It's crazy to think that exactly a week from today I was traveling out of the country for the very first time. Traveling has always been something I have wanted to do, but have never gotten the opportunity to do. My family never goes on summer trips or crazy spring break skiing adventures every year. While I wish we did, it was just never in our budget or things just never lined up. When applying for a scholarship to this program, I didn't know what to expect. Doing service work and working with kids has always been something I enjoyed doing, so getting the opportunity to do both would be such a dream. Originally, I applied for the "Mentoring Youth" program, but to much disappointment I didn't get the scholarship. For the next few months I had just put this missed opportunity in the back of my mind. I forgot all about CIEE and what could have been.
Until I received an email towards the end of March explaining how they were willing to give me a scholarship to another program: "Building Eco-Solutions to Empower Communities". After much debate, I gladly accepted and here I am.
This past week has consisted of many new experiences and lots of full days. My group and I have been working alongside an organization here in the Domincan Republic called "Litro de Luz", or in English, Liter of Light (LOL). This organization helps bring light to many families who live in poor communities around the country. Many families who live in these poor communities struggle to pay their light/electricity bill every month and have to use gas fueled lanterns, which can result in many fires leading to injuries and even death. Using a solar panel as it's main source of energy, Litro de Luz uses plastic liter bottles you would typically find on the streets of communities and connects them to the solar panels using lots of wires that light up two little egg looking lights inside of the bottle. LOL teaches many people in the community how to make these simple lamps and attaches them to peoples' houses, bringing them light for years to come.
Over the course of three days, we traveled about 30 minutes from the Centro Cultural Dominicano-Americano (The Dominican American Cultural Center) to a small community outside of Santiago called Villa Gonzalez. There we learned the entire process of making and installing lamps using the reused plastic bottles. We went out into the community to ask people on the streets for bottles and then took those bottles and went through a 4 part process using the bottle along with wires, PVC pipes, tubes, solar panels, and lots of different tools to end up with a light that we would be able to install into someones roof. We worked alongside some locals who worked for this organization, as well as two german exchange students who have been living in Santiago for the past 10 months helping out the locals in this organization. We spent most of our week learning to take lots of different materials and turn them into something that is going to impact many lives. Using the knowledge we've acquired this past week, next week we are going to go into small communities like Villa Gonzalez to teach people from the ages of 14-26 how to make these lights and hopefully they’ll share what they learned and help other people in their community.
It's so interesting how much I've gotten to learn over the past week. I really did learn something new everyday. Today I just found out that Nicholas, one of the other members of my group, and I share the exact same birthday: September 18, 2002. Being a group of only 9, I feel like we've been able to get to know one another well and have been able to form a close knit community. With the help of our program leaders, Sabine and Carlos, and other CIEE/LOL staff we have been able to let loose and get to know each other on a deeper level and share what makes us different. As soon as I tell people I'm from Texas, the immediate thought is I ride a horse to school, or live on a ranch, or know how to line dance and only listen to country music, but living in a city like Austin none of those stereotypes hold true. Sharing my story and my background has allowed others to break those stereotypes and just get to know me and what Texas is really like.
I've enjoyed getting to meet so many locals and talk to them about their culture, lifestyle, and things they're passionate about, and with only 2 weeks left, I am determined to continue to be immersed in the Dominican culture and continue to have fun and bring light, smiles, and joy to many people!