Story by Sneha Krish, Greater Long Beach Chapter, International and SAF Youth Executive Board Chair
I have been an active youth volunteer with the Long Beach/Rio Hondo Chapter for two years, ever since my freshmen year of high school. The passion I have for the Red Cross has grown so much; therefore, in April, I applied to be part of the Youth Executive Board of the Greater Long Beach Chapter and was chosen to be the International Services and Service to Armed Forces Chair. I am ecstatic to devote my time to this line of service.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, I had never actually witnessed poverty or hunger directly before my eyes. I grew up in the safe bubble that my parents have created for me. But, one trip outside this safety zone was all it took to widen my perspective.
Three weeks ago, charged with excitement, I boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic with a group of around twenty students from school. Our goal was to help The Mariposa DR Foundation, a girl empowerment organization, through painting, menial construction work, and teaching. Since it was my first time out of the country without family, I was nervous and anxious about how I would manage. As a 16-year-old vegetarian girl, I knew I would have to adapt during our two-week stay in a different country. Except, when the flight landed and we reached the town we were assigned to work at, my problems paled in comparison to what I saw around me.
Paradise means a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. I realized that we, back in the states, live in paradise. Our definition of poverty or the poor is nowhere close to what it actually is. Many in the Dominican Republic do not have all of the amenities that we are so lucky to enjoy. Electricity is a luxury, and even if you are rich enough to pay for it, it comes and goes, staying only for eight hours and coming back ten hours later. In the US, we live with dozens of types of technology and unlimited Wi-Fi, but often, we have taken all of this for granted.
The girls in the Dominican Republic, on the other hand, live with no air conditioning, computers, or microwaves yet they survive in the tropics all the same. To add on to their troubles, potable water in the Dominican Republic is hard to come by. Purification systems cost an arm, a leg, and a head; and are therefore unavailable to most people, leaving only two options: boiled or bottled water.
Many, who have large families, also resort to trapping rainwater, but during a drought there is no rainwater and bottled water prices undergo heavy inflation. Water is impermanent and seems to disappear when it is most needed. Also, families who live in the same community share latrines. The use of communal washrooms increases the risk of epidemics since proper sanitation techniques are not implemented. In their world, they shower in cold water and try to figure out their next meal for the day.
We spent all our time with the girls at the Mariposa Center and as every moment passed, I couldn’t help but wonder how people with so little could be so happy. This just proved that material wealth doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. They shared almost everything with each other. Their sense of sisterhood and community was so admirable and I felt so humbled to be part of this world, if only for a short time.
I was given the opportunity to interact not only with the girls, but also their parents. By talking to them, I discovered that everyone within a community is of a different status, meaning that some may be extremely poor and others, rather well-off, yet no one starves or is abandoned. The mother that I was able to converse with said, “Our duty as neighbors is to protect and stand by each other. Who else is there for us?”
Laughter was in abundance throughout our time in the Dominican Republic. While we painted, while we ate, and while we cleaned the school as well as prepared it for its opening in the fall, all I heard was the giggling of girls who appreciated everything we helped them with. Even when we spoke our Americanized version of Spanish, they smiled and patiently explained new words and phrases to us. After my time with them, I believe that paradise for me, is wherever those girls are.
I have learned so much from this trip. Though it may seem cliché, I have become so grateful for everything. Every time I turn on the faucet, charge my phone, or drink water, I think of them. I can only hope that I have left an impact on their lives as much they have on mine. One day, I wish to be part of a greater cause, and I know that this particular experience, and all of my Red Cross adventures will allow me to do so, in college and beyond.