A Map of the World for the Kids of Jarabacoa

The summer of 2004, after graduating high school, I embarked on a community service trip to the Dominican Republic.  My fellow travelers included thirty or so juniors and recently graduated seniors I had attended high school with, along with my Dad and my cousin Kayla.  My Dad had volunteered to be an adult supervisor, and though I was a little nervous about having him on the trip at first, we had a great time together.  I hardly ever get to spend enough time with Kayla, so I was really excited that we got to take a trip together!
Kayla, my Dad and I
We hopped two flights south to dark and sleeping Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R, and arrived around 2 A.M.    Our cranky and smelly group hopped a clunky old school bus that shuttled us to Jarabacoa, a small town of about 4,000 people an hour and a half inland from Santo Domingo.  We arrived at a ranch style hostel and despite the early hour, were greeted by the owner, a short and graying man who spoke enough English to welcome us.  After a brief introduction and guidance to our bunks, we shuffled into our rooms of bunk beds, checked for giant fluorescent spiders, and went to sleep.

We awoke the next morning to our surroundings drenched in morning sun and dew.  We seemed to be sitting in the middle of a tropical paradise, minus the beach.  The air was humid, but cool and fresh.  Down a narrow dirt walking path, a rushing creek sparkled, bordered by tall fronds and flowers.  Butterflies scattered the grounds, and the air was filled with the calls of strange birds and insects.  The place didn't seem real!  After a few moments of awe, we made our way to the dining patio for breakfast.  Waiting for us were colorful mounds of fresh fruit, sliced meats, pastries, and yogurt.  After eating to our hearts content, we were given a couple hours to freshen up, relax, and explore the grounds.  I washed off the previous day's travel and headed towards the river.  I sat on the bridge alone, jotted down a few notes in my journal about my new location, and spent my remaining minutes admiring my surroundings.
The bridge over the river
Kayla admiring the flowers
Dad enjoying a moment of reflection
We reconvened at the dining area to learn about our community service projects.  We would be working with a local organization named Duolos, a group that ran a private school for kids who wanted a better education in Jarabacoa. The public school system in the Dominican Republic is poorly funded and is unable to provide kids with the resources and teachers needed to get an education that prepares them for a university education.  Duolos relied heavily on donations, from local organizations and from abroad, to operate, and though they had to charge tuition to its students, extended scholarships frequently to families in need.  
Duolos School

Our group would be split into two groups:  The majority of our group would stay at the Duolos compound, cleaning the grounds and repainting the buildings, and a smaller group of us would travel to a local public school in Jarabacoa to help where needed.  Kayla and I were chosen for the smaller group, and we were soon whisked away in the back of a pickup truck to the edge of town. 

Upon arrival at the school, it was hard to believe what I saw as we hopped off the truck.  The school was a single room building, about 600 square feet in size.  One unisex bathroom.  Kids were running around outside on dirt and pavement.  No grass, playground equipment, drinking fountains, nothing in the school yard but 1 broken soccer goal.  Inside the school sat about 30 desks.  Since the school had about 60 kids of all different ages, they could only house half of the students at one time.  The older kids would come to school in the morning, and the younger group of kids would come in the afternoon.  Our arrival had caught the attention of every the students playing outside, and soon, we were mobbed with a group of smiling, screaming kids.  It was pretty cute.  We pushed our way through the sea of smiling faces towards the teachers on site, who were laughing at our struggle against our new fan club.
The school
New friends
"Welcome!" said the first woman, who introduced herself as Raquel.  "Thank you for coming to our school, we are very excited you are here."  The two other teachers, unable to speak English, simply smiled and nodded.  We smiled in return and introduced ourselves.

 "While you are here, we would like you to paint us a large map of the world on the side of the school.  We do not have the money to buy maps, and we want the children to be able to see exactly where they live in the world."
She ushered us toward the side of the school with a large, blank yellow wall in the sun.  "Here is where you paint, and make sure you paint our country on the map so the children can see it."  
Our group studied the wall and chatted for a few minutes to decide who would do what and it was decided that myself, Kayla and another girl Katie would draw the outline of the map on the wall while the others went to buy the supplies.  Using a Spanish world map found in a book, we began to outline the countries with marker on the blank wall.  Resizing a world map to fit the wall was no easy task!  We scaled the continents as best we could, and we decided that we would make the Dominican Republic much bigger than it was so that it would stand out on the map. By the time our group returned, the map was outlined, and we sat down to decide how we would attack the painting.  We decided to paint in the land first, the oceans second, and fill in the details on the third day.

Day two arrived, and we began the painting process.  One thing we did not anticipate was the hot afternoon sun.  It beat down on our backs as we painted, and we had to wear towels and bandanas on our heads to help catch the sweat.  After a few hours painting, we stopped to play with the kids on their recess break.  The sweetest little girl named Gloriluz eyed me bashfully, and finally came over and asked me to read her a book.  I sat down with her, and in Spanish, we paged through a few books, and she named all of the animals and people for me.  It was pretty darn adorable.  She even got some of us to join in on a game of hopscotch with a few other girls who had brought chalk to school.  We laughed and had a great time bonding with the kids.
How cute is she?
Gloriluz and I
Early stages
Working hard on the ocean
Looking good!
By day three, we were done with the large areas of painting!  Now all that was left was filling in the country names in Spanish and adding some key landmarks to different areas of the continents.  This was the fun part.  We painted mountains, kangaroos in Australia, polar bears in Antarctica, the Eiffel Tower in Europe, drew the route of Christopher Columbus (since he was the first European to land in the Dominican) and other landmarks.  As our last task, we painted a dove above the quote, "Que la paz prevalezca en la tierra" (may peace prevail on earth) and we signed our names to the map under "Hecho con Amor" (Made with Love).  Sweaty, hot, and covered in paint, we stood back to admire our finished product.  The kids and teachers all came out of the school to see their new map.   It was rewarding to watch the kids get excited about different things on the map, and when they could find the Dominican Republic easily!
Finished product!
On our final day of work, we brought the rest of our group in to help mix and pass cement to help build the foundation for a new, two level school.  It was gruesome work in the hot sun, but after getting to know the kids and teachers, we all felt good knowing we were contributing to what would hopefully be a much nicer place for the kids to learn.  I never did get to see the finished product, but I hope those kids finally got the school they deserved.
Beginning stages of the new school

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