UO Abroad (new feature!): Athlete aide Katie Harbert holds court in Dominican Republic
1. Where in the world were you?
We went to the Dominican Republic, June 15-23. We were about two hours north of Santo Domingo, in a small community called Los Cerros, near the town of Don Juan.
2. What work were you doing there?
We partnered with an organization called Courts for Kids to build an outdoor basketball court for the community. The court serves as much more than a site to play basketball; it really became the center of the community and provided a safe place for the children and youth to play. The parents in the community had wanted the court for years to keep their kids away from their “vices.” We worked through several PeaceCorps members and closely with the community members to build the court. It was physically exhausting work but incredibly rewarding.
3. What did this work mean for your students, peers and/or the university?
It is difficult to put into words what the trip meant to us and the community of Los Cerros. For our students, it was an in-depth cultural exchange and one that required them to leave their comfort zones – no running water or electricity, physical labor that was more exhausting than any workout or practice, and language barriers. Each of them developed a new worldview, learned about themselves and made some lifelong friends with each other and with the people of Los Cerros. I was incredibly proud of our students and the staff members who went along. They represented themselves, the university and the country. When asked what they thought of Americans after a couple days of working with us, the Dominicans replied, “they work very hard and are very good people.”
4. Tell our readers something they should do if they ever visit this locale.
If you go to the Dominican Republic, get to know the locals. They are extremely generous, loving, kind, faithful and hard-working people. Despite my limited Spanish, I communicated with my host family and spent several evenings sitting around with them in their small cinder-block-and-tin-roof house just being together and having a conversation. The pace of life is much slower and you have time to just sit on a front porch in a rocking chair enjoying the people you are with.
5. What was the most memorable experience on your trip?
As I prepared for the trip, I knew it would be a life-changing experience for most of us but what I didn’t expect was the degree to which we would become a part of the community we were living in and how much love we would feel from and for the people in Los Cerros. As we said our goodbyes there weren’t many dry eyes – American or Dominican. On our last night, one woman told us as she was crying, “I love God most and after God I love you all. When you return we will buy a goat to kill and eat it together.”
UO Abroad is a recurring feature in Inside Oregon that spotlights UO professors, staff and GTFs whose work takes them overseas. If you or someone you know is traveling abroad, contact Communications Specialist Matt Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.