Sharing stories from Hispaniola
March 20, 2014
A Fallon educator recently returned from his week-long, inspirational trip from the Dominican Republic with stories and life experiences to share.
"It was one of the most life changing weeks I've had," said Keith Boone, principal at E. C. Best Elementary School.
The experience Boone brought back from the country, where he helped build a vocational school, is one that he will never forget. He said 50 chosen volunteers went on the trip, primarily from employees of Lifetouch Photography to schools across the country.
Boone said once they arrived in the Dominican Republic they were escorted onto a bus for a four-hour excursion through the jungle to their destination in Constanza.
"The drive was breath taking," Boone said. "We drove up a mountain range that had beautiful scenery."
Boone said when they arrived at the resort it was pitch black outside, and he could not get the full scope of his surroundings. He said when he woke up the next morning all of the volunteers were led to a bus that drove them to the work site.
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"That was the first time I saw the neighborhoods and surrounding area. I have never seen poverty like that before."
The group was educated on the people, culture and area in Constanza when we arrived, Boone said. The area is immersed in agriculture with the majority of the residents working in fields owned by private individuals who live outside of the country.
"The locals who work in the fields make around $5-8 a day for a 12 hour day to support their families," Boone said.
Constanza students are not required to attend school, Boone said, so many of the children start later than they should if at all. He said it is also common for children to miss school to help support their family's income.
"A lot of the children in Constanza play baseball, which is the Dominican Republic's past time," Boone said. "They do this in hopes for a better life. They view becoming a great baseball player as a way out."
The group that traveled there in January finished up the first floor of the school in the week Boone said. Another group leaves in 2015 to finish the schools second floor.
Boone said his Constanz schedule consisted of waking up before dawn, eating the local cuisine with the rest of the volunteers before being transported by bus to the work site by 7:30 a.m. He said they would work until lunchtime, take a leisurely break to eat and/or play with the students until they had to go back to work. He said they usually finished by dusk and when returning to the resort they held a group meeting called "reflections" so everyone could recall the day.
"All of us who worked on the site developed a close bond," Boone said. "We all had common threads that we shared and those threads allowed us to become close with each other."
Working at the site varied every day, we went where we were needed, Boone said. One thing that was consistent was a little boy that Boone befriended named, Pedro.
"I came across him when I was on my way to lunch and I asked him if he had lunch," Boone said with a smile, "and he said he didn't have any. So I brought him back a sandwich, cookie and fruit … and he came back to me everyday to get lunch. He would also work by my side when we were working on the school."
Boone engaged Pedro when it was time for them to leave at the end of the week he asked his new buddy what he would do once the Americans left.
"I was hoping he would say baseball or something fun but the response was heart breaking to say the least," Boone said softly. "Pedro said he would return to helping his brothers, ages 8 and 9, collect cans and other items at the dump to recycle for money to help his parents out financially."
Although Boone was thousands of miles away in the Dominican Republic, he was able to connect with his students in Fallon. Using Google Hangout, he set up a meeting between several students in Constanza and at E. C. Best Elementary School.
"A lot of the questions my students asked to the students in Constanza had to be explained," Boone said. "Like, how the kids in Constanza didn't have a lunch program and hot meals, school mascots and aren't able to attend school on a regular basis. It was difficult for all of the kids to understand the answers to some of those questions."
Boone explained the week in Constanza was a life-changing week for him. What he experienced allowed him to reflect on his own life and be grateful for what he had.
"What really crossed my mind was all of the stupid things that you get upset about, they're just small things," Boone said. "When you focus on what is important, I think you realize you have everything that you need … my wife told me I complained a lot less when I returned from the Dominican Republic."
Boone said he would like to return to the Dominican Republic to volunteer with the reunion group, which consists of former volunteers who go back on their own dime.
"The students, community, volunteers from that trip gave me more than I could ever give back to them," Boone added.