Give back to the world by Aur Shalev-Merin
This summer, I went to the Dominican Republic for a service trip with eight other students from my school through the EF organization. I felt that as I’m turning thirteen and it is my bar mitzvah year, I should start giving back to the community. I realized that today’s connected world is simply one big community and we should help those who are struggling. The trip lasted for eight days and was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have ever had.
We arrived at the Dominican Republic capitol of Santo Domingo where we learned about the country’s unique background and history as the first European colony in the Americas. It was heart-breaking to see the poverty on the streets. Half of the country doesn’t have access to clean water, or basic healthy living conditions and lives on less than a dollar a day.
We then visited the National Ecological school, a government funded college that accepts a hundred people each year and teaches them how to farm in a more ecological way. We helped them with the plants, which was similar to the farming and greenhouse lessons we had in school in Israel. I was surprised to discover that the school is mostly funded by international missions like ours.
On the second day we helped making compost. It was weird to remember that back home I got annoyed sometimes about throwing the compost into the compost bin, while here people work for hours to make compost. It made me rethink and appreciate everything that we have and to realize that most of the world doesn’t even have half of the things we have. We should use the opportunities that we have to the best of our ability and not take them for granted.
A few days later, we got to experience a Dominican style farm, which for me looked like a jungle. The owner explained that a Dominican farm is a self-sustaining property that needs nothing from the outside world to survive. About six families live on the farm, and although the farm doesn't make any money or profit, it gives them what they need, water, chickens, ginger, fruits, vegetables and even coffee. This year, they barely even managed to get by, global warming had hit them hard, but they still shared with us and gave us some of their precious coffee, which was very touching.
We also visited a clay workshop that makes special cooking stoves. We learned that almost half the people in the Dominican Republic are still using an indoor open fire to cook and with no chimney, they end up inhaling a lot of smoke. This shop made a Dominican style cooking stove with a chimney. We helped build a few chimneys.
The people in the workshop were among the artists that made the clay statue of the “Faceless Doll”, the Dominican’s national art of a doll with no facial features which represents the country’s varied history and culture. Dominican culture is unique, the people’s heritage is a mixture of Caucasian, African and native origins. This has created a unique combination that they are very proud of.
The country is truly amazing, the landscape is very rich with beautiful mountains, wild rainforests and white-sand beaches, like the famous resorts of the Punta Cana area. But behind all that beauty, in the neighborhood where the locals live, there is unimaginable poverty. We helped a local elementary school, a Montessori school for kids ages 4-8. For most of them, that would be the only education they will get before dropping out.
The school was tiny, about the size of one American classroom. It really got me thinking about my personal education, and how different it is. Some of the kids there couldn’t even afford the 2$ fee for the school. We helped them paint, add some color and create murals on the walls. More importantly, we gave them trash cans. They didn’t have any trash cans in the whole school and it was really needed, which got the kids very excited. It was fun to communicate with them, even though they didn’t know any English at all.
I learned a lot from this experience, it was wonderful to see how happy the kids were even with the little they had. They were running around, enjoying themselves, even though some of them barely had shoes. A question that came to mind, with the abundance of things and money we have here, in the northwest, does that make us happy?
Aur Shalev-Merin is 13 years old and lives in Redmond, WA
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