What comes to mind when you think of the Dominican Republic? For most people, the thought of the warm tropical sun, of beautiful sandy beaches and of a rich and diverse culture come to mind. After all, millions of people visit this small Caribbean island every year for these very reasons.
However, for some faculty and students at Eastern, the Dominican Republic is so much more. It is a place where they have been able to build meaningful relationships, become humbled by significant experiences and ultimately make a lasting difference in the lives of those they encounter there.
Since the spring of 1999, Eastern students and faculty have been traveling to the Dominican Republic with hopes of changing lives and communities through avid and continual development work. After visiting the Dominican Republic with Christian non-profit organization, Plant with Purpose, Dr. Dave Unander, a professor in the Eastern Biology Department, was inspired to get Eastern students involved.
The first Dominican Republic trip with Eastern students “was so successful that we went back in 2000,” Unander said.
Today, Eastern students and faculty are still making their way to the Dominican Republic with the same commitment and devotion to helping that stimulated the missions trip more than ten years ago.
This past March, a group of Eastern students continued the tradition of travelling to the Dominican Republic over spring break along with faculty advisor Dr. Mike Mtika, a professor in the Sociology department. While there, the group worked specifically in the small community of Sabana Cruz to help improve the lives of those who call the community home. With the help of non-profit organization Food for the Hungry, students worked hard to provide the village with clean drinking water by building latrines and improving other basic sanitation and health needs.
Those who attended the trip this year were also able to build relationships with the community through home visits, Bible studies and other activities that provided them with significant experience.
“I plan to go every year until I graduate,” first-year student Maddie Goldbach said. “It’s not somewhere you can leave and then forget about.”
The Dominican Republic missions trip has certainly provided students and faculty alike with a humbling, inspiring experience, both this year and all the years since 1999.
Andy Horvath, Eastern’s Director of Christian Formation who is also closely involved with the trip offered wise words to reaffirm the overall purpose of the journey.
“Don’t go for what you can get,” Horvath said, “Go for what you can give.”