Building Bathrooms, Making Memories

Waking up in the morning with a sense of purpose is an amazing feeling, and something that I had sort of forgotten. As cheesy as it sounds, being blasted to your feet at 6 a.m. by “It’s a Beautiful Day” by U2 is somewhat inspirational. It gets to you, I promise.

This was the daily ritual while I was in the Dominican Republic volunteering with BLUE Missions. Each morning started with some great jams blasting through our little house in the mountain village of La Penda, and we danced to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with the rising of the sun.

BLUE is a nonprofit that helps provide clean water and sanitation resources to communities in need. During my week working with BLUE, our group was able to provide 18 families with new, clean bathrooms. Being able to help make someone’s life become a little easier is one of the best feelings, but this was not my favorite part of the trip. My favorite part was the people.

Something I strongly believe in is that wherever you go, you leave a little bit of yourself behind. In every interaction, you also take a part of that person with you. This is not necessarily a positive or negative thing. Experiences and interactions help build you as a person.

I’d like to think that I carry the community of La Penda and the BLUE workers with me. I also hope that I can share how I have grown from my time in the village with others.

One thing you need to know is that we were not there to save a community, this community in no way needed saving. These families are strong, welcoming, hardworking people. Even though they are all these fantastic things, they happened to draw a short straw in a developing economy that has yet to find a way to support their basic needs. In that way, we were able to provide a helping hand.

On each project within the trip, us volunteers got to work with different members of the BLUE team. The majority of the members were from the D.R., some of them from the village itself. I have never seen anyone so proud and passionate toward the work they were doing until I met these people. Lingo, Tato, Edwin, Moreno, Benito, Jose, Carmen, Damaris: I have learned so much from them all. If anything, I hope to take their passion and work ethic with me throughout life. They showed me the importance of both putting love into what you do and doing what you love.

Being in La Penda hammering the day away, receiving waves and warm smiles as you walk down the paths, and landing poorly told jokes at the end of the day despite the language barriers; it all felt like home. There is such strong compassion within the families we helped and the people we worked with, it is hard to not feel connected to each and every one of them.

I miss it a lot, I really do. But, instead of getting caught up in the nostalgia, I am trying to bring the positive feelings and experiences I had there into my daily life. I think one of the best things you can do is share the happiness and wisdom that people give to you, with others. As I strive to do this, a little part of La Penda will always stay with me, and a little part of my heart will always be in La Penda.

*Originally published in The Good 5 Cent Cigar on February 11, 2016.