Making a Difference: Summer Camp in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

by | May 6, 2010

 

Photo by Brian Farrell.

 

It was 7 o’clock on a Monday morning and I was in a familiar place, the Dominican Republic. My mother is Dominican, and has made sure my brother Diego and I are able to fully immerse ourselves in the culture. Last year when I was 15 I decided that it was time to try to give back to the community. An opportunity arose in the form of volunteering at a small school in Las Terrenas, on the northeast coast of the DR. This school, called Los Niños de Meredith y Leonardo, caught my attention through my brother’s elementary school, Lincoln School, in Winchester, MA. My brother’s class had a penpal project with the children from Los Niños and raised money for the school. I decided to investigate how I could help out. I contacted the school’s administration and agreed to offer something familiar to children in the United States, but that these Dominican children had never experienced: a summer camp of activities that would help them keep excited about school over the summer.

Only seconds before I would arrive at the little school, in the center of town in Las Terrenas, the prospect of leading a group of kids, aged 7 to 12, suddenly seemed terrifying. My hands trembled as I approached with a bag filled with colored paper, scissors, markers, glitter and all of the other ingredients for making introductory nametags. The school itself is tiny, the whole structure about the size of my Pre-Calculus classroom back home at Winchester High School. The kids greeted me with a loud “¡buenos días!” with smiles all around. My apprehension and nervousness dissipated. The boys and girls were excited to have a visitor, and had a keen sense of learning. Their teacher, China, was there the whole time prepping for the new school year and offered to assist me in any way necessary. As a volunteer, my job was to organize and give a one-week summer camp for the twelve children who were currently enrolled. I went with a close friend of mine, Mimi, and we made a rough schedule of the week. Every day had a different theme. For example, one day the theme was music. Many times I had to improvise to keep the kids occupied. It was then that some vibrant personalities emerged. One boy, Cristian, was always dancing and was a true showman. One time we had them play along to some merengue music by Juan Luis Guerra with instruments we had made earlier in the day. Cristian took a ring with rubber bands, stood on the bench, and started performing for us. Another day I showed them all some basic ballet steps to expose them to a form of the arts that they do not usually get to experience. One of the smallest girls, Leonelis, and her brother showed a great aptitude for dance. I went around the room adjusting their awkward stances, critiquing them on their first and second positions. The boys in the class, surprisingly enough, bore with it for the first fifteen minutes but when offered the option of drawing instead they glanced at me and then ran out of the room. I guess boys everywhere think ballet is girly!

My fondest memory from the one-week summer camp was the last day. We took a nature walk to look at insects and plants and birds. Three of the littlest girls picked flowers and gave them to me. Some of them held my hand. When we got to the beach I asked them who knew how to swim and was met with a resounding “Me me me!!!” The truth was that once we got in the water, anything more than three feet of water was too much, and none of them actually knew how to swim at all (but it was great because they would go five feet away and try swimming over). All of the children come from difficult backgrounds, yet they are the most loving and uncomplaining kids I have ever met. I went to the school with the purpose of exposing them to art, music, literature and science, and the possibilities of additional study, and also to help them segue into the new school year. In reality, though, I received so much more acceptance and love from these children that I benefited by our time together as much as they did.

Spring | Summer 2010Volume IX, Number 2

Gabriela A. Farrell is a junior at Winchester High School. She can be reached at Gabriela.farrell@gmail.com. For further information on the volunteer project, see http://www.schoolforchildrendr.org/help.php.

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