BRIDGES ...to the Dominican Republic
Though I have visited the Dominica Republic countless times, no other visit can ever compare to this one. I formed relationships and had so many experiences that I will never forget. My one true wish, however, is that I could have stayed longer. In La Cuchilla, I felt a love that cannot be compared to anything I have ever felt in New York. I felt appreciated even when I didn’t think I was doing anything out of the ordinary. The people there are all so special in their own ways. As I got to reach deep inside people’s hearts and truly get to know them, I found the deeper I dealt, the more I found in myself. I wish that I had the means to go on this trip every six month and to contribute more. I am hoping that I will not only change certain things about myself but also about others who will benefit from my experience. I felt that this was a once in lifetime opportunity and I am so very happy that I took it. There are so many people that I would never have connected with, not only in La Cuchilla, but in the States, had I not gone on this trip. I feel blessed to have met everyone and to feel like I have changed a little bit of La Cuchilla and myself all at once. I’m thankful for the people who make this trip happen, for the people who opened their homes and hearts to me, and to Father Ron. And lastly, I feel empty and will continue to feel that way until I return where I now feel I rightfully belong, in La Cuchilla. -Melissa Melendez
Why I returned to La Cuchilla after seven years from my first trip:
1. To spend time with my adopted Dominican family complete with parents, siblings and pets. I savored the two short weeks I had with them by sharing stories and experiencing daily life.
2. To wake-up to the sounds of crowing roosters, quacking ducks and flying turkeys (and landing on our thin metal roof). When the pets were up, it's time to get up, which was usually around six in the morning.
3. To bathe in ice cold spring water and feel every atom of my body. It was so refreshing, my shower time was cut down from 30 minutes to 5 minutes.
4. To eat home-cooked meals made from home-grown poultry and vegetables 3 times a day. I really felt at "home".
5. To labor with love by hiking to school to teach the students, amidst the colorful fusion of nature. Being with the kids was the highlight of my day.
6. To hear the community sing "Padre Nuestro" [Our Father] to the tune of "Sound of Silence" during mass. First time I heard it, I closed my eyes, smiled inside, and shed a tear.
7. To utilize my face and hands like never before to express myself, especially because of my limited Spanish. Action did speak louder than words.
8. To visit our neighbors at night to socialize and learn the Dominican way of moving my hips to the rhythm of Bachata and Merengue.
9. To sit on top of our grassy hill and watch the moon, stars and satellites in the blanket of darkness. It was as if the sky was covered with Christmas lights. I have never seen so many stars in my life.
10. To love, expecting nothing in return, and be loved more than I can ever expect.
It was already heartbreaking to leave La Cuchilla for the first time, but leaving it for the second time made me realize that in the end, the joys and the pains were all worth it, and I'll gladly do it all over again. -Anjou Martinez
My impression on this trip surpasses any other trip I’ve ever gone in my entire life. I learned so much about life and reality. It is so different watching poor, hungry children on television and witnessing it myself. Society needs to open their eyes and help the disadvantaged people. This trip brought up a question in my head, “Where is the love?” I feel as if America can do much more for people like the people of La Cuchilla. I thought it would be a regular trip but I left feeling as if much more can be done with more help and the right resources. Most of the people living on the Earth live like them. It is us who are lucky to be privileged. Together we can do so much. -Michelle Brito
I thought I knew what I was getting myself into since I vacation in the Dominican Republic every year. I’ve been all over the country, whether visiting family, beaches or resorts. While doing that, my parents would always show me the poorer areas and tell me how blessed I am to live the life I live. I did have a sense of it but I came to a full understanding of how grateful I should be when I took the BRIDGES trip. Just driving by poverty is totally different from living with it for 2 weeks. While the people of La Cuchilla didn’t have much to offer, I left with so much. It was a beautiful love and learning experience. I’ll miss the beautiful mountains, the people’s love and care, and the peace I felt with just basic needs. -Rosemary Veras
The trip made me realize that life is meant to be enjoyed. Even if I don’t make it as high I expect, I can always know that it is the simple things in life that make us all happy. The Dominican kids are always so willing to learn and want to enjoy the experience just as much as, if not more, than you do. My original expectations of the trip were that it was going to be a poor family, asking for material items and wants. I found out otherwise. The family was very patient with me (since I speak very little Spanish) and was happy to take in three strangers. By the end of the trip, I was no longer a stranger but a part of the family. My other worry was how I was going to be able to physically and mentally hike so much. I surprised myself and in the end got to the top of the mountain, enjoyed the glorious view and loved every moment of the experience. It taught me discipline and to never doubt myself. All I know is my expectations were questionable in the beginning, but in the end I had a clear idea of what life, simple. I will always live simply so that others may simply be able to live, thanks to this trip. -Andrea Davies
People come and go out of your life, just in a second, and sometimes you just don’t mind. But when those people touch your heart and show you love the way people in La Cuchilla did, it’s just impossible to erase them. This trip was a great experience for me because I learned you can be happy just by having the basic things in life like food, water, and a bed to sleep on and of course, the love of a family. -Leslia Sanchez
La Cuchilla, Dominican Republic--a place unknown even to most Dominicans residing in Santiago, which is only 2 hours away by traveling time; a place tucked in the side of the mountains which was only reached by electricity 6 years back; a place with people who would be considered by others to be living primitively--it is where I found another loving and caring home, family, and friends. Getting up early in the morning, taking each step of the seemingly endless hikes and doing hard-days work were made well worthwhile by the exchanges of “Buenos dias/tardes/noches,” of smiles and of meaningful conversations and connections throughout the trip. Not to mention the other bonuses: delicious homemade dishes and coffee, the stars that shine brightly at night, the beautiful sounds of different animals and so forth. Yes, I went there to give--handout donations, play and interact with the kids, help build and improve the community and so forth--yet, I received so much more. I learned, I grew, I laughed, I played, I shared, I cared, I enjoyed, and I cherished. However, all that happened to “I” was only made possible by the “We” that was created. Through the relationships built and love that was shared, once again, I experienced a sense of community in La Cuchilla, a place that embraced me and that I fell in love with. I feel privileged and blessed to be part of this trip. -Amando Rey G. Arcilla
After this experience I feel I have gained many life lessons. Patience is definitely a virtue, as well as simplicity. The families of La Cuchilla had to open not only the doors of their home but their hearts. We were not only visitors but people who would make an imprintation on their lives. I am definitely very thankful and grateful to have been a part of this trip. Having been able to experience a different aspect of the Dominican Republic as not only a vacation, but a trip in which time, dedication, a development of relationships took place, was definitely a blessing. I hope to continue building the relationships that I developed with my second family. Every memory that I have shared with my family I will always cherish. -Johanny Grullon
By coming to La Cuchilla my perspective of life has completely changed. Through this trip I have gained a new appreciation for family and community. This trip has given me the desire to step outside of my comfort zone. I have realized how insignificant certain aspects my life are and how I should spend more time on the important things such as family and friends. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to impact the lives of others while also being impacted myself. -Hillary Desir
This trip has truly blessed me. It has helped me become a more patient and understanding person. This trip has also inspired me to reach out and help those in need around me. I would recommend this trip to anyone looking to improve someone else’s quality of life as well as their horizons. -Ashley Desir
There are so many things that I want to talk about La Cuchilla, but there is no word for me to really describe how I feel. I was right at home after one year of being gone. The people over there still remember me and they still opened their arms and hearts to me. My family still treated me like one of their own. They showed me so much love--a love that I would never forget, a love that I will treasure for the rest of my life. They made me feel how important relationships are and how you can really be very happy even though you don’t have anything. I thought it would be easy to say goodbye to my family but I was wrong. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I wanted to stay a bit longer. I was glad that I was able to come back and see my family again. La Cuchilla is a place where everything slows down and makes me feel at peace. I hope that I can come back again in the future. -Tola Poole
The first week was brutal. I will admit I didn’t like it all. But as the trip came to an end, I started to really open myself up to this trip as well as the people there. At first, I didn’t like being there. I wanted to go home. I didn’t like the living arrangements and conditions. And I felt like I was unprepared and that this wasn’t the kind of trip for me. But as the trip came to a close I realized the bonds that I began to form. These people truly became my family. Not like a good friend whom you see as family but like legit blood related. And being there reminded me of a phrase mi abuela [my grandmother] used to say, “Lo que olvidan donde vinieron, olvidan adonde va.” Which basically means, “Those who forget where they come from, forget where they are going.” I remembered this phrase because I never realized or appreciated everything that I have and don’t have in my life. And going to their town, where the most exciting thing other than Sunday mass was the arrival of the Americans, was a wakeup call for me. I used to complain how much I wanted to go home and disliked it, but I soon came to realize the change in me that was taking place. I truly became attaché to my host family and I hope they stay my family. I would try to return and would consider this trip an eye opener and a recommended trip for all. -Clifford Lindor
This trip was not the easiest for me both physically and emotionally. Physically, being out of your comfort of being in a car, train, or bus, but rather on foot to truck to school/home over treacherous mountains everyday was difficult to take in. Emotionally, to leave the people you love back home for a new family in la Cuchilla with a group of people you hardly know is hard as well. However, you get to know your new family and learn to appreciate what they do for you as if you were part of their family. You begin to open your heart to the students who put their barriers down and trust you in their life. You begin to appreciate the difficult mountain that you go on and learn to see the beauty of your surroundings (and even being able to climb that mountain is amazing to oneself). To say that this trip is easy, it’s not…but the rewards are tenfold and will impact you going forward. -Kay Siopongca
1. Collected, transported, and distributed over 1,000 pounds of new clothing, bedding, medicines, vitamins, school supplies, etc. to a half dozen mountain communities.
2. Facilitated an American Eagle Scout’s project of collecting and shipping seven 55-gallon barrels filled with baseball equipment to a baseball school with 14 youth teams in the city of Fantino.
3. Provided $700 of food a month for the 24 students, from various rural communities, who live in La Casa Madre Maria in Juncalito from Monday through Friday, so that they can continue their studies.
4. Drove the students & staff from La Casa 4 hours down the mountains from Juncalito for a day at Cofresi Beach on the north coast.
5. Provided special medical assistance for five rural people.
6. Provided scholarships for four rural students to study English in Santiago; purchased school uniforms and supplies for 7 rural students.
7. Constructed two speed bumps and a concrete sidewalk in front of the new high school in La Cuchilla..
8. Gained assurances from the Director of Education that a serious personnel problem in La Cuchilla would be effectively addressed.
9. Painted a colorful 19’ x 14’ mural on an outside wall of the La Cuchilla high school.
10. Painted 4 new doorframes and doors, and lay a concrete sidewalk, for the school in Jagua.
11. Sent two laptops from the Jagua school for repair in the capital, Santo Domingo.
12. Paid for the construction or renovation of three rural houses.
13. Provided a rural house in Jagua Abajo, that has no running water, with a 600 gallon tank to collect rain water.
14. Helped purchase a new drum for the choir in La Cuchilla Church.
15. Paid for the repair of a youth’s motor cycle in La Cuchilla.
16. Planned continued improvement of the access dirt road up to La Cuchilla.