Guest writer Marisa LaValette and a group of 11 girls helped to bring running water to a Dominican mountain village for the first time. She tells us about the power of girls volunteering.
This past summer I was privileged to serve as a “summer trip leader” in the Dominican Republic for the popular student travel company Rustic Pathways (www.rusticpathways.com), who run summer adventure and community service trips in more than twenty countries worldwide.
For most of the summer, I led mixed groups of boys and girls, but for my very last session I was a co-leader in a group of 11 that just so happened to be an “all-girls” group.
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Our base house was up in the mountains of La Jagua, a tiny village about forty minutes away from the mountain town of Jarabacoa. The girls said that they felt safe and confident voicing their observations and opinions of the poverty they faced while performing community service up in the village thanks to the intimacy of our close-knit group.
The girls had a lofty goal for their trip: to bring running water to the village residents for the first time ever.
The students and trip leaders worked alongside villagers to dig an aqueduct down the side of the mountain, as well as getting an overview of Dominican culture—the food, history, music, and dance.
Team building activities included a tour of Santo Domingo’s colonial zone or “Zona Colonial,” white water rafting in Jarabacoa on the Río Yaque del Norte, and afternoon arts and crafts sessions at the two-room schoolhouse in La Jagua.
Our co-leader led us in dance lessons focusing on the Domincan bachata and merengue, eventually branching off into other Latin dances like salsa. The girls learned how to play Dominican music instruments like tambores and the güira.
Despite all of the pitfalls that occur when performing large-scale community service projects in remote communities, the girls managed to meet the ambitious deadline of completing the aqueduct that ultimately brought water to the village.
There was a celebration for the entire village and all the volunteers including sodas, sweets, and a piñata for the children.
While local children danced in their brand new shower, the village awarded a certificate of thanks to the Rustic Pathways director of Dominican Republic programs and to all the volunteers from the course of the entire summer. There was music, singing, and dancing.
Seeing this group of girls from the United States aged 15 – 18 was so meaningful for me, because it helped me to realize the importance of volunteering from a young age.
I hope that this inspiring story of my group of girls in La Jagua will help to encourage other young women to get involved with the myriad of international projects that need support from volunteers.
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These girls have gotten a head start on the human journey towards understanding social and economic issues thanks to having begun at such a young age.
I think they should be applauded for the maturity, cultural sensitivity, and courage it took to donate a portion of their summer vacation to help people they did not know in a country they had never visited before.
If more people began helping others at a younger age, we could catapult our entire society forwards on a faster track towards understanding and cultural interconnectivity.
When was your first volunteering experience and what did you do? Perhaps you wish you’d gotten started earlier! Tell us your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.