off—ball, duck-duck-goose, and the like.  I made little critters and hats out of palm fronds from the yard with them and was surprised how excited about it they were.  In a materially poorer culture, I expected they would be accustomed to making toys and objects from stuff that grows on trees, and though I can’t say that’s not true, my observations and interactions with them suggested that making a grasshopper out of a palm frond was nearly as novel for them as it might be for an eight year old in the U.S.

Anna Spring, Newport Rhode Island

Before we started working today, we walked down to el rio to collect trash.  I gave Javier a piggy-back ride all the way there and held hands with about five little niñas.  When we got to the river the scene I saw was a sad one: white plastic plates, spoons, forks, striped bags, broken shoes, dirty diapers, candy wrappers, glass bottles all littered the river side making it seem more made of trash than sand.  People come to this river and take sand for construction, and in result, the water flows in a shallow wide line, instead of narrow deep one.  The vegetation looks like it’s about to cough it’s last breath and then crumble down in the sand with everything else.  Despite the trash and condition of the water, every single one of the children jumped in the river.  We stood there and watched them, and when they told us to come in with them we said “nessecito trabajo, y tengo sola esta ropa aqui.”  Stupid excuses, because if we had really wanted to, we would have gone swimming.  That’s where the line in the sand is drawn.  Even though we are in their country, eating their food, drinking their water, building their school, playing with the kids – that’s all we will do.   That is where we separate ourselves from them.   Because where we grew up, a typical afternoon activity is walking your dog  or playing a ballgame with your friends, not swimming in a dirty river with the possibility of growing a tail tomorrow.  I think everyone felt that line today.  That we will only go so far.  If only people knew how to help the situation at the river it would make things a hundred times better. The people who dig the dirt need to understand that it is drying up the river and if they don’t stop sooner then later, it won’t be there anymore.  Kids need to be taught how to properly dispose of trash instead of throwing it on the ground in hopes that someone will pick it up or it will just magically disappear.  If this happens, little by little the situation will get better with a little time, effort, and care.

Ben Crosby, Meredith, New Hampshire

All of the kids instantly acted as though they had known us for their entire lives. They were quick to jump on our backs and hold our hands as we walked through El Baté.

Andrew Jonash, Newton, Massachusetts

I loved not having plans and letting everything just happen, the crazy things that never happen in the United States, and the moments where you think if people back home could see me now!

Elias Giangrande, New York, New York

Nobody knows a reality check to the extent that we just experienced working for and playing with the stateless children in the Dominican Republic.  As much pride as we took in the hole we were tasked with digging—which we did not come close to our eight-foot-goal—my favorite part was the kids.  The first day, I had probably 15-20 little boys chasing me with sticks after I challenged a couple to a bat swordfight. I hope somebody got a photo of three boys tackling and climbing onto my back while I fell to my knees with the rest crawling around me; sticks ready for me to start back up for the eighth time.  I’ll always remember that. 

John Carter, Old Lyme, New Hampshire

The Dominican Republic was my favorite place we have been yet.  I had a strong connection with the locals because of how much time that we spent with them.  I was so sad to leave all of the kids that loved us so much.  We are leaving this Saturday, and I can’t wait to come back to the same place, but it will never be the same as it was on this trip.


It’s been two months, we’ve traveled 2,000 nautical miles; been to different countries; discovered a whaling culture in Bequia; picked and planted cocoa in Grenada; worked on a thirty-five foot canoe in the BVI’s; and we have helped to build a school for stateless children here in the D.R.  We have made connections with many different people, contributed to many different projects, and experienced cultures that we didn’t even know existed beforehand.  All while others our age were at home, playing video games, or falling asleep in class.


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