Dominican Republic in the Spirit of Dante
Bound for Santo Domingo I found myself on a Boeing 737 among an intrepid group of 28 travelers visiting the good people of the Dominican Republic. The journey was an initiative by Indiana State University, Center for Community Engagement known as Alternative Spring Break. An opportunity to spread community service on a more global scale. This particular team was of the Greek life; all members of fraternities and sororities coming to serve.
Much like Dante’s passage into the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise we were about to see a mixture of these journeys intertwined within the next 6 days. Arriving at Santo Domingo, and stepping outside in the warm air, sunshine and welcoming atmosphere it felt much like paradise. During the bus ride to the SCORE complex in the city of Juan Dolio we received a bit of an introduction to the Dominican society just watching the view out the window.
Our guide for all these service projects was Felix Fils Reyes. Much like Dante’s guide Virgil, he gave meaning to what we were to witness. The first of our journey of 5 services we must pass though began early Monday morning when we visited “Springs in the Desert”. This was a day care in a rather poor Sugar Cane village. The team played with these little penitent souls, feed them lunch, and generally tried to make their day as fun and pleasing as possible.
Later that afternoon our second service was to visit another Sugar Cane Village and play with a variety of young souls in their open field. Baseball was the sport of choice, and my highlight of the afternoon. Other than a strange soul we encountered referred to as “Number 12” it was a rewarding service. I gave a little talk celebrating the day in the local church focusing on that “still small voice” of God calling us to do good, and to share joy wherever we go.
Service 3 brought us to the town of Monte Cristi for a visit to the elder members of this society. They had a covered outdoor room where most gathered. We crowded in and sang to them, which wasn’t of the highest quality, but we did the best we could. They in turn sang to us so we could enjoy their fine spirit. We ended our journey there with a visit to Miss Raina speaking perfect English and invited us to bring her candy should we return this way again.
Most memorable of all our encounters began with service 4 at Emanuel House in the city of Quisqueya. A school for the poorest children we happened upon. We met the fine lady Mirqueya who began this good work. Later she walked us through the neighborhood where these fledgling souls live. We each carried a bundle of groceries to hand to the poorest souls we could imagine. Stopping to pray for each family we encountered was unforgettable.
On to a most joyful visit to the ministry of Pasitos de Jesus a home for girls in the city of Boca Chica. Our final service was to these ladies who many have been abandon, yet here they have found a most beautiful home. Volleyball in the beautiful sunshine, jumping rope, manicures, and more singing was the order of the morning. We completed the day with a trip to where Christopher Columbus made his visit in 1492 in the city of Santo Domingo.
The last day of our journey was to a sphere of earthly paradise in the Dominican known as Isla Catalina. A boat ride quite the opposite of Dante’s journey on the river Styx. This was to a sunny island featuring snorkeling among the tropical fish of many varieties. Beautiful coral on display just below on the ocean floor. Following this we made the short ride to the beach utopia. Warm sand, turquoise water and amply open space to wonder and appreciate.
Having completed the required penitent service guide Felix dismissed us to return. We began the long trip back to Indiana State University via Santo Domingo, Atlanta, and Indianapolis. This group of intrepid travelers completed their journey with style and grace. Each participant of this assembly now changed by the experience. One can only wish all such voyages as successful and service oriented as this one. May that “still small voice” guide us yet again.