Updated: Mar 27
By Alyssa Tuck
The Dominican Republic has beautiful beaches, amazing food, and great prices for traveling on a budget. White sand beaches, and warm beautiful blue water-- the epitome of paradise.
However, despite its beauty also comes with its set of flaws. Even the loveliest of travel destinations are not perfect. Where there is luxury, there are also people living in great poverty.
In 2011, I had the privilege to travel to the Dominican Republic with a small group of people to work at a local church. My reason for traveling was much different than other people traveling to the Dominican Republic. I went with the main purpose of helping others, rather than to escape for a relaxing holiday.
Some of the things I did and the people I met had a lifelong impact on the way I view the world, and I am so grateful I get to share this change in perspective with others.
Living Among the Locals
The most memorable aspect about my trip was the opportunity I had to live and work among the locals.
Our main project was to help the locals build an additional small building next to the church. This was to provide another space where the children could come to learn, play, and be fed a meal. The church was supported by an organization called Compassion, whose primary purpose is to help children in poverty. They do this by connecting children with sponsors whose donations go towards giving them resources and opportunities, such as food and education.
In addition to the building project, we had other things we helped with, such as playing with the children during their outdoor activities, arts & crafts, and helping with their lunch and snack times. I really enjoyed spending time with the children. One afternoon, all of the older kids got to go on a bus trip with us and they showed us around one of their favorite beach spots. We swam in the ocean and had a blast hanging out with them.
Another day I will always remember was the home visitation day. We split up into smaller groups and visited sponsor children in their homes, and it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen in my life. On our way to the church that day we passed huge, luxurious houses, and even a mansion, but less than ten minutes down the road there was a complete shift, and the homes were visibly different. Various scraps of wood and metal were leaned against each other to create walls and roofs. They all had dirt floors and some homes had maybe one small bed for the whole family to sleep in.
Children ran through the streets with no shoes, their clothes were filthy and tattered. Mothers and grandmothers were working in the homes to make meals that they may not get to even have much of themselves. The country really is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and an incredible travel destination. But not far from many of these stunning locations are people in desperate need.
The Generosity of Those in Great Need
Working alongside the translators was another learning opportunity for me. All of the translators with our group were once sponsored children through Compassion, each now helping other kids while pursuing some of their other dreams and careers. They shared memories of their childhood; letters they received from their sponsors, challenges they had, and ways that Compassion helped improve their lives. These are some of the kindest, most hardworking people I have ever met, and it was humbling to hear of their experiences growing up in poverty. They shared both the hope of getting out of it, but also the pain of living a childhood challenged with it.
Although the people we met lived in poverty, there was an overwhelming kindness and generosity in them, and it was very humbling to be a beneficiary of that.
People often offered us food or drink, even when their resources for themselves were limited. They were always hospitable with what they had, no matter the cost to themselves.
I particularly remember on the last day in the Dominican Republic, the pastor of the local church had a plaque made up for our group leader, as a thank you to him and to all of us who had come to help them with their building project. We were moved to tears by this gesture. Something seemingly so simple was a great cost to them, but they gave it gladly.
This trip left me feeling challenged by how I see the world and travel. After spending time with people who were so generous with what they had, it caused me to reflect upon how I use my own time and resources. I don’t always do well with this, but I try to be aware of others needs, and to give more generously.
Developing countries have some of the most beautiful places to travel, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying a holiday there. But traveling to developing countries has changed my perspective, and one thing I have learned is that it is important to have an awareness that there are real people living in these places who have great needs.
Now when I decide to travel somewhere I like to research the ways that people live, and when possible, to offer help to those in need.
There will always be places where you have to use discretion, especially traveling as a woman. At times it may be unsafe or unwise to offer too much to strangers, so research is definitely crucial. When possible though, doing small things to show someone kindness can go a long way in brightening their day.
Writer Bio: Alyssa is a Virtual Assistant (VA) from the USA, currently based in New Zealand. She loves to travel, and always has lots of exciting travel plans! As a VA, she specializes in Content Repurposing, Blogging, and Social Media Management.
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