By Brittany Andrea, V Form
When I first heard of the OutReach 360 Dominican Republic trip, I thought it was a glorified vacation. A large
group of Saint Markers going down to a beautiful Caribbean island, going to the beach, and playing with the most adorable kids for a week sounded like fun. I didn’t have the opportunity to go until this year, my junior year, and what I would actually experience shamed my ignorant first impressions.
On one very small level, my first impression was accurate. There ended up being plenty of time to go to the beach because we stayed by the water’s edge. We got to play with the children every day; I threw a baseball with a semi-pro pitcher whom I expect to sign with a Major League Baseball team sometime soon. That’s where the glorified vacation ends, however, as the trip was about hardship and committing to something bigger than ourselves. The mission of OutReach 360 is to teach English to children who do not have the opportunity to learn it in school. OutReach asked the community of Monti Christi what they needed in their lives. Their answers were not clothing donations or medical supplies, although it was evident that both could be put to use. The leaders of the community wanted the citizens to learn English; a functioning knowledge of English is crucial in a Dominican’s life because of the large tourism industry. OutReach believes that simply inspiring a child to want to learn English is an accomplishment.
To partake in the endeavor of aiding the students in the process of learning English, we walked just over six miles a day to and from the learning center where we taught the children. Although some parts of the walk were enjoyable, most of it was through wide open streets in 95 degree heat from the strong sun near the equator. The morning session included the older students, ages 9-13. They were much more mature comparatively to the afternoon group. They voluntarily sat through lessons about verbs and read books. One activity that the kids really liked was drawing characters from the books that they read and writing three words describing the character they drew. The afternoon group, usually much larger, certainly challenged all of us, especially since we were drained from our efforts in the morning: teaching is, in fact, a tiring endeavor to be attentive at all moments to students. They were ages 5-8 and had more energy than all of us could muster by the end of the day. Seeing the drive and desire the children had to learn truly pushed me through the day. I realized that in that exact moment, I had a chance to make a difference in their lives. With this mentality, I realized that I had to give all the energy I had toward the kids’ learning. The classroom management was exhausting, chasing them around and trying to get them to sit still. They wanted to play and be our friends, and it was difficult to strictly keep a teacher-student relationship.
I was a group leader for both sessions, meaning that I stayed with one group of girls for the entire session while they went from station to station where they learned English vocabulary and played games. This also meant that by the end of the week, I knew my girls so well and so intently. I had grown close to all of them; watching them grow and learn had been so rewarding. By the end of the week, the students had a vocabulary of over 20 verbs. They could answer questions by using the verbs in full sentences with subjects and prepositions (i.e. “I am cooking in the kitchen”). This final step had sprouted from the simple structure to full, complex sentences. When they got an answer right, I would give them high-fives and praise them. Their faces would light up and a grin would spread across their face. Moments like those are the ones that impacted my experience in the Dominican the most.
On most days, we had a chance to go to the beach. We made towers in the ocean by standing on each other’s shoulders with a little help. The towers were orchestrated by Dominicans who did not speak English. The power that humans still have when there is a language barrier is incredible; we were all still able to communicate and even a smile goes a long way. This also applied to my teaching. Even when my limited Spanish and their minimal English prevented us from communicating well, I realized that gesturing and body language can be so effective.
Even though I am enrolled in AP Spanish, my knowledge in the language is very limited. In my afternoon group, there was a girl, Michelle, who did not speak English. Her chestnut brown hair and gorgeous hazel eyes stood out against her tanned skin. Trying to understand the lessons, she asked questions quickly and relentlessly. When I begged her to slow down or use different words in broken Spanish, she giggled and said the same exact phrase again.
On the last day of camp, the kids wanted to take pictures with all of the teachers and group leaders. I stood in between all of my girls and looked around. I had helped them through four days of learning English, which ultimately is very insignificant. But the impact they made on me and my life has been incredible. As they were leaving, some of the girls gave me their pieces of masking tape that had their names on them. They gave me the drawings they had made of The Three Little Pigs as well as the houses they drew with rooms labeled. The students had so little to begin with, but were more than willing to give a gift to someone, such as myself, who helped them learn English. Seeing the way these kids lived has made me appreciate what I have. I am incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunities that I experienced. I go to a school that is more advanced than any the kids could have dreamed of. But if I could go to Monti Christi and inspire one child, only one, to want to learn more, I have done something significant. If I can make a small difference in one child’s life, I have done something worth doing.
Now that I am home, I plan to appreciate what I have in my life. I have family, friends, and teachers that care about me and my education. I appreciate the teachers who prepare classes for us because now I know how hard it is. I also learned how difficult it is to keep the attention of students; I don’t think the teachers at Saint Mark’s get enough credit for what they do. I have the opportunity to study what I want and, above all, I have choices. The students that I got to know do not have many choices; hopefully, I contributed to a creation of choice for them. I think about those kids every day and what they could be doing at any given moment. I hope they are doing something meaningful and enriching; maybe I had an impact on their lives that led the kids in a successful direction full of content and happiness.
Brittany Andrea is a Vth Former from Framingham, Massachusetts. She lives in Thayer and enjoys eating good food, driving on the highway, and playing softball.