By Jacob King
Many students save up money with their friends to spend a week partying in Vegas or Cancun. However, two University of Findlay students managed to raise funds for a month of volunteering with children of the Esperanza Project in Cabrera, Dominican Republic.
Friends Rachel Eaton, a junior physical therapy major, and Shanon Romano, a senior early childhood education major, spent one month in the small town of Cabrera, Dominican Republic volunteering their time with children of the “Esperanza” Project- meaning, the “hope” project.
The Esperanza Project is a small non-profit organization run by a husband and wife who share the goal of providing an extracurricular experience for children that educates.
Eaton and Romano’s love for the Dominican sprouted when both girls decided to participate with Oilers Serving Abroad in December of 2014. During their week with OSA, the girls volunteered their efforts to spending time with boys from an all-boy orphanage and assisted in the construction of a church in Barahona, Domincan Republic. The initial love for Latin America prompted them to return this summer.
The girls didn’t find one month a long enough stay and spoke about their connection with the Dominican Republic.
“There’s definitely a culture shock,” said Romano. “I liked the simplicity of it all and how everybody didn’t have a lot and was okay with it.”
Romano said that there was even culture shock in the way the kids and people treated them. It was common to be out in public and be greeted with a consistency of hugs from children.
“Kids will be walking down the street, look at you and instantly know who you are and run up and hug you,” said Romano.
Although the time abroad was enjoyable, the work to get there wasn’t.
“We had to pay our way and we both realized we weren’t going to have enough in time,” said Eaton. “We both got to points where we didn’t think we were going to go.”
Their saving grace was the popular funding platform, GoFundMe. The platform allows anyone to set up their own fundraiser for any cause and can post the link to the fundraiser through social media. In addition to the GoFundMe, family and friends contributed to make the excursion a reality.
With a combined travel time of flying and driving, the girls made it to Cabrera in 18 hours. Both found all the stress of raising funds to be completely worth it, especially when experiencing the nature of the Dominican Republic.
“We went to five beaches in one weekend,” said Romano.
Apart from the beaches, one of the most favored experiences of the whole trip were the duties of the camp. These duties consisted of morning circle with a song and a game, playing grass sports with the children, and constantly losing at soccer against the locals.
The month spent volunteering with the children went by quickly and saying goodbye was one of the hardest parts for not only the girls, but the family that hosted them.
“We called each other brother and sister. She (their host mom) cried when we left,” said Romano.
Each student used one word to describe the Dominican Republic- Eaton said, “home” and Romano said, “amor,” or “love” in Spanish.