Wednesday, October 14, 2009
ADAIR VILLAGE -- When a group of 21 high school students from Santiam Christian School embarked on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, their goal was to give.
Give they did -- in hospitals, schools and on construction projects.
They were given something valuable in return: a glimpse into a greater generosity and faith from the very people they were there to serve.
"These people never complained," said senior Grayson Toliver of West Salem, one of seven Polk County students at Santiam Christian who made the trip. "They appreciated any help that could be given them."
The grateful attitude of the people in the central Dominican Republic city of Jarabacoa left an impression on the students, who stayed in the Caribbean country from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3. They lived in what most American teens would consider extreme poverty, but felt blessed, said the students after their return to regular classes last week.
Something as basic as shelter and fundamental as an education was seen as a gift to the poverty-stricken people in the region.
"(We) did something extraordinary by doing the ordinary," said senior Ben Griner of Monmouth.
The outlook of the people of Jarabacoa put the students' own lives in perspective.
"It makes you feel like nothing you did before was important," said junior Morgan Richards of Dallas.
Eric Peterson, a Santiam Christian teacher who accompanied the students to the Dominican Republic, said the trip offered an opportunity to explore their career choice in another environment. It also provided a chance for the students to experience the region's culture.
The stay was hot, humid and rich in biting insects and language barriers, but it provided an enriching experience for the teens, he said.
"I think this trip will impact the students for the rest of their lives," Peterson said.
The trip did shed more light on the student's prospective careers. Senior Julia Quiring of Independence said she still isn't certain about her career choice, but teaching in a class with children who speak a different language challenged her to find other ways to communicate. In one instance, she was able to persuade a boy who was typically disruptive in class to calm down and participate.
"He was so eager to learn," she said.
Many of the students had similar breakthroughs while working. Nonetheless, it wasn't the job experience, but the spirit of the people who live there the students will remember most.
"I want to learn the language and go back," Richards said.