Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” One of the greatest lessons that the 10 day immersion in the campo has taught me is the difference between material poverty and poverty of the soul. Although the people in the campos of the Dominican Republic may not have many luxuries or even what we may consider necessities, they posses something much more important. The love and community in Los Tres Pasos exceeded anything I have ever experienced. The community welcomed us with open arms and open houses, showing us immense hospitality. I will try to put into words everything that I have felt and experienced this past week and a half, but I know my words will never do the community of Los Tres Pasos justice.
Los Tres Pasos is located along a hilly dirt road outside the small city of Mamey. Two hundred houses are divided into three smaller neighborhoods separated by sections where the river weaves through the road. There’s a wide range of quality of the houses. The least nice houses are made entirely of wood planks and the nicest houses are made of concrete with tile floors. The reason for the discrepancy is because some people have children or even grandchildren who live in the United States and send remittances back to their family in the campo. The measly earnings by these migrant workers go a lot further in the campo where the average monthly income is very low. The community offered up their nicest houses for us to stay in. For perspective, my house was a medium to high quality house. The walls and floor of the house I stayed in were made of concrete and the roof was made of zinc. There was gap between the roof and the walls, which meant we shared the house with a multitude of bugs. The house was divided by one wall down the middle separating the kitchen (which only had a sink and refrigerator) and the bedrooms. There were three bedrooms separated from each other by a half-wall. The bathroom, in the corner of my parents’ room, was hidden from sight by a curtain and a wall that only came up to my shoulder. Needless to say, my host family and I became very comfortable with each other very quickly, especially on the nights when the food upset my stomach. My family was one of the lucky families in the campo that had electricity. That being said, between the two dim bulbs and frequent power outages, we weren’t able to use the electricity very much. My house was also one of the few in the campo that had running water. Again, our idea of running water is much different than the reality of the people in the campo. Our house had an indoor toilet instead of a latrine, but the water very rarely worked well enough to flush, so it was used like an indoor latrine. In order to bathe, I had to turn on a faucet to fill up a five-gallon bucket and then use a cup to clean myself. Surprisingly, I felt very clean even though the water came from the river without much filtering. This goes to show how we don’t realize that our “necessities” are actually excess. Five-gallons of cold river water did the same job as a 15 minute shower that wastes a ton of water.
Hands down my favorite part of the campo was the people I met. The language barrier did not slow the formation of friendships. Smiles, laughter and presence take over when words aren’t enough. That being said, in a completely Spanish environment my speaking and understanding of the language improved greatly. The first night was very difficult because I think my family had assumed I was fluent in Spanish, so they laughed when I didn’t understand instead of slowing down or restating their sentence. But by the end of the immersion I was able to understand almost everything that was said to me and could respond with more than just “Si” or “Gracias”. Below are just a few of the incredible people I met from Los Tres Pasos.
My host family- My host family consisted of the mom Beatriz, the dad Kennedy, and the seven-year-old son Kevin. Most people in my group stayed with people who were more like grandparents so my relationship with my family was different, more like friends instead of like being their child. Beatriz graduated from high school and almost finished her college degree. She works at a hospital in the next town over as the secretary. Kennedy is an incredible husband and example of a man in Los Tres Pasos. Most of the men are pressured to be players and not do “women’s work”, but Kennedy cooks for the family and takes on some household work in addition to selling and delivering food items like crackers and cookies. The relationship that Beatriz and Kennedy have is really incredible. They are very loving and genuinely care about one another. One night when Kennedy was sick, Beatriz stayed up all night with him and in the morning when I asked her how he was, her face told me how much she cared and was worried about him. I can’t tell you how many times my family made me extra food to eat, bought me a soda, cleaned my muddy shoes and just showed me incredible hospitality.
Kevin- My younger brother with a bowl cut and deep voice was the sweetest little thing. The first night he was extremely shy and didn’t say more than two words to me. Once he warmed up to me, he became attached to my hip. Kevin gave me hugs constantly, always wanted to sit in my lap, asked me to play with him, and followed me everywhere. One time I was walking to the colmado when a guy on a moto stopped to tell me I had a little kid following me. I looked back and off in the distance was Kevin trudging down the hill! After work everyday, as soon as Kevin spotted me walking down the road he would race as fast as he could run and leap into my arms. One night I had gone to bed, but my parents were still awake and talking, from his bed Kevin told them that they needed to be quiet so I could sleep. My funniest memory of Kevin was when we had an impromptu dance party in someone’s living room. I danced with Kevin most of the time, but any time someone else tried to cut in Kevin would either refuse to let me dance with them or would pout in the corner until it was his turn to dance with me again. I’m so glad I met my affectionate little buddy.
Rosarie- This girl was the most loving and mature fifteen year old I have ever met. She truly has a heart of gold. She cares for the younger kids in the campo and treats each one with love and respect, even the Haitian kids who are often treated poorly. One time we went to a different section of the campo and at one point she said that we had to go back soon because she didn’t tell all the parents where the children were going. Unlike most kids, Rosarie still goes to school. She has to walk everyday to the next town over because the school in Los Tres Pasos doesn’t go past 6th grade. Rosarie has a very clear life goal: to go to school to be a pediatrician and then have kids and a family after. I pray that she can achieve her dream.
Christopher- This nine-year-old ball of smiles and energy filled my time in the campo with joy and laughter. Immediately we clicked as fast friends. Christopher refered to me only as “mejor amiga” and even forgot my real name! Christopher was so patient and helped me to learn Spanish, never failing to correct me! His favorite job was filling up everyone’s water bottles; no one’s water bottle was ever less than three quarters full. He loved to wear my sunglasses and baseball cap on sideways while he danced around pretending to be a gangster. Christopher always had creative ideas like making crowns out of plastic cups or playing makeshift baseball. His smile and kind heart are simply infectious.
After eight days of digging, gluing, carrying, and building we finally finished the 3-mile long aqueduct. The aqueduct started in the mountain area at a waterfall. We built a small dam that fed the water into a tube. The tubes ran down the mountain into the first area of houses where we built a tank so that the community could have a reserve of water in case of drought. From the tank the tubes ran through trenches to the other side of Los Tres Pasos. The work was very difficult, but it was an incredible experience to work alongside the community towards a common goal. The Dominicans all thought we were either working too hard or weren’t doing it right because everyone including old grandmas in nice clothes constantly offered to take our shovels and picks and work for us. As we walked down the street after we finished the project, people were celebrating their new water. The kids and adults alike were yelling, having water fights and playing.
During our free time we would play cards and dominoes with the children and with the people our age. We taught them games like Spoons, Hearts, and BS. They taught us games like Casino and 3-2. We would play for hours talking and laughing together. One thing I learned about Dominicans: they cheat like none other. It added an extra element to every game for them: who could cheat and not get caught. It was hilarious when they would stand up from the table accusing each other of cheating. Spending time interacting with others without the distraction of technology was so refreshing.
Never have I ever crossed a river to go to church. On Sunday, the community walked together to the church that was in the town adjacent to Los Tres Pasos. On the way we had to cross the river and since it had rained the water level was above the rock stepping stones we usually used to walk across. Everyone stripped off their shoes and waded across the river in their nice clothes. It was a hilarious sight, especially when one of the girls from our group fell in!
During the immersion, one of the girls in our group had her 21st birthday. The community insisted on throwing her a massive celebration. They decorated her house, gathered together gifts for her, and baked a beautiful cake. We spent the night dancing bachata and merengue together. It was incredible to see the community put together a huge celebration for a girl they had just met.
The best meal I had in the campo was made by one of the sweet older ladies who had us all over for dinner one night. She made a chicken soup dish that tasted very similar to the gumbo my dad makes. I sat in the backyard kitchen with her, my host mom and some other family members while she spent hours making the dinner. We had a great time chatting and watching the cooking.
On the last night, two of the girls from my group and I sat on my front porch with our families. We talked about our lives and gossiped. It felt just like talking to family and friends back home. It was such a cool experience to share a common human moment with people who have lived such different lives from me.
The campo immersion provided me with a new perspective and a lot more questions. In our retreat following the campo, we reflected on the struggles of the community and what we can do to make a difference. The campo affected each one of us differently and spoke to us in different ways. The number one thing breaking my heart about the campo is the way the children are robbed of their innocence. Most kids in the campo go to school one or two days a week, if at all, and drop out after elementary school. They work most days instead of going to school. Young girls are pressured to marry and start having children. Young boys are pressured to grow up, get jobs, get women, and get drunk. One night we saw an eleven-year-old boy, whom we had befriended, completely drunk with older boys and men egging him on. I was shocked to think that the same boy who we gave piggyback rides to was pressured into inappropriate situations for his age. We talked about how even kids like Rosarie and Dioscar who had the motivation and the determination to finish school may not be able to because of their circumstance. In my life I have every key of possibility imaginable. My parents supported me in ways I didn’t even realize like reading me books and making me do school work during summer to keep up my skills. I have the world at my fingertips and a net behind me to catch me if I fall. The only thing that’s stopping me from achieving my most outlandish dream is the amount of effort I’m willing to put in. In contrast, Rosarie and Dioscar could try harder than I ever have and succeed more than I ever will and still not be able to reach their goal. Even if they could graduate from high school and get accepted into college, there would be no way for them to pay for their education. To see kids half my age fighting to go to school and with a purpose for their life when at that age all I could think about was friends and the upcoming summer vacation, makes me want to fight with them. The question now is how do I turn this guilt for my privilege and the ache in my soul into a positive change. How can I, one person, make any difference? Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that one missing drop.” God brought me to this point in my life. He presented me with these experiences. He moved my heart in a very specific way. Now I need to listen to hear what He is calling me to do.