A Thanksgiving break like no other

It has been a while since Thanksgiving break, but I am still reminiscing from one of my most memorable Thanksgiving trips ever. During Thanksgiving break, I participated in an alternative break program with IU ABP to Las Canas, Dominican Republic. During our trip, we collaborated with a local NGO called 7 Elements and helped them in some of their project sites. Among the projects we worked on included the construction of bottled schools, reforestation projects and bee box building projects. What made this trip so memorable was how closely we interacted with the local communities.

A school in one of the communities
A school in one of the communities

Learning about some of the world’s problems in class is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes and experiencing it first hand is a totally different story. We visited many different local communities with different backgrounds, located in different places, suffering different problems. After seeing their living conditions, interacting with the locals, understanding their side of the story, I now understand the true magnitude and severity of the problems these communities and many others around the world are facing. Although all of the communities we visited have different lifestyles, they all have one similarity, everyone seems to be very happy with what they have. They even give us the best hospitality we can ask for when we visited their communities. Everyday we were given the opportunity to enjoy a good home cooked Dominican meal made by the donia maxima(community chief) herself. How many people in this world can actually get that kind of treatment? Perhaps it’s the fact that the more privileges we are are blessed with, the more likely we are to take them for granted and the less satisfied we get. After seeing some of the locals being so grateful with what they have, it made me step back and look my life as a whole, remembering to enjoy the little things in life.

 good home cooked lunch made by the donia maxima from one of the communities we visited
A good home cooked lunch made by the donia maxima from one of the communities we visited

This trip opened my eyes to the bigger picture, I already knew about these problems, but this trip showed me why it happened and what’s stopping us from solving it. It’s easy to propose solutions, but what good is a proposal if it cannot be executed. Even so, with the limited resources we have, we must carefully allocat them to the right solutions and not just your ordinary food banks or donation drives. The projects we worked on designed to help these communities in the long run. As a popular saying goes, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish, you feed him forever”. The goal of these projects weren’t to help these communities for the day,but to help them to be sustainable and independent. One of the projects that really caught my attention is the concept of a bottled school, a community school build with used water bottles. Such projects not only help to promote education and unity among the community, but it is also helping to get rid of the trash in the area. It is these types of sustainability projects that we need to better improve our world. A donation drive only helps the people suffering from the various social and economical problems, while these sustainability projects solves these problems themselves.

The streets of the Dominican Republic
The streets of the Dominican Republic

I always had an interest in exploring the world and understanding the global problems we face, but after taking BUS G-316 (Introduction to Sustainable Enterprise) and joining Net Impact, my interest not only sky rocketed but became focused on sustainability. This is why I joined this trip, to learn what I can do to make this world more sustainable place to live. It is true that these problems are so huge that what we did probably didn’t count much, but I participated in this trip not just to help, but to also learn. Now with the experience and knowledge I gained from this trip, I plan to incorporate it with what I learned from my classes in college to create a solution that can help solve these problems.

Group photo at Dudu lake
Group photo at Dudu lake

The thing I valued the most out of this trip are the friendships we created. The 9 other participants I worked with are among the greatest minds I have ever met. We worked hard together during the day, and had good and fruitful discussions during the night. We laughed together, suffer together, and learned together. Even when I returned to Bloomington, I also met many students who were interested in my experiences, wanting to participate too. It’s great to see how our generation as a whole is so eager to turn the world around for a brighter future.

Sunrise by the beach
Sunrise by the beach

Although this trip has ended, my efforts to create a sustainable future is just beginning. Many sustainability programs are being introduced at IU, various other alternative break programs and service trips are sprouting across campus. This trip was one of the best experience I ever had so far, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Our accommodation during our trip.
Our accommodation during our trip.
The locals
The locals
Deforestation in progress
Deforestation in progress
Group photo with the donia maxima from one of the villages
Group photo with the donia maxima from one of the villages
Victor Gan

International Student Ambassador

I am an international student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am in the graduating class of 2018 & currently majoring in Informatics with minors in Security and Business. I am an International Student Ambassador for the Office of International Services. My hobbies include photography, web designing & traveling . I love to travel to new places & try new foods. I'm also a very sociable person & I would like to use my 4 years of college life to make new friends. So if you have anything you wanna ask me or if you just wanna hang out, hit me up!