students Andrew Wahlgren and Quinton Schray spent a week in the Dominican Republic this summer. No, not on the beaches – well, not the whole time.
They went to help finish building a school.
Andrew and Quinton, who are juniors this school year, went on the trip with a group from College Hill Presbyterian Church in Easton. Andrew’s cousin, Brian Wahlgren, a junior at Easton Area High School, went on the trip, too. This was the second trip for the Wahlgrens, but Schray’s first trip.
“If I can leave the country and do some volunteer work, it sounded like a good time,” Quinton said.
Mari Wahlgren, Andrew’s mother, explained that the church organized the trip through The Foundation for Peace. The foundation organizes these trips to enable volunteer groups to help people in Haiti, Jamaica and Kenya, as well as the Dominican Republic.
In a village about an hour and a half from the Colonial District, the volunteer group completed the school, which had been started the year before, Andrew said. Last year, the group completed a small church on the first floor, and began work on the schoolrooms upstairs.
“This year, we accomplished a lot,” he said. “We completed the second half of the church/school, and that was more than what we did last year.”
The volunteers stayed in a compound protected by walls around it. For sleeping, there were bunk beds, three beds high. The space between the beds was uncomfortably narrow, Andrew said, so they pulled the mattresses off and slept on the floor instead. Inside the compound, there were 10 chickens and one cow.
“When we left, there was only one chicken,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at first, but as the week went on, we saw how the animals weren’t there anymore.”
Most of their meals consisted of chicken and rice, he said.
“When you think of the Dominican Republic, most people think of a rundown, depressed Third World country. To really understand the Dominican, you have to go work with the Dominican people, and see what they’re really like,” Andrew said. “We Americans, on the trip, thought that we were going to help the villagers. Really, it was them helping us to see that we don't need all of these luxuries to live happily.”
Near the end of the trip, the children, who played nearby, were anxious to show them their homes, he said. What Andrew saw with his eyes were one-room shacks and muddy, dirt streets. What he saw with his heart were children exuding love and excitement to share their world with him.
“The kids felt so proud of the shacks,” Andrew said. “I was sad to see [their living conditions], but happy that they were so proud of it.”
The bugs were pretty bad, Andrew said. Hundreds of flies pestered them.
“There were these ginormous moths,” he said, “and tarantulas. The kids played with [the tarantulas] like they were dolls. It sounds a lot worse than it was. We had bug spray, so the bugs didn’t do anything to you. They just fly around.”
The trip cost $1,200 per person, Mari Wahlgren said. The boys held fundraising activities, such as bake sales. They sold tickets to a dinner theater production, worked at the Northampton Country Club’s Easter Party, and received donations from their families.
They returned with just the clothes on their backs. They left their suitcases full of medicine kits and items like toothpaste “because the villagers can use it,” Andrew said.