Meet John Seo (pictured above on right.) Avid reader and student of Tustin High School, John was one of several students who journeyed on a Good Neighbors volunteer trip last year. The location: Dominican Republic. Their mission: build new latrines for families affected by poor sanitation. But here’s the story in John’s own words.
In 2014, I went to Guatemala with six other students to build new cookstoves for families who suffered from inhaling toxic smoke while using traditional cookstoves in their homes. This past summer, we wanted to experience something different but also make an impact in people’s lives. So our team of eight volunteers went to help build latrines for homes in Chinguelo, a remote mountainous community and one of the project sites overseen by Good Neighbors Dominican Republic (GNDOM).
The obstacles began at Las Américas International Airport. Extremely humid air coupled with the scorching heat was almost unbearable compared to the cool and breezy winds of Southern California. Drops of sweat rolled down our faces even before we stepped outside.
Although it wasn’t my first time going to a third-world country in Latin America, my expectations were blown away by the extreme poverty that struck the country. The extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor was disturbing. It almost didn’t seem fair that, back at home, we lived in houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in one of the safest cities in the world, yet millions of people lived in poverty.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines. Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, just to name a few. An estimated 842,000 diarrhea deaths around the world are caused by poor sanitation every year. Although the access to improved sanitation facilities has increased in the country during the past decades, rural areas still lag behind.
We officially began work on the latrines on the second day, but the first day was just as challenging adapting to the new environment. As the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean shores always seemed just a few minutes away, most of us half-expected a small paradise, but the poverty stricken communities we passed by showed us the reality of the situation.
When we first met the families, something was quite different from ours. Families of 5-8 people were living in “houses” the size of our closets, yet not a single face showed discontent. The children were radiating with joy and excitement. It shocked us to see that even without the convenience of modern technology and video games, kids were still able to have so much fun.
More importantly, the sense of community the people shared was beyond anything we had seen in America. Every fruit, every soda pop, and every meal- individuals would come together to share the joy. Nothing was kept private and everything was shared. The trust and support for each other was even extended toward us, complete strangers to them. We worked side by side with them and they even invited us into their homes. With unconditional generosity, the families accepted us into their lives.
Geographically, most of the homes were separated over a mountainside, beyond a grassy plain, or across a river, yet the community’s concept of family stretched further than any border. Although the work we did there was more challenging than we experienced in Guatemala, we couldn’t have been more grateful for this unforgettable experience.
John and his fellow volunteers left Chinguelo with one latrine fully completed, and three more built with finishing touches added after their departure. This directly impacted the daily lives of four families, improving the health for over 30 people. Because of the volunteers’ hard work and determined hearts, these households can now thrive, free from the dangerous diseases that come from lack of adequate sanitation.
If this story has inspired you to step out and make a difference, Good Neighbors has 2016 trips lined up and open for applications! Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!