Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.”
– Booker T. Washington
From January 18, 2016, to January 26, 2016, I travelled far away from my home and my regular life as a member of a mission trip to help build a school to change lives. Our destination was the beautiful scenic paradise of Constanza, Dominican Republic. A contrast to the immense natural beauty is the lack of hope and economic opportunities that have plagued this part of the country. In addition to lack of accessible educational opportunities for young people, there also exists a shortage of jobs and a great deal of teen pregnancy and malnutrition. These folks crave a better life with more hope. They welcome the mission trips and the fulfillment of local leaders and their vision of a better life. They welcome the gift of hope that these trips bring. They welcome a chance to support education and economic and social growth. This mission trip was many things: public diplomacy, global travel, bi-culturalism, relationship building, international understanding, construction, and the realization and power of project based learning and the essential nature of play, recreation, and the power of entering one’s home, church, and lives!
On January 18 I left Deerfield, IL (Chicago) and flew to Atlanta, Georgia en route to the Dominican Republic on the experience of a lifetime! I left behind my wife, children, work, friends, etc. as I entered a new world and a new set of life experiences as a learner. The 51 other people with whom I joined on this trip were pretty much complete strangers. Some of the volunteers work for LifeTouch Photography (the company sponsoring this mission trip), some like me represented professional associations in the USA and Canada. I was one of the representatives of the AASA (American Association of School Administrators), the school superintendent group. Other members of our team came from the national principal associations (NASSP and NAESP), the national PTA, and the National School Board Association. Together we helped build a school in the mountains of this beautiful country. While doing this, we learned to love the Dominican people, we learned everything about how people live in Constanza, we learned that play transcends language, and we learned how a trip based upon learning, serving and storytelling changed our lives – for the better! On January 26 I boarded a plane with our group who started as strangers and with whom I am now friends as we head home to the USA and as we reflect on the life-changing journey we started last week.
Imagine a group of 52 strangers gathering together in Atlanta, GA – barely learning each other’s names – and 8 days and 7 nights later this group of strangers have become close friends and co-builders of a school in Rio Grande, Constanza, Dominican Republic! The following blog postings reflect my views, thoughts, learnings, lessons, and story of the LifeTouch Memory Mission 2016. As part of the experience of building a school in the Dominican Republic on the LifeTouch Memory Mission 2016 trip, we engaged in cultural learning and team building experiences prior to starting on the work site.
As background, LIfeTouch has been running mission trips since 2000, and they have been engaged in building schools, hope, and relationships in the Dominican Republic since 2011. Participation in the trip is based upon lottery selection – I was originally selected as an alternate and since someone could not attend I received the opportunity of a lifetime. After we arrived, the first major school building project, Cecaini School, was approved by the government and officially dedicated. We entered this journey thinking we would help build a school but we left this journey doing a whole lot more! My aim is to capture with words and images, among several postings, the power of this journey and the message that relationship building forms construction that can last forever! The image above is of the current school in Rio Grande – it’s a one room school house serving children in grades 1-4.
So … Back to our beginning …Our trip facilitators were EXCELLENT – though I will try to use words and images to represent my experiences, neither words nor images alone can truly share the respect I have for Mr. Tim Gibson, Jan, Amy, and all of those who helped make this memory mission such a huge success. When we started, we were told that trips like this allow people to enter the culture of a foreign land as a learner – we were not tourists – we were here to learn, to serve, and to share our stories. Through learning, serving and storytelling we would become bi-cultural and quite frankly part of the Rio Grande community.
We were reminded that we were on this trip to learn alongside our new friends and adapt to their ways of doing things. We were helping build a school under the direction, guidance, leadership and teaching of the Dominican engineers and workers. We were here to serve them through helping them accomplish their goals. What they wanted done in the order they chose by the methods they directed us to use was a manner of our service to them. We served with hard work, sweat equity, friendship, relationships, play, conversations, home visits, and a ton of fun and pride. Our storytelling (part of which is shared in the blog) is based upon sharing, listening, and describing the impact of our journey through experiential learning, sharing with people, family, friends, and through the major focus of our trip which was to help fulfill the vision of community leaders like Pastor Angel Moreta that the children of Constanza would have HOPE – hope that they were not forgotten – for a life with greater opportunities for advancement than currently exist today.
As we engaged in the thoughtful team building and getting to know you exercises early in the trip it started to become clear to me that the reality of our work was much larger than the physical labor of building the school – it was going to build heart, soul, emotion, and a school. We truly became messengers of peace and hope to a forgotten village and along the way we were greatly impacted in many ways!
I’ll post more entries later this week!