Volunteer Report by Virginia Burton

Virginia (blonde) leading the Songs Station at English camp.

Virginia (blonde) leading the Songs Station at English camp.

I’m a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and heard about Project Esperanza through a school email. Of all the emails that come through my school email, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I opened this one. I only had basic knowledge of the Dominican Republic and I didn’t know anyone there, so I had no idea what to expect. But I went, with an open mind and open heart.

I’ve been on many mission trips and I’ve done numerous volunteer activities but this was by far one of my most significant experiences, perhaps because I had never seen poverty to this extent before. I was informed on developing countries, I had seen pictures, read books, heard stories, etc. but living in it was eye opening on a new level. However, even the not grand parts, like the plumbing, the humidity, the mosquitos, and the inconsistent water, were hardly a big deal for me and if anything gave me a better perspective.

From the moment I met Caitlin, I knew she had a huge heart. She’s very detailed and intentional about what she does and she does it well. She spoke truth, answered any of our questions, and never sugar coated anything. There were so many stories to hear and discover.

Working with the kids was a challenge, but they all taught me so much. At the end of the day I think they just needed to be smothered in love. Many of them don’t get to be kids and have to grow up fast. There is dissonance between the Haitian and the Dominican children, which was sad because from what I saw, they both need guidance and love.

I didn’t want to be just another volunteer or “gringo” passing through. Knowing Spanish definitely helped me connect but I knew I really needed to understand the culture and that’s what I wanted, to be fully immersed and understanding. Having free time in the afternoon also really helped me take in the culture and experience some of the fun things to do. Being a religious person, my beliefs are from the Bible and follow Christ’s teaching. I do good deeds not just because they’re good to do, but also because that’s what Christians are called to do, in different unique ways. I believe those of us from developed countries have a certain responsibility to developing countries. One of the reasons I love PE is because they are grounded in Christ but don’t enforce their beliefs on anyone, they show their faith through their actions.

I’m still not sure what I want to do when I finish school, but I’m all the more thankful for my opportunity to be in school. I want to use my knowledge to make a difference, even if it’s just a small difference, but with great love. I’m learning to step outside of my comfort zone more and I do hope to return to the DR this summer!


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