Nobody knew what to expect. They were headed into the unknown, far away from their worldly comforts and everything they knew to be true.
When most people travel, they stay in nice hotels, possibly on a beach, with amenities like a car, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. This was not that kind of vacation. This was the kind where you stayed in a cheap motel, with stiff mattresses, only a short bus ride away from extremely impoverished villages. It was the kind of trip where you woke up early, and spent all day under the harsh sun… and for all of the people involved, it was the trip of a lifetime.
“Though challenging, this trip taught me the hard way how great of an experience you can have while being uncomfortable,” said MSUM student Grace Bolin.
This past May, MSUM professors Dr. Mary Dosch and Dr. David Paul guided 12 MSUM students, all women, on a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic to work with young girls at the Mariposa Foundation.
“I think that taking students out of their typical element and their life, their culture… taking them to a new place to understand different cultures, different people, different ways of life is definitely transformational,” said Mary Dosch.
The mariposa (butterfly) was the code name given to Dominican Republic heroines, the Maribal sisters, who fought social injustice and gave their lives for freedom. The Mariposa Foundation adopted their nickname as a model of true strength.
Mariposa helps girls ages 8 to 18 by educating and empowering them in order to create a sustainable solution to end generational poverty in the Dominican Republic.
Girls in the Dominican Republic face a culture of extreme machismo. Males can be sexually aggressive, and most girls are forced into a “marriage” and have children by age 12. The girls are left to take care of the children alone. This causes generational poverty.
While at the Mariposa center, the group worked with young girls in the morning: playing games, talking and connecting.
“We spent a lot of time with the girls which was intended to enrich them, but in more ways, it enriched us,” said Bolin.
As part of their service learning agenda, the group had a chance to visit the homes of the girls they worked with.
“During the short walk to the girls’ homes, our students and the young girls were walking together, holding hands, laughing and singing a few newly learned songs in Spanish,” said Dr. David Paul. “We turned off the paved road onto a dirt path to enter the area where the homes were located. Our MSUM students suddenly became quiet as we all realized the conditions of the girls’ homes.”
Their homes were nothing more than a one room shack with dirt floors, blankets for doors, and if they were lucky, one bed for the whole family. Their kitchens were outdoors and looked like “an outside campsite” according to Paul. But the girls didn’t let their living conditions get them down.
“The girls we worked with came from little to nothing,” said MSUM student Leah Moser, “yet, these girls were the most vibrant and happy people I have ever met.”
While the MSUM group also did things like surfing, white water rafting, creating murals and more, every one of them will tell you working with the Mariposa girls was the most significant.
“The bonds that were formed in such a short period of time was pretty special,” said MSUM student Liberty Weiss, “Some of the little girls brought gifts to say goodbye. There was one little girl that brought her favorite stuffed puppy that was worn with love.”
For many students on this trip, it helped confirm, or open their eyes to, what they want to do in the future. Some students now plan on working with refugees, for The Girl Effect, or even in the Peace Corps. It has truly transformed the way they look at life.
“When you experience something like this, that is when you realize what life is supposed to be about,” said Weiss. “I always say if you do it right, travel is going to change you.”
This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Spring 2018.
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