Travel Abroad

Service Learning in the D R: The satisfaction of working with a great group
To my students who made it fun and easy for me!
By Clara Sotelo
There is great satisfaction when one can make a child laugh. And, when that laughter is accompanied by some sort of discovery, not just on the part of the kid, is even better. However, the experience is perfect if those we engage with belong to what we used to called in the late 70s, following Paulo Freire’ notion–the oppressed, the wretched of the earth, the downtrodden … Somehow, for some of us is fulfilling. Furthermore, if the party offering them aid is so eager to help that their hearts are pouring out in love and compassion, nothing compares!
The group of students doing Service Learning in the Dominican Republic this past summer, 2015, was very much into bringing their best to the job: Eagerness to render a service with a lot of enthusiasm for learning. Some had to go to some of the most poverty-ridden areas of Santiago de los Caballeros; and it was a bit chaotic. Between the agitation caused by the immigration conflict with Haiti and the lack of traffic lights in some areas, which made the public transportation somewhat reckless, it was bound to be hard at times. Students had to be very careful and certain rules kept them from being in harm ways. I had my doubts at first, however, I never saw anyone who wouldn’t arrive early to their post, prepared and with a positive attitude. Most, if not all of the students doing clinical work at Health Centers were pretty knowledgeable in the field. I was impressed, and so were the health care professionals they worked with. Students always wanted to do more and nothing would deter them from collaborating with the tasks at hand. Some of them kept a notebook where they would write down little notes on aspects they cared to further understand or vocabulary words they never heard before and wanted to remember.
The ones who chose to do teaching at the “Salas de tarea” in the Education Centers were, likewise, very ready to try their own lessons, games, and other creative activities. Some were even a little upset when they did not understand what the instructors in charge wanted from them, or what was going on when the course of the class would take a different rout. They did not mind being, at times, frustrated and, often, a bit lost with the fast-pace of the Dominican dialect of Spanish. They noticed I got lost as well because when we were riding a taxi together, they heard me ask the drivers to, please, repeat for me. It was unbelievable for them, as it also had a calming effect and became an equalizer.
Despite a somewhat convoluted city–undergoing local pre-election campaigns, with people competing and rejecting the ideals of their contenders with fury, and a drought that kept the gardens and some local spirits dried–I believe the students enjoyed themselves, and I’m certain they must be thankful for that opportunity and the universe of knowledge that opened before their eyes. Their smiles spoke loudly. “We want to help. We understand! We can always do more. We are doing OK.” And they were; no one got in trouble, and all performed in class exceedingly well. In the discussions about their Service Learning, they all showed intelligence, generosity and critical thinking skills. Some brought back in their hearts the needs of the city and its marginal citizens and are planning to go back during spring break with an environmental group to help clean the streets of Santiago, to do workshops on recycling, and to talk about potable water. They learned a lot and most importantly, grew up even further; many said so, and became stronger as I witnessed. That is good enough for me. No matter the hard times I endured (I went through some difficult times myself) the satisfaction of having influenced, positively, a few students—is what has stayed with me and has made me smile now and then, and when I hear from or see them. Besides, they were the ones who made it fun and easy for me!
The photos below are:
1. UF Student Amaury Sablon with his pupils at one of Santiago´s Sala de Tarea.
2. UF Student McLaine Pleasants helping with kids vaccinations at a pediatric station
3. UF Student Lindsey Edwards working with Animals at a Veterinary Clinic
4. UUF Student Sara Kurtevski assisting with Physical Therapy.

Service Learning in the Dominican Republic

Teaching in the DR_Summer 2015

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