Connecting with Community: Dominican Republic, 2018

Within an hour of getting off the plane, I find myself on a dirt road, surrounded by hills, palm trees, and spotting the occasional cow or donkey in the distance. Spanish music playing over the radio, not a house in sight.  The main road was closed because a bridge collapsed, so we had to take the back road.  They were not kidding when they said back road lol.   As we skirted around the pot holes and edged our way through pools of water that took over the dirt road, I’m just hoping to get to our destination in one piece.   

The first days of the trip weren’t exactly comfortable. My feet were covered in mud…pretty much the whole time. It was frustrating to rely on others, or an app, for translation.  I really need to work on my Spanish. 

I met a lot of people that first day in the village. We smiled and exchanged hellos (“Hola”, “como estas” “bien” – I got those down, thank you to my elementary school Spanish teachers), but I was far from home and out of my comfort zone.  To be perfectly honest…that felt really strange at first.

Late afternoon on that first day, we had about an hour of downtime before we were scheduled to meet with the village’s neighborhood association. To pass the time, we sat up on a hill with one of the families. We pulled out a board game – Connect 4. With Anna’s help, I informed the oldest son, Endy, that I happen to be the self-proclaimed world’s best Connect 4 player. With a laugh, Endy was up for the challenge. It didn’t take long for me to see that Endy had played before. And, he was good. (Don’t get me wrong – we tied the first round, then I still won the rematches. Not giving up my title.) But in that moment, competitive spirit surpassed language barriers. Sitting there on a hill, doing something as simple as playing a board game, I connected. That’s all it took - a board game, reminding us of what makes us similar. From that point on, it felt different to me. I didn’t notice the mud on my shoes, and I didn’t mind the language barrier as much. (I do need to brush up on Duo Lingo though. Haha.)  

Connection was everywhere- I saw it and felt it. People in the village, from all walks of life, wanted to share their homes with us. One man brought us through his home to show us the land crabs he had caught earlier that day.  Kids giggled as we flew kites together, the older kids came over and wanted to try too. With the neighborhood association, we planned a community meal. A chance for everyone to come together, to cook, to eat, to play, and spend time with one another. As I walked around and played with the kids, and sat to eat yucca with their parents, I felt the love and strength of the relationships in the community. It was in those moments – the simple ones of playing with giggling children and laughing with new friends, that I connected even more deeply. I came to realize just how important those moments are – the ones that shift our thinking and adjust our mindsets.

Human connection is at the heart of it all. It keeps us grounded, brings us new meaning, and renews our commitment to our work. In the months to come, we will continue spending time in Pueblo Nuevo, learning more about the community and explore what this new partnership will be. I cannot wait to share this with all of you. 

Kamran

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Anna Balakrishnan