Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful & fulfilled life.”
– Jack Canfield
Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the LifeTouch Memory Mission trip to the Dominican Republic and I was a representative of AASA, The Superintendent’s Association. I wrote about that set of life-changing experiences on my blog — BLOG POSTS ABOUT TRIP IN 2016
This is another post, the third in a series describing and showing the creation of peak moments in service, learning, and culture. This summer, July 30-August 6, my son and I went on a reunion trip to the Dominican Republic, to Constanza, La Vega, to the Cecaini School in Rio Grande. Through these blog posts, I’m sharing my reflections.
Once major personal “peak moment” for me on this current trip is that my son came with me! With words and images, I am trying to do my best at telling our story — of our life-changing, humbling, impactful, and seriously amazing set of experiences! Thanks for reading 🙂
August 1, 2022
Today we continued cultural orientation with some really engaging activities designed to activate and challenge our thinking, help us prepare to enter a new culture — it’s beyond simply “traveling” or “touring”, it’s more. The activities also allowed our group of 18 to further develop bonds of trust, fellowship, friendship, and camaraderie. We have a mix of “middle aged people” like me 🙂 people in their 20s-30s and some teenagers 14-19. In addition, our tour leader is very experienced in these types of travels and our translator is amazing! While our ages may range from 14-75, the depth of each one of our stories and, more important, the stories of our Dominican hosts, guides, teachers, and friends, makes an impact on each of us each day during each of the varied experiences.
Our day today was focused on preparation for entering into a new culture, as I mentioned above. Our leader Tim started the day with inspiring words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., regarding the “Good Samaritan” “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” If you are blessed, who are YOU blessing? The focus is that if you are blessed but you are not blessing anyone, then you are not really blessed. We discussed not mistaking joy for happiness (there was great depth in our lessons and reflection today, again!).
The gist of the whole World Servants meaning on trips like this is learning, serving, storytelling- “Learner, Servant, Storyteller”. Tell your story AND tell others’ stories. We were reminded to stop — listen — immerse in the target culture – find out what’s going on with others. It’s like the Dominican greeting, “Que lo Que” (“what’s up”). We are here to learn, serve and tell our collective stories.
We engaged in several hands, on, experiential learning activities today — I hope and plan to adapt for my own work as an educator. We completed a puzzle that was different from what we expected. We put squares together from shapes without speaking (when we followed the rules :)), we discovered there are many more ways to complete the task than meets the eye. Repeatedly we changed our perspectives through “doing” and reflecting after doing. It was exceptional pedagogy.
As Americans we’re pretty task focused in general, and as a school superintendent I’m really task focused. So, it’s powerful and smart for me to stop — listen — be immersed in the present and in the moment – especially for my son as well as the group I’m serving with (and learning with and story telling with). It’s NOT always about the task — and the task may change, and the “square” we make might prevent someone else from making a square – so take some time and really listen and observe (the points of the activities). The bottom line from these activities and a few others we did with culture role plays and trust guiding all led to a common point. It’s about the “dash” — it’s about the PROCESS not only or always the task.
Prior to engaging in the actual physical labor, the engagement with the community, and even the recreation with the children after work, we reminded each other through task, word, deed, and activity that teamwork was the main aim of our time together. Each one of us would meaningfully engage, immerse, do, learn, serve, have fun, and “be”— as a team. We do then we reflect then we do more. The orientation activities were well designed, clear, meaningful, allowed us to mix up and work with everyone, and to generally create community as well as expectations for our intense labors of love and service.
We went to Rio Grande to the school where our work is focused, where the school is becoming the community center, and where I was six and a half years ago when it all started here at school #2! Due to the hundreds of other volunteers and service participants, the school is far more than merely a school. Don’t get more wrong, as a superintendent, a school in and of itself is pretty awesome and amazing. BUT … when a school becomes a community center, a community playground, a community health center – it’s beyond amazing.
The last time I was in Rio Grande the roads were gravel/dirt leading up to the school site (it was not yet a school). School 1 was built by groups prior (2011-2015). In 2016, the second school was a dream about to happen. We built the first floor and a wall – we played in a cow pasture up the road! Today – 6.5 years and a lifetime later, we have a beautiful school with two floors, a basketball court, a retaining wall, vibrancy, life, jobs, hope, and we’re finishing a health center.
In the years since this school opened, the government invested in the infrastructure. They began to assume some of the salary responsibilities for the employees (the community had to prove their concept prior to government support/sponsorship). The schools were built by Dominican engineers, construction works, professionals who guided scores of volunteers over the course of many years and many private funds raised and donated. It’s a colossal partnership that is more than a decade in the making. The constant has been World Servants and their support. A great lift was from LifeTouch (the photography company) through its Memory Missions that brought educators, photographers, and others together year after year after year.
The community is united in service. The community is united in hope. The community is growing, improving, sustaining, living, and thriving in great part due to the school and the relationships built and sustained for more than a decade.
We worked really hard today and you’ll see that in the images.
Thank you for following our adventures. Justin is checking out Duo Lingo, practicing Spanish with kids, adults, etc. We’re beyond blessed to have this time together as father and son and as we learned today, we’re sharing these blessings, per Dr. King and Tim Gibson, in learning, service and storytelling!
We’ll share more tomorrow. Hat tip to Jan Haeg for the awesome photos. Today we put our phones away – we disconnected for as long as we could and we were in the moments fully and today was full of many peak moments.