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Truly a Wild Ride

I apologize for the delay in this update, but life in Monte Plata has kept me quite busy the past two weeks.

My first week in Monte Plata consisted of assisting in the classroom where we taught about Japan every morning to the pre-school children, as well as having programming at Casa Monte Plata in the afternoons with the four youngest children: two two-year-olds, one three-year-old, and one four-year-old. The younger children, while a handful, were the light in the beginning of my time here – always keeping me laughing and smiling despite the difficulty of getting adjusted to life in a brand new country. Despite attempting to create a detailed “lesson plan” with my Dominican programming partner for our first meeting of listening to a bible story, talking about the story, doing crafts, singing, and playing games, this time has taught me so much about the beauty of taking things as they come. Working with children who are so young has presented us with many different emotions – from breaking down when we take away the Play-Doh to becoming absolutely immersed in a Goodnight Moon matching game to laughing endlessly while running and screaming around the room we work in. This time with them is so so sweet for me, but also somewhat heartbreaking because they are so young that I know despite the ways they are impacting me they won’t necessarily remember me in the ways I remember them.

Towards the end of my first week, I developed a case of Giardia – which made eating and functioning here a bit more difficult. Thankfully I was able to explore the pharmacies of Monte Plata and find medication to cure this infection. This adventure took us to four pharmacies, where I saw a very different situation than in America – very empty glass cabinets with small amounts of each medication available. You also don’t need an sort of prescription or credentials to get any medication – which was a blessing for me at the time, but again very different than everything I know.

Life has significantly improved since the days of the parasite – from being more able to enjoy school every morning to starting to feel at home and comfortable here. Monte Plata is an extremely small town, to the point where I have started to recognize people not only from Casa Monte Plata, but also from working at the school and the church as we explore around town.

One of my favorite times of every day is meal time. There are four houses in Casa Monte Plata which each have close to ten children living in them, and I rotate along with the other interns between the houses each day. We have lunch there after school – typically rice, beans, and meat and then dinner there again at the end of each day. This has pushed me to get to know all four of the families, including the house parents who live here, and has given me the opportunity to form relationships and be a part of life here in a more natural and deep way than is possible in a week-long mission trip. On a less serious note, we are experiencing very authentic Dominican meals for the most part: fried yuka, rice, beans, chicken, fried salami, fried eggs, plantains, and potatoes.

During my second week in Monte Plata, we participated in EBDV – the Dominican version of Vacation Bible School which has been occurring at the church here for sixty years now. We helped set up the church before the week started, and were able to participate in the festivities throughout the week. EBDV met in three sessions – a morning session for the smallest children, and afternoon session for elementary school that we helped with, and a night session for teenagers.

Our afternoons at EBDV consisted of a lot of singing Christian Spanish music for kids, dancing, memorizing verses, listening to messages, and watching competitions between the kids. It was inspirational to see a town that has a reputation of such brokenness and a lack of knowing Christ send 500 people to this EBDV week who were hearing the message of Christ and participating in it wholeheartedly. The church and ministry here in Monte Plata are so strong and steady, and I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of this last week. The community at the church is an extremely steady and loyal one, as we have seen the same leaders working EDBV, leading church service, spending time over at Casa Monte Plata, working at school, and helping with summer camp. One family in particular has an extremely large presence both in Vida Para Ninos and the local church – and it has been a blessing to work under and get to know them this summer. The directors here have hearts of absolute servants, serving not only the children here at Casa Monte Plata but us as interns with their whole hearts and ability.

Last Friday I was able to host a “health day” at school. I brought a lot of medical equipment with me this summer, and asked the Director of the school program what would be best for serving the community here – she suggested lice work with the girls in the school so we invited them on Thursday and had a lice removal session on Friday morning. Sadly only one girl came to school on Friday for this, but we were able to serve her well and carefully on Friday morning.

The weekend after EBDV came with an extremely exciting field trip: BEACH DAY! We traveled about an hour to a beach outside of Santo Domingo with all of the children from Casa Monte Plata. The second we arrived the kids were ready to be in the water and went straight in – completely in their clothes I might add. Our day at the beach consisted of splashing, laughing, building sand castles, and so much joy. One of the younger boys sat with me on the edge of the water for awhile and helped me “clean off” with the ocean water – he would pour cups of water on me every time the waves reached us to clean off the sand.

We also had a picnic at the beach which was quite a different experience. I can confidently say that in America I have never seen a picnic of chicken, rice, beans, potato salad, and more. This summer has shown me in so many ways how my “normal” at home is not normal because it’s right or normal because everyone does it, but that it is relative.

This relativity extends to the meaning of service here in a significant way. To serve in the Dominican Republic doesn’t mean tangible results like fixing a broken playground or creating medical records, it means building relationships, getting to know people, and doing things alongside them. Despite thinking that I had a mature grasp on service before my summer here, my understanding has been turned upside down. As interns, we are working on reading When Helping Hurts which I hope will further influence my approach to serving others throughout my life.

I am so thankful for the time I have had here, for the people who live and serve here in Monte Plata, and for my fellow interns Chris and Haydon who challenge me, laugh with me at my horrible Spanish, and support me in our day to day life here.

This week we have one last week of summer programming at school – this week focusing on India. We also had a morning where the dentist ran a program about how to brush teeth for all the children at school which was cool to be a part of and observe. They were able to provide toothbrushes to all the students in the summer program, who are the students at school with the highest levels of need.

In the afternoons, we are back to programming and I am back with my favorite little friends. We’ve already seen lots of coloring this week, lots of singing fun songs – La Vaca Lola comes highly recommended by yours truly. We have experimented with culinary expeditions – specifically having popcorn for a snack yesterday. One of the little girls decided it would be a great idea to eat it by chewing it until she had tasted it sufficiently and then spitting it back up and leaving it all over the room. I am sad that programming this week is ending early, but excited to have another week with the little ones next week.

The next two weeks will look very different for us. We leave for training for Summer’s Best Two Weeks Camp on Thursday and are there through the weekend – where we will be counselors in the coming weeks. I am extremely excited for this opportunity, but sad to have less time here at Casa Monte Plata as well.

I have loved getting to explore and become familiar with Monte Plata. We spend most of our time at CMP, the church, and the school – but we have also been able to walk to town, buy pineapple, get ice cream at the Bon, stop in at the bank with really intense air conditioning (I had almost forgotten how good air conditioning feels haha), and explore some of the other areas near and around Monte Plata.

As I enter the last portion of my internship, I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead, hopeful that I am able to deepen relationships with the people here despite my utter lack of ability to communicate sufficiently, excited to express my thanks to all of them for their welcoming and loving nature towards me this summer, and open to the Lord’s plan for my next few weeks here and for how He will use me and my time.

With Love,

Lauren

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Vida in La Republica Dominica

A quick note about the beginning of my time in Monte Plata

Hello! I am starting this blog to share my experiences in the Dominican Republic with you.

I am spending this summer as a missionary intern with Kids Alive International in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic.

My journey to this summer was not a clear one. I had a lot of different ideas – from living in Nashville and working at Lilly Pulitzer to staying home and working on my medical school applications to thinking about spending the summer in the Dominican Republic.

I have traveled to Monte Plata twice for spring break with friends from Vanderbilt and have been able to serve my team working on medical records and charts for children at Escuela Eva M. Russell and Casa Monte Plata, both run by KAI. My time in Monte Plata allowed me to serve in a place with a great deal of brokenness, but even more so a great deal of healing. Monte Plata was a place where I met children with tragic life stories, who are as happy and can be and were concerned with playing and talking to me rather than themselves. I got a glimpse of a life very different than my own here and was shown a window into the ways that God can work through difficult situations.

As I discerned my plans for the summer, I returned to Monte Plata in March, and during this trip decided to pursue this experience. I became comfortable with and set on a plan of working as one of the medical summer interns in a different city, but God had another plan for me. About three weeks before my trip began, in the midst of finishing exams and studying for the MCAT, I learned that I had been placed in Monte Plata and that I would have the opportunity to work on health projects during my time here.

Despite the difficulty in learning to accept God’s plan rather than my own, I have already learned so much in my time here this summer.

After a week of training in Jarabacoa, I arrived in Monte Plata where I was met with instant love and welcoming, despite my lack of Spanish and my butchering of most things I tried to say. Life here is fast paced, from early in the morning until the night, but the fastness is far overshadowed by the joy in all of it. The children here could not be more full of light and life and love.

My first week in Monte Plata consisted of a day of planning at Eva Russell, where we prepared our summer program for students at the school. In the summer program, I am working to assist in the pre-K/Kindergarten classroom, and we are teaching the children about different countries in Asia every week. We have been blessed by circle times, laughter, sharing bible stories, and crafts, as well as being able to provide these children with food during the summer months when they do not otherwise have guaranteed meals. This week we are teaching the students about Japan, and they are teaching me about joy, love, friendship and how to communicate in Spanish.

My afternoons have consisted of time with the littlest kids at CMP – there are four of them under the age of 4 and I am working with an older girl here to do “programming” for them in the afternoons. We had a pretty advanced program ready to go for them for the first day, but it ended up being a wreck because you just truly cannot program for children that can’t even speak words yet. My time with them has been an adventure, from playdoh in their mouths to Spanish duck duck goose to lots and lots of coloring and lots of scream-singing. I wouldn’t trade this time for the world, because these kiddos are so so full of joy and God’s light. Seeing them pray and worship and love on each other has been one of my favorite experiences so far this summer.

I am excited to see what else is to come this summer.

With love,

Lauren