The Dominican Republic- July 2015
Women Like Us Foundation
A Personal Reflection
By Sommer Bannan
Upon our departure from the Dominican Republic, Walter Cueva Diaz (one of the home-building volunteers) posted a trip picture on his Facebook with a quote from Mother Teresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”
Where do I begin? How do I find the words for such an emotional and spiritual life experience? How does one capture the impact of an event through language: what the heart feels, what the mind has learned, how the spirit has grown? There were fifty-five men, women and children on the trip to the Dominican Republic—some of us members of the Women Like Us Foundation, others volunteers who had heard of the organization, their mission, and felt guided to contribute to this particular cause at this particular moment. Each one of us were brought together for a variety of personal reasons, but we were all there united with a similar goal, to give back in the world and to help others in need.
On the final evening of our mission abroad, after all three of our family’s homes were built and the work had been completed, we participated in a group reflection. The three housing teams sat together over dinner at a beachfront restaurant watching the waves roll to the shore, the moon shining brightly overhead, illuminating a glow on the fifty-five sun-struck cheeks and shoulders. There were sounds of happy chatter and grateful celebrations, excitement and passion for new beginnings of friendship, enthusiasm for the united contribution and hard work of new homes and new lives built for families in need. There was an air of exhilaration from the experience of communities brought together to help one another. Each team was asked to the front, and each volunteer was given the microphone to give a brief reflection, their own testimony about how the four day trip had impacted their life and what he/she would take home in their own hearts and share back in their own communities.
I was inspired by how many of our Women Like Us Foundation members and volunteers found such beautiful words and heartfelt expressions to describe their individual experience, what they had learned and how they had grown, their personal lives forever touched. It seemed like such a contradiction to me, with my own personal background in writing- and as the Women Like Us Foundation blogger, I couldn’t seem to find it within myself to articulate the words to truly describe what I felt inside. There were so many memories made and so many lessons learned in just four days. Where does one begin in capturing the essence of THIS story? Throughout the trip, it seemed that every few minutes I would whisper in my own head “now write THIS down” or “remember this because THIS is what will make a great story.. THIS is a memorable moment.” There were too many memorable moments to count. Regretfully, I didn’t stand with my team on our last night in front of the microphone. I sat at the table and tried with all my inner strength to hold back my tears; I was overcome with emotion. I truly couldn’t describe my deep sentiments into adequate words and I found myself speechless and humbled as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
Even now as I’m writing, where do I begin? Do I introduce my reflections with the trip’s beginning.. Saul’s genuine, welcoming smile when holding the Women Like Us Foundation sign as I made my way through the Santo Domingo airport customs, where I was eager to find my group congregating, friendships waiting to be made? Do I begin writing about the first impressions in the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, where Angela fittingly assessed our transportation (with the elaborate, draping curtains) as the “Scooby Doo bus?” Or, do I start by reflecting on my first introduction to my roomie in room 222, the beautiful (inside and out) Xochitl.. how we talked in bed until 2:30am getting to know one another, although terribly exhausted after a sixteen-hour traveling day (three flights and two layovers) and an early morning alarm clock awaiting? Perhaps I should first describe what we saw, the neighborhoods and landscape as we first drove our “Scooby Doo bus” onto our Dominican Republic rocky, dirt road with our wood, nails, hammers, and saws ready to be used for a greater good. Or, our initial apprehensions of beginning such a tremendously important task; the worries of how language might be a barrier in building connections with the families, or how our lack of knowledge in the expertise of building, construction, and electrical installation would be a barrier in providing a solid foundation and protection for the important new family dwellings?
When we arrived we were organized into three teams, there were three houses waiting to be built for three families in great need. My family included Ernestina Sanchez (the mother) and her three children (Dahiany-11, Darlin-5, Deivi-2). Like Ernestina, my mother was a single parent and I am a single mother. Like Ernestina, my mother raised three children. Ernestina shared with me her plan of opening a hair salon from her new home to support her family, as my mother had done in my own childhood. I talked with Ernestina while we were shopping for household supplies on our final day. Although we did not speak the same language, through Monica’s help with interpretation we recognized that we had so much in common. I’m not a religious person, but I do know that Ernestina was placed in my life and mine in hers; I do not believe it was a coincidence that I was assigned to build Ernestina’s home. I feel tremendously blessed and humbled to have been given the opportunity to make an impact in Ernestina’s life, as she and her community did in mine. I am blessed to have met such incredible and hard-working team members, and to be involved in such a dynamic organization, people coming together with like-minded spirits. On our final day, when we handed Ernestina the keys to her new home, I expressed to her that “it was built with love.” And, it whole-heartedly was!
I will never forget the anticipation and rush I felt as I watched Ernestina and her three children walking into their newly built and freshly painted yellow and blue home. I will never forget working, sweating, drilling, and pounding nails with my new friends (my new humanitarian family) from various cities, coming from various places in our lives. I will never forget the kind and meaningful words one of my teammates repeated to me throughout an entire day, he has no idea the impact his gentle words made on my heart. I will never forget the neighborhood children waiting on the steps of the bus at the end of each day at our departure… waiting to wrap their arms around us in warm embracing hugs, despite the fact we were covered in sweat and dirt mixed with sunscreen and bug repellant. I will never forget the tremendous experience of my first (not last) humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic. And, I will never forget that I, too, can make a difference in this world!
Women Like Us Foundation, Defender’s Direct, and YWAM- with all of my heart, thank you!
By: Sommer Bannan
If you would like to learn more about The Women Like Us Foundation, visit our website at www.womenlikeusfoundation.org