As most girls spent the beginning of their summers enjoying their anticipated break in the good life of Nebraska, a special small group of Marian girls were able to spend their beginning of summer elsewhere. In the beautiful lands of the Dominican Republic, seven Marian girls traveled May 27 through June 7 with teachers Mr. John Paul Franco and Ms. Caitlin Gaule. Mrs. Karen Coolidge, scheduled and prepped to join them, had to move her trip to next year because of COVID. Unlike any other service trips, senior Megan Patterson recalled her experience as some of the best times in her life. She wishes everyone could have the same opportunity because of the sincere, life-long connections made with the people in the DR and her classmates.
Patterson remembers arriving smoothly in the Dominican Republic and being full of anticipation. She was looking forward to this trip ever since in seventh grade, alum Audrey Van Dyke’s mother, Karen Van Dyke (founder of the nonprofit organization Educate Uganda), would inform Patterson how she was involved in making a difference in the education system in Uganda. One instance that caught Patterson’s attention was when Van Dyke sought to collect books and other supplies to bring to the children in Uganda. Patterson offered a hand and ever since longed to do more to make a difference like Van Dyke did in Uganda.
The seven girls started their trip down in the DR in an orphanage. Here, the Marian girls helped make T-shirts, bracelets and gave the orphans their undivided attention. After their time at the orphanage, they helped in the Haitian batey, the most impoverished village in the Dominican. Walking through the Batey was extremely difficult, according to Patterson. She noted that even though the Haitians had very little in materials and education, they were still off running, smiling, and finding beauty in what they had. They stayed grateful amidst their low standard of living.
After traveling from Sabaneta, it took the group three hours to drive up a mountain in a bus coming from Mission ILAC (Institute for Latin American Concern), then right after into a pickup truck to finish their journey. The group spent five days volunteering their helping hands to the village and building new sites for the people, including a greenhouse. Work was primarily done in the mornings with a few special occasions of working in the afternoons.
The daily routine of the service trip would begin with the girls waking up around 8 A.M. to eat breakfast with the roommate they stayed with. Right after, the service work started. The group then ate lunch back at the ILAC center to have a break from working and connect more with the Dominican people. After lunch, the girls would sometimes find themselves playing with the kids with familiar games like dominoes. Another way the girls loved passing time was journaling about their new experiences so they could relive how it felt to make such a huge difference. Wrapping up their day before showers and dinner, the girls would either go back to working or continue hanging out with the Dominicans.
Patterson especially holds on to the Dominicans’ welcoming culture. It was never a rare occurrence to be walking down the village and have a few neighbors invite the Marian visitors into their homes for coffee. On the last day of their visit, the Dominican people threw a surprise party to show their appreciation, which included a large cake spiced with a taste of the people’s cuisine.
One of the most memorable parts of the trip that Patterson and senior Campbell Piotrowski will never forget was how the service trip “felt less work-based and more about building strong connections.” A core memory the two girls have talks about one of the ladies that was a nail technician in their campo (a rural grassland plain). The nail tech happily painted dainty dollar-signed designed gel nails as a cute little hoorah to temporarily remember her artwork. Even teacher Mr. Franco caved into her nail art by having his pinkies painted with the money sign.
The trip to these girls was less about the service and more about the life-lasting connections formed with each person they met. “Living in the Dominican people’s lifestyle taught me to live more humbly and think more conservative,” as said by Piotrowksi. Patterson also has changed the way she views what she needs versus wants, along with spending more of her time with family and friends. However, what mainly flipped the girl’s perspectives in their lives was recognizing their privilege of education. The children in the Dominican Republic would only be schooled from late morning until noon. Realizing what Marian girls can do with their education can help transform other’s lives, and that is exactly what these girls did for themselves and for some of the people they met on this adventure.