Here’s a day by day re-cap of the first few days of our service/learning adventure. And just so you might be totally confused we had, two Pats (Pat J and Pat M), a Nancy and a Nancy Lee and a Barbara whose name was changed to Wendy by the end of the week. Along with Tami, Tina, Kayla, Julie, Cara (as in Care – a) and me.
And a couple of quirks to note about this group. There was spontaneous singing, usually let by Nancy saying, “this reminds me of a song…” And also, spontaneous dancing usually let by Tina and specialty Yoga moves by Kayla. It was a very talented group.
Day 1 – We all descended on the Minneapolis airport at 4:45 am. It was really early and really cold out. I really thought we’d be the only ones there because really who wants to go out in the cold at 4:00 in the morning if you don’t have cows to feed. Apparently quite a few people because it was so crowded!
Our group of 11 ended up splitting into two and placing different bets on which security line would move the fastest. I don’t know what the other group discussed while they were standing in line but our group talked at length about how puzzling it is that we can put a man on the moon but have yet to figure out an efficient security screening process. Although, one suggestion that we did come up with was that the 3 TSA personnel standing nearby chatting could maybe open up the other lane! I know, crazy idea but I’m still convinced it might have helped.
We finally made it through security and got re-dressed and re-packed and hoofed it to our gate because well, basically the plane was getting ready to board. And as luck would have it, it was quite a hike from security to our gate.
My group made there just as they were boarding “group 2”. Pat J’s group, however, was no where to be seen. I did start to panic just a little bit and leaned over to Barb and said, “there is no way I’m going to the Dominican Republic without Pat J. She’s the one who talked us into this. I’m not getting on that plane until she gets here.” Barb, very wisely, said, “well…I agree we shouldn’t leave the country without her but I think we could hang out in Miami for a few days. We can at least go that far.” So, with a sound back up plan on the books, I breathed a sigh of relief.
As the gate agent is saying “we are now boarding group 3”, we see Pat J and her group moseying our direction. No urgency in their steps whatsoever. We begin waving our arms frantically in the international sign for “hurry up the plane is leaving!” They casually waved back and continued to mosey our direction, a few of them stopping off at the ladies room.
“final boarding call”. To heck with it, I decided, I’m going to Miami. I may not go any further but I didn’t get up this early for nothing and I’m going far enough south to get warm.
In the end everyone made it on board and all was well.
We landed in Miami and since we had a 6 hour layer over we decided to rent a couple of mini vans and head to the beach! You should know that the rental cars in Miami are located conveniently, about a five mile hike from the main terminal. Nancy Lee was regretting the carry on with about 75 pounds of books in it but she definitely got her 10,000 steps in.
Once at the beach we stopped at Puerto Sagua for lunch. If you are ever there, order the Cuban Beef and you will be happy and very, very full.
Then it was off to take pictures of the beach to text back to all our friends and family back in MN and other cold and snowy locations.
And then it was back the airport. And onto the next plane. Trust me I double and triple checked that Pat J was seated with her seat belt securely fastened.
A couple of hours later we were in the Dominican! It’s still weird and crazy to me that in the span of one day you can go from the bitter cold, snowy tundra of Minnesota and end up in the green, humid, WARM, tropics of the Dominican Republic.
We arrived to this van. And the warm greetings of Sandra who would be our guide for the week. About an hour later we arrived at Casa Tranquila and basically collapsed into our beds.
Day 2 – We woke up early and took a quick tour of our Dominican digs, since we were too tired and it was too dark when we arrived the night before.
Then Sandra’s husband, Darrel, arrived to take us on a hike up to Spirit Mountain and the coffee plantation. We were also very lucky to be joined by Krista Wallace. Krista and her husband Chad founded the Doulos Discovery School in 2002 and in 2003 they started Spirit Mountain Coffee as a way to help support the school financially and also as a place where the students could work on expeditionary learning projects. It is really amazing what they have accomplished and hearing Krista’s story was one the best parts of our trip.
The van couldn’t make it to the top of the mountain so we had to hike in the last couple of miles. And as we hiked along I found that it reminded me of Bates Creek. Now it was completely different, no sagebrush, no antelope, no aspen trees. But all the same something about the feel of it reminded me a bit of home. And as Darrel and Krista talked to us about how they grow and harvest the coffee plants, again I thought of home. They were talking coffee not cattle, which are quite different as you can imagine. But still….you could tell how hard they all worked to keep trying to improve, to take care of the land, to learn how to do things better, to find ways to overcome obstacles like uncooperative weather and bugs and things way outside their control and how much it all means to them. So, I was roughly 2600 miles away from my Wyoming home and in a completely different environment and yet right there under the surface, the heart of it all was the same.
So we hiked and we learned a lot about coffee and then we had sandwiches and listened as Krista shared her story and made us all cry. And then we had a turn swinging on the big swing and it was time to hike back down.
On our drive back to Casa Tranquila, Darrel had our driver stop in a little town to show us a typical public school.
Then it was showers (some of us were lucky and had intermittent warm water and some had straight cold), dinner and great conversation by the pool. I don’t remember who was the first to spot the tree rat but he/she made his/her first appearance that night. It was very brief and not everyone saw him that first night, so it was a little bit like a big foot sighting for the first few nights, some believed, some did not. It would take Kayla all week before she had her first tree rat sighting.
The very kind staff saw us sitting out there and brought us tea and biscuits which they would do every night without fail. They spoiled us just a little.
Day 3 – We were back with Sandra and she took us on a tour of Doulos – it was Sunday so it was just us, no staff, no kiddos around. We learned a lot about Doulos and about the education system in the Dominican.
The Global Competitiveness Report of 2010 listed the DR third to last in the world for quality of primary education. Only half of current elementary students will finish 4th grade. There is a drastic shortage of teachers, school buildings and financial support to provide a quality education. A public school day lasts 3-4 hours and classrooms are often crowded with as many as 50 students per instructor. There are private schools but their quality varies widely.
Chad and Krista Wallace founded Doulos Discovery School with this mission – To Educate and Equip Servant Leaders through Christian Discipleship and Expeditionary Learning to Impact the Dominican Republic. And Doulos truly is an oasis for the students that attend.
The curriculum is based on the most rigorous academic standards from US schools. Students become literate in Spanish, English and French. They are taught through expeditionary learning techniques which means they learn by doing and experiencing. For instance, if they are studying the coral reef, they will read about it, study it through a variety of disciplines – how is it formed, what animals live there, how that affects the beaches, how the beaches affect tourism, how tourism affects the economy of the DR, ect. Then they visit a coral reef and study some more and then work on a project that incorporates everything they have learned that is then used to teach others about the corral reef. There were several moments when those of us that have school age kids, looked at each other and said “man I wish my kid’s school would do something like this!”
But here is the part that I really love most about Doulos. They intentionally mix socioeconomic classes so that students learn to see each other as equals, challenging the paradigm in developing countries (including the DR) that leaders only come from the elite class. So, half of the students at Doulos come from upper class families who pay tuition. The other half are students from lower economic families and receive almost full scholarships (scholarship families are asked to pay what they can and also must contribute a certain number of volunteer hours at the school). Friendships are formed across class lines as students work together to serve the community through regular service projects. They also have daily devotions and weekly Bible studies as part of their curriculum.
After touring the school we went to check out a nearby waterfall, Salto Jimenoa.
We had to cross several long swinging bridges of questionable integrity. I quickly learned to make sure that I was never on the bridge at the same time that Tina was on the bridge. Tina is a daredevil and likes to swing the bridge whilst walking across it. I am the exact opposite of a daredevil and do not like the bridge to have any movement whatsoever while walking across it.
After our waterfall/swinging bridge adventure we got cleaned up and headed to off to church. The service was in spanish but we did have an interpreter for the sermon. The music was amazing and it didn’t matter one bit that it was in spanish because worshiping through song is pretty awesome in any language.
Back at Casa Tranquila we had visitors for dinner! Danae Lemoine who is the new director at Doulos came to talk with us. And Sandra and Darrel came by and brought Courtney. Courtney is from the Twin Cities. In fact, Courtney was on this very same service/learning trip last year with the POP women and by last June was living in the DR and working at Doulas as a communications supervisor. This was a story we would hear more than once, someone taking service/learning trip to Doulos, falling in love with the school and the country and moving there (don’t worry Dad I’m not thinking of moving). It felt like old home week and I had only just met these crazy people.
But I think the best part of the night was this.
Darrel made us amazing homemade guacamole. It’s lucky no one got hurt because we were knocking each other over trying to get to the guacamole bowl.
Then we said goodbye to our dinner guests, had our evening discussion and prayed that we would do well on our first day of service, substitute teaching…..