Dublin students got more than they bargained for on a service trip to the Dominican Republic.
On the eight-day trip last month to the Dominican Republic incoming seniors from Coffman, Jerome and Scioto high schools installed water filtration systems and worked on a baseball field, but they said they took home much more from the experience than they expected.
Dublin City Schools began partnering with Educational Foundation Tours during the 2013-14 school year for its new global learning program.
Scioto Spanish Teacher Micah Mercurio, Jerome International Baccalaureate coordinator Karen Kendall-Sperry and Coffman Spanish Teacher Lisa Martinez coordinated the trip with Mercurio and Kendall-Sperry leading the students to El Cerrito in the El Seibo Province in the Dominican Republic.
"I'm involved in the (International Baccalaureate) program and I feel like the IB program should be offering kids the opportunity to study and do community service abroad," Mercurio said. "And it's not exclusive to IB students."
Over the eight-day trip students worked side-by-side with community members to install water filtration systems at five homes and do work at a baseball field for a program that offers baseball practice if students stay in school.
"These students were not used to using pickaxes and shovels," Mercurio said. "But not a single student hesitated when presented with work."
The town has no running water or electricity, but it wasn't the lack of those staples that amazed students the most.
"What surprised them most was that people were so happy and they have almost nothing," Kendall-Sperry said.
"They said 'Maybe we don't need everything we have to be happy.' (The Dominicans') struggles were clear, but they still found ways to laugh and be happy."
"I used to think of a third-world country as bleak and gray and depressing," Jerome student Dee Wisne said.
"I think that was the biggest surprise, that these people had few shoes and no running water and they were happier than I was at home."
"The pure joy and thankfulness that people had, off of something so simple as water that is abundant in the U.S., really allows us to be grateful for everything that we have here," Coffman student Sade Olatoye said.
She said she realized "all the materialist things that we have (are) unnecessary and we can do without."
Although students worked hard on the projects, they said they left feeling that they got more out of the experience than the community, Kendall-Sperry said.
"The Dominican Republic was (a) life changing experience," Coffman student Haleigh Gilliland said.
"Even though we were the ones on the service trip I feel as if they were the ones changing me and making a difference in my life."
"The people were friendlier and more welcoming than most people I know that are far more fortunate," Coffman student Sarah DeSalvio said.
"I feel like the projects and activities we did made a huge impact on the community, but more than anything I think what I got out of the trip overshadows everything," DeSalvio said.
"The people there made just as much of an impact on me as I did on them."
The impact on the students has been apparent, Mercurio said, as students have already been thinking of ways to help those in poverty in central Ohio.
"To have contact with it, it becomes very real and very personal," he said. "They see that these people are like you and I, just in a different situation."
With such a positive and fulfilling experience on the inaugural trip, Mercurio and Kendall-Sperry plan to lead another community service trip to the same community next summer.