My Alternative Break Experience in the Dominican Republic

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By Taylor Hudson

If someone asked me what I did over spring break, I don’t even know where I would begin.

Should I mention sleeping outside in hammocks for a week with no electricity or plumbing? Should I describe sitting on the back seat of a “motoconcho” for a 30-minute ride through Dominican mountainside? Or, what about sliding and jumping off 15-foot cliffs in the Saltos de la Damajagua?

While all of those experiences were unforgettable, the majority of the memories of my spring break reside in a small construction site in the village of Angostura. My favorite part of the week was not the white-sanded beaches or the breathtaking views. No, my favorite part involved sweaty foreheads, blistered hands, and heat exhaustion. The days spent building a house for Ernesto, Hida, and their seven grandchildren are what truly made my Alternative Spring Break experience a life-changing event.

Before, Ernesto and Hida’s house was barely a house. The walls and roofs had holes. The home sat at the bottom of a hill, so water had ruined any existing foundational structure. The floor didn’t even meet the wall. But then, Village Mountain Mission (the organization that is responsible for this trip) told them that they were going to build them a new home.

A week before we arrived, a group from La Salle University demolished the old house, leveled the ground, and began the foundation. When my fellow JMU students and I arrived, it was our job to finish as much of the house as possible before we left. Challenge accepted.

Within four days, we were taught how to lay block, cut frames, nail siding, and attach windows. We didn’t do it alone either. The entire village came out to watch the construction. More often than not, a random villager would squeeze in to work alongside us for a few hours, and then disappear without ever saying a word. Even the youngest kids—no more than four or five years old—would pick up a hammer and start whacking random things simply because they wanted to help. The sense of community and work ethic in Angostura was admirable.

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When the roof was finally completed, Ernesto looked up, raised his hands, and exclaimed something in Spanish. Of course, none of us knew what he said, but Jamie, one of the Village Mountain Mission staff, translated. Ernesto had said, “Now when it rains, we won’t get wet!”

It was the small moments, like that, that made the entire week so impactful. Realizing that this family got soaked during every rainstorm before this house was built changes your perspective. Further, realizing that this family will now be dry, humbles you in an unexplainable way.

All week, the smallest moments made the biggest impression on us ASB participants: Watching kids walk around the construction site with no shoes. Seeing Hida’s face light up when we gave her the leftover rice from our lunch. Being gifted a hand-made bracelet from a little girl. Singing and dancing to “Danza Kudoro” with the little boys on the way to the construction site. They are the moments that I don’t think I will ever forget.

As we left Village Mountain Mission on Friday night, we hugged the staff members goodbye. Jamie said it right when he said, “This isn’t goodbye, this is a see you later.” I know I speak for all of us in the group when I say that returning to the Village Mountain Mission and the nation of the Dominican Republic is inevitable.

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