Pangea received the Nolte Scholarship for education mission journeys. She assisted with informally teaching English and assisting with solar oven lessons.
I wish I could say there were no bumps on the trip and that everything went according to plan, but I can’t. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that my experience was negative. In fact, this trip was very healing for me.
The first day of the trip was spent traveling. Everything was smooth, the planes were on
time and we had time to eat and socialize. We were in the Atlanta Airport when I started to feel that deep, heavy, sinking rock feeling in the pit of my stomach. My anxiety. I was nervous about this, I even second guessed if I was ready to be away from home for so long. I tried to swallow it down and distract myself by reading or drawing. I was now traveling with a group of people who I had just met and didn’t want them to see me in an anxious state. Spoiler alert! I lost that battle.
After some time had passed, I was still feeling my anxiety lurking and I alerted my mom. I took some of my anxiety medications and continued to try to distract myself. This time I asked a member of the team, Colleen, who was a yoga instructor to lead in some yoga. I did this for myself, but members of our team, and even strangers in the airport joined our mini yoga class. Not long after the yoga class though, I started to hyperventilate and cry. This is something that commonly happens to people when they have a panic attack, which I was beginning to have. I was in fear of leaving home territory, I was scared of not having the same medical resources and I was scared to not be able to go home at the end of the day. I told my mom I didn’t want to get on the plane as boarding time grew closer. I told her I would just stay with my brother and
sister-in-law who live in Atlanta. I was too scared. I put her in a pickle, she couldn’t leave the team, but she couldn’t leave me.
I ended up getting on the plane but I’ll spare you of all of the details. I’ll just say that it was a long plane ride of me crying, hyperventilating and throwing up. We arrived in the Dominican Republic and I told my mom that I needed to go to a hospital because my anxiety medications were obviously not calming me. A long night ensued for my mom and meI along with Erasme, the Dominican director and Mario, our bus driver. I only got about 4 hours of
restless, broken sleep, but the next day was better because the biggest hump was now out of the way. I was in the Dominican Republic whether I liked it or not. Given that I was not in my best place at the beginning of this trip, that I even had hesitations about being capable of going, makes my experiences all the more valuable.
One of those experiences was the team dynamic. We had a team that worked amazingly well together, it even created a family atmosphere. We were really close-knit and understanding of each other on the trip. That showed on the first night when members of the team saw me at my worst and gave me hugs instead of judgement. It meant and still does mean so much to me that I was shown kindness in that way and in that situation.
I also had some wonderful opportunities to connect with youth at our locations. I spent some time entertaining (maybe babysitting, haha) a little boy who was the hotel owner’s grandson. We colored and talked about our favorite tv shows for a couple of hours. It was pure, wholesome fun where I practiced my Spanish and got the opportunity to connect with a child, something I don’t have much experience in.
At our last location I met a young teen boy named Junior. He lived next door to the Church and his family didn’t have enough money to obtain an oven. But he came to both days of the seminar and helped us put together ovens. When I found out that he wasn’t receiving an
oven, I asked him why he was at the seminar. He said he wanted to learn. Part of me felt guilty that he was helping us. The other part of me felt glad that he had this opportunity to learn because in my conversations with him, I learned that he wasn’t in school because they cancelled classes due to Coronavirus already. I fondly remember this moment where we had some downtime during the seminar, so I grabbed a trash bag and started picking up trash around the church and neighborhood. Junior and his friends joined me and we all started making conversation. It was so rewarding to be cleaning the area where they live and be having fun whilst doing it!
Another wonderful experience was getting to know Gertrudes. Gertrudes and I had, and still have, a special connection. I even called her my adopted Grandma! She roomed with my mom and I, so I had plenty of time with her. She didn’t speak English, so I had the perfect opportunity to practice my Spanish with her! Occasionally, my mom would help us understand
each other, but mostly it was practice time for me. She’s also the Solar Oven cooking expert. She teaches her fellow Dominicans how to properly measure and cook delicious Dominican food in the solar oven. It was so fun watching her teach other Dominicans the proper way to cook in a solar oven. Once the seminar participants would get the hang of it, they would get giddy with excitement and start showing their friends and so on. Before you knew it, they were all teaching each other with excitement! How precious! Growing up with a Dominican father, I always had delicious Dominican food to eat! So, knowing the flavors and texture that good Dominican food has, I knew when I took a bite of Gertrudes’s Solar cooked food, that she really was an expert!
Going on this mission trip not only helped me grow as a person, but it gave me a better understanding of the gracious work my mom does as the director of Solar Oven Partners in the US. I witnessed and was a part of God’s mission by going on this trip. I saw Dominicans teaching Dominicans, US team members teaching and learning and I saw how these ovens truly help people. I think now, more than ever, it’s crucial that the people who need it most, have ovens. In the Dominican Republic right now, people are out of work and the country doesn’t
have resources to financially help its citizens. So those who already don’t have enough money to buy fuel or wood for cooking, should be utilizing their ovens during this time of quarantine, and I’m sure they are. My heart goes out to those who don’t have an oven and need one, like Junior.
Thank you for helping to provide me with an opportunity to go on this trip, just in the nick of time before being cooped up in the house until who knows when! I’ve had wonderful experiences that have taught me some life lessons and connected me with some wonderful people that I’m grateful to know.