I learned about Sense the World from Bevin Luna, who had volunteered with them on a trip to Peru. Bevin and I wanted to go to the Dominican Republic not only to travel and experience the Caribbean culture, but because many of Bevin’s family members still live there. After speaking with Kirsten and Greg about volunteering for STW, our trip took on a new importance. We were able to do everything we had originally planned and, thanks to them, we were also able to do some good while we were there.
Sense the World provided funding to purchase soap, shampoo, school supplies, eyeglasses, toothpaste, toothbrushes, vitamins, feminine pads, and first aid supplies, among other things. They also donated hearing aids, Rockies baseball caps and jerseys, and children’s toys. We went there with over 100 pounds of donations, and we were able to use the rest of the funds to purchase additional items as we saw fit, so that we could determine what items were needed most and invest money into the local economy.
We distributed our donations in Pizarrete, a very rural, poor town in the Southwest province of Baní. Bevin’s uncle Elias lives there; he allowed us to stay in his house and helped us find the poorest families. He walked around with us introducing us to each family and helping us pass out the bags. He knew which community members had bad vision and hearing, so we were able to distribute glasses and hearing aids to the right people. I’ll never forget the smile on Don Chico’s face when he heard his wife, Doña Maria, call his name for the first time in years.
It was an eye-opening experience to meet the people of Pizarrete and see how they live. I experienced first-hand just a few days in the life of a Dominican living in rural conditions- no running water, electricity that comes in and out unexpectedly, no jobs, and an amazing culture that finds happiness and comfort even in the scarceness of things and money. Everyone we met was incredibly hospitable and gracious.
There was one family in particular that I will never forget. Elias told us to put together a special bag for this family since they were extremely poor. We brought a large sack full of donations; when we arrived at the house, we realized it was not enough. The family consisted of a grandmother, mother and her husband, their daughter, son-in-law, and all of their children. Every one of them was extremely skinny and under-clothed. We promised to come back the next day with more things. We purchased rice and beans for the entire family, and we brought them everything we had left over that might be of use. Bevin was so moved that she even left her shoes, and we hugged each one before heading back to Elias’ house.
When I look back on my trip to the Dominican Republic, it seems much longer than nine days. We traveled all over, met tons of people, experienced the culture, and quickly learned to love the country. Sense the World enabled us to transform what would have simply been a vacation into a life-changing and rewarding experience.