Wiffle ball, music connect students in Dominican Republic

The FDU team painted well known and lovable cartoon characters, including Dora the Explorer, on the walls of a dentist office in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

By Kenna Caprio

A quote has stuck with Fairleigh Dickinson University student Lauren Brogden since volunteers from Boston introduced it to her while in the Dominican Republic.

“At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us had a cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us,” relays Brogden.

For eleven College at Florham students, Campus Life Coordinator Cameron Govan and Director of Study Abroad Brian Swanzey who volunteered their time and talent, the spark has been reignited.

Brogden, a junior and sociology major, already felt like she had to return to Hogar Del Nino School. The quote just happened to sum up her exact experience.

“I made long-lasting bonds with some of the children at the school and I knew I had to go back to see them,” says Brogden.

Volunteers worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days at a school that houses newborns and toddlers through teenagers in La Romana, a small city about 70 miles from the capital of Santo Domingo. “It’s far from a resort,” says Swanzey.

While volunteering, the team tackled: painting a dentist office, feeding and nurturing babies and toddlers, playing sports with gym classes and taking inventory in classrooms. Rooms there are lacking supplies — most averaged two to three books, says Swanzey. Inventory numbers will help the school, which is planning a fundraiser, to ask for what it really needs. The group also made rattles and played Wiffle ball.

During the Wiffle ball game, Swanzey learned that all ballgame terminology is communicated in English. “A kid looked at me and said, ‘play ball,’” he says.

Though it wasn’t always as easy as during the game, the group managed to keep most language barrier issues at bay. “The kids want to be around you,” he says. “(They’re) engaged in communicating with us. We were a real novelty.”

Students and volunteers also put on a concert in the school’s music room, says Brogden. “I will always remember the quote on the wall in the music room, ‘Music is the universal language of all humanity.’ It didn’t matter if we couldn’t understand the Spanish lyrics, the power and love behind the words is what touched us as a whole,” she says.

During downtime, students toured caves and enjoyed barbeque. They took ride in a catamaran to a small island. “We danced to traditional Dominican music on the boat and spent the entire day relaxing. It was the perfect reward for our hard work,” says Brogden.

Students involved in service learning may even gain more from their trips than they realize. Traveling outside of comfort zones, “looks great on a resume,” says Swanzey. It shows courage, interest and engagement, he says.

“Service trips make you feel larger than life and speaking for myself, give you a purpose you would have never felt before,” says Brogden.

For more photographs, visit the Dominican Republic Service Trip 2012 gallery on Fairleigh Dickinson University's Facebook page.

Lauren Brogden, junior and sociology major, visited and volunteered in La Romana two years in a row. Here, she gives a boost to preschool student Angel.

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