My name is Cailey Cooper, and I am a junior at the University of Missouri. GBL has been gracious enough to support my school trip to the Dominican Republic to teach English to elementary school children.
Monday, May 21st - Day 1 of Teaching
Today, Monday May 21st, 117 American volunteers “invaded” four elementary schools in the small town of Monte Cristi, DR. With limited resources, we prepared activities for the children to help them learn different parts of the body in English in the morning. In the afternoon, nearly 100 children came to our campground for after-school tutoring. It was amazing to see so many children eager to learn English, and willing to take the opportunity to benefit their future.
Already I have observed so much of the Dominican culture by exploring the town, engaging with the people, and learning the history of the town. I walked along the pier of the beach and danced to the Spanish music blared along each corner of the street. I sipped pineapple juice and spent hour preparing to teach the children. I witnessed firsthand the differences in the school systems, including teaching style, school buildings, and discipline.
Day one of teaching was a successful start, but we are expecting to teach even more students tomorrow! Now that I am getting the hang of it, it should only get better from here!
Thank you GBL, this has already been an unforgettable experience!
Tuesday, May 22nd - Day 2 of Teaching
Woke up with a big spider in my bed BUT it was another successful day of teaching English, so I’ll try to move past it :)
Our 3rd grade class showed drastic improvement from yesterday. Most of the students remembered the different parts of the body, and were able to recognize and pronounce the words with little help! We were so thrilled!
However, we struggled to keep the 4th grade class engaged in the activities we created. After the 4th grade session, we altered our lesson plans for tomorrow to hopefully get every student collectively more involved.
In the afternoon, we once again taught English to the 100 learning camp students as well as students who are Level 1 English (just started learning English in January). My group worked with the level 1 students again, and I could not believe the improvement. These students were recognizing pictures, actions, and spelling of words given to them only yesterday!! It was so apparent how desperately these kids want to learn English.
The hard work we are doing is finally starting to show! Hoping for further improvement tomorrow.. and no more co-sleeping with spiders!
Wednesday, May 23rd - Day 3 of Teaching
This has been my favorite day by far.
The kiddos in both 3rd and 4th grade showed continued improvement in English and behavior. Today we brought construction paper so the kids could draw their own body parts in English. All of the 3rd grade boys in my group drew a girl with blue eyes and long hair instead :) it was still the body, so I was content.
I was so impressed with the 4th grade girls I worked with. They knew almost all of the body parts, and were able to easily write and label their pictures. I could not have been prouder!
The learning camp was also successful once again! We incorporated vocabulary words into a dance freeze game.. we didn’t really think it through though, since we were dancing in the heat for over an hour! Still, the kids loved it and it made learning the words more enjoyable.
In the evening, a dance instructor came to our camp and taught us several important dances in the Dominican culture. It was the best time! Super sweaty, but so worth it!!! I could have danced the merengue all night long.
Tomorrow is the last day of teaching. It will be so bitter-sweet!
Thursday, May 24th - Day 4 of Teaching
It was a hard goodbye.
Today was our last day of teaching English to the children of Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. The kids were very sad to see us go, and many did not understand why we would not be back. Franciella, a 3rd grade girl who had made a strong connection with with me over the past four days, held me tightly so that I would stay.
Throughout the week it has been hard to see a significant impact we are having on the kids. However, after the goodbye today, I am finally able to see the contribution we made;
On the first day our director, Miguel, told us it is important to understand that we are serving and not helping the children. The kids are not poor and do not need money. What they really need is to be taught English. The Dominican curriculum requires English to be taught, but the teachers do not know English, and therefore cannot teach it. That’s where we come in...to perform the necessary service.
Also, learning English enables the children of small town Monte Cristi to have a greater opportunity to compete with children of bigger cities when applying to college. The students in bigger cities most likely will receive a better education, therefore learning English is essential for a better chance at a brighter future for these small town kids I love.
With all of this in mind, it is much easier to see the difference we have made in the futures of these kids. I am so honored to be a part of it.
In the end, I am at peace with leaving the Dominican. Could be because I feel the difficult goodbye with Franciella was really just a “see you later.”
Friday, May 26th
Last day in the Dominican Republic resulted in immersing ourselves into the culture.
In the morning, we visited Dajabón, a market directly on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At 8am on Mondays and Fridays only, a gate separating the two countries opens and many Haitians enter the Dominican country. The purpose of this market is an exchange of goods. The Haitians typically sell donated clothes and shoes they receive from the earthquake relief in exchange for goods they really need, such as food and supplies. Many of the Dominicans take advantage of the low prices the Haitians charge, and can later profit off of the goods by re-selling them later.
Visiting this market was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was crowded and chaotic. Bodies were pressed together trying to navigate narrow paths between cramped tables selling all sorts of products. Motorcycles and wheelbarrows pushed through people without hesitation, so we had to be careful to avoid the vehicles and rushed people. It was overwhelming and unbelievable—booths were full of brand new nike shoes, people walking with 8 dozen eggs on their head, pickpockets around every corner. Although I was relieved to leave the market, I am so grateful to have witnessed what most will likely never have the opportunity to experience.
The market was the perfect example of the importance of serving instead of helping. When Americans donate clothes and shoes to Haiti, the Haitians sell the excess because they don’t need clothes. Instead, they need electricity, food, and more importantly education. Donations are a short-term solution to the problem. Building schools and sending teachers to Haiti would be a service benefiting people for the rest of their lives. This real-life example has changed the way I will choose to serve in the future. The market was so impactful!
Following the market, we stopped at a few more culturally significant places in Monte Cristi, including the Cuban museum and an above-ground cemetery. Later in the afternoon we hiked a beautiful mountain overlooking the Caribbean Sea, before lying on the beach and swimming in the crystal water to finish off the wonderful day.
However, the evening included more difficult goodbyes to the staff at Outreach360, who I have grown very fond of.
After reflecting on the entire trip, I’ve been discovering ways to take this experience back to the states. A large part of the Dominican culture prioritizes relationships with people above all other things—jobs, being on time, and responsibilities, just to name a few. Tom, an American director of Outreach360, told us on the very 1st day that Americans are often so focused on the “to-do” lists we need to accomplish instead of the relationships with the people in our lives. I find myself guilty of this pattern almost daily. This week I have noticed how Dominicans don’t need material things in their life to be happy, they just need people and good conversation! I am eager to adopt this way of life, and focus less of my time in stress and to-do lists, and dedicate more of my energy for the people in my life.
Furthermore, the Dominican director of the camp, Miguel, shared with me a few words of advice at dinner earlier in the week. He said, “life is only worth the value you put into it.” He encouraged me to fill my life with experiences and people who make me happy, and for no other reason. Miguel did not know me before this, but took the time to build a relationship with me, beginning with this conversation. By the end of the week he considered me his Missouri daughter.
On that note, I believe Miguel and the Dominican culture embodies the true purpose of GBL. Sometimes we spend so much time anticipating the future, we forget to live in the present. Experiences, such as trips of this kind, will add value and happiness to my life. When I return home, I am going to get busy—but not with the things on my to-do list. I’m going to get busy livin.
I’ve had the most amazing week teaching English to the children of the Dominican Republic on top of experiencing the rich culture the country has to offer. I am so grateful for an amazing beginning to a life of adventure and experiences I plan to further pursue.
I can never thank GBL enough,