Lycoming College students look outside the ‘American bubble’ in the Dominican Republic

While many college students spent their spring break on a warm beach soaking up the sun or relaxing at home, 15 students from Lycoming College used their spring break to travel for the Dominican Republic to volunteer their time to a great cause.

The students were part of the Lycoming College Advancing Communities by Educating and Serving (LACES) group on campus. The group started in December 2012, and works to serve and educate people in the community.

“I had not done anything abroad, so I thought I would broaden my horizons and do community service over there,” said Molly Russell. “It turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences.”

In the past the group has helped a disabled veteran clean out his home so he could stay there, helped with community yard sales, sponsor children through the Educate a Child Program the ACES has and helped with the Special Olympics.

Before going on the trip to the Dominican Republic, the students met to participate in team bonding exercises to bring the group closer together.

“We did a lot of team bonding, and I really think that helped on the trip,” said Molly Lakis.

When the students made the trip to the Dominican Republic, they stayed in a renovated former baseball academy that housed up to 35 guests with dormitory style sleeping space, a large dining area, kitchen and new bathrooms.

The first day in the Dominican Republic, while participating in a community fair, left a few of the students with culture shock.

“Just to see outside the American bubble and see how other people live in poverty over there was just shocking,” Lakis said.

One of the biggest shocks to the students was that there were very few people wearing shoes, and some of the shoes sold in stores were broken or dirty.

The lack of child supervision also shocked some of the students. Russell explained that it was normal to see a three-year-old walking down the street in only a diaper, or less, by themselves without any parents in sight.

While on the trip, the students helped paint the dugout at the renovated baseball academy. Local children came over and asked to help the students paint. The children helped paint the entire time that the students were there. When the students stopped to take a break for lunch, the children continued to work.

Some of the students felt bad because we were able to stop and eat lunch, but some of the children they met had nothing to eat, Lakis said.

When they finished painting the dugout, the children decided to play baseball on the field with a bottle cap and a stick.

“They are such grateful people,” said Russell, “They have nothing, but they are grateful for what little they receive.”

On the student’s last night there, Sarah Pickerin, president of LACES, showed some of the local children the pictures she took on the trip. She said the students were amazed by the places throughout the country that she visited on her trip, even through some of the places were only an hour or two away from where the children lived.

She also showed them a picture of the food she ate, while out at a nice dinner with the students, and the children were shocked at how much food was on her plate.

“That got to me and I started to cry, because they don’t get to experience eating food like we do,” Pickerin said.

The students also visited local schools, did a food outreach program and other services for the communities before heading back to the United States, Amanda Ferster said.

“I’d love to go back again, it was a great experience,” Russell said.