Yalies Reach Out Over Spring Break

Every year for Spring Break, Yalies have to make the tough decision of what to do for two whole weeks. While I would have loved to spend my days catching up on all those episodes of How I Met Your Mother, I decided to do service and enjoy a warmer climate. This past spring break, Samantha and I led service trips to communities abroad through Yale Reach Out, which helped coordinate 7 international service trips. We got to travel, learn, and serve in existing initiatives for community improvement.

What community did you do service with?
Evelyn: My group travelled to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean! Our main site of service was a small community called Batey Libertad. A batey is a small community within the Dominican Republic that has limited access to certain basic necessities like clean, running water and proper educational and medical services. Residents of Batey Libertad are a mix between Dominicans, Dominican-Haitians, and Haitian immigrants. The majority of people in Batey Libertad were born in the Dominican Republic but because of their recent Haitian ancestry are denied citizenship.

A small structure with "Batey Libertad" hand-painted on its surface.
Welcome to Batey Libertad!

We also traveled to Santo Domingo, Santiago, and Dajabon.

The Reach Out group in front of a ruined fort.
Our Reach Out group touring ruins in Santo Domingo with Dana Henderson, the local program director and two friends from Batey Libertad, Camilo and Mario.

Samantha: My friend, Kenneth, and I led a trip to Sri Lanka, a small island nation south of India. We are both Sri Lankan, and we wanted to be able to interact with the people in Sri Lanka in a new way. Our service was done primarily in Padukka, a small village right outside Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

For our second week, we travelled all over Sri Lanka. We visited the holy city of Anuradhapura, the coastal city of Trincomalee, snorkeled in Trincomalee, and even went on an breathtaking elephant jeep safari at sunset. Another day, we rode elephants, climbed Sigiriya Rock, and visited the Dambulla Cave Temple. Perhaps most importantly, we visited the medical school at the University of Peradeniya.

The Author with their co-leader, drinking king coconut water straight from the coconut.
My co-leader, Kenneth, and I enjoying king coconut water!

What organization did you work with?
Evelyn: We worked with Yspaniola, an organization that was established by a Yale graduate in 2009 in order to help improve literacy within Batey Libertad. Yspaniola provides two full university scholarships and offers classes to kids aged 5 to 13 in a literacy center they built. The organization currently offers reading classes at a range of primary levels and they also offer English classes to the older youth.

A young girl in front of literacy center, proudly holding up a book.
Marialandi with her favorite book!

Samantha: My group and I worked with Sanhinda Children’s home, a children’s orphanage in Padukka. The orphanage is home to about 60 children, and many of these children were orphaned as a result of a recent civil war in Sri Lanka. Additionally, we met with leaders at the Foundation of Goodness, a community development NGO in Sri Lanka.

What kind of service did you do?
Evelyn: We spent most of our time helping create resources for the classroom, as well as one-on-one reading time with the younger kids in the batey. We made platano flashcards and alphabet cubes that teachers could incorporate into their curriculum.

Pooja and Adam with a young girl, holding alphabet cubes spelling "Pooja".
Pooja, my co-trip leader, and Adam, a trip participant, making good use of the alphabet cubes!

Samantha: For most students in Sri Lanka, knowing English is key to being able to go to college, so a major part of our service was dedicated to English enrichment. Outside of this, we painted several classrooms in the house that are used for tutoring, and we raised money before the trip to help buy necessities, like a water pump and new beds, for the house. When we weren’t doing service at the house, we just played with the kids!

Trip participants with some children from the orphanage.
Two of our trip participants, Joe and Pujan, with three of the wonderful children of Sanhinda!

The trip group with a bay in the background.
Our entire group outside a Hindu temple in Trincomalee.

What is one highlight from the trip?
Evelyn:  I love that I got so close to my homestay sisters. I’ve never had younger sisters, but  during my time in the batey, I really got to know that feeling. We were deeply immersed in Dominican culture, and homestays gave us the opportunity to engage in more personal conversations with community members. Family dinners meant we could ask about the daily lives of our homestay families.

Three girls arm-in-arm.
Pooja and I with our beautiful host sister Kimberly!

Samantha: Even though we arrived a day late (and without our luggage), as soon as we arrived at the orphanage and saw the kids, we couldn’t help but smile. Despite the hardships these children had experienced in their lives, they were smiling from ear to ear and so happy to see new people to play with. We had only known these children for a few hours, but they were already asking us to come back the next day to play more.

A student posing with a large group of young children.
My co-leader, Ken, and some of the kids from the orphanage.

What did you take away from the trip?
Evelyn: One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was realizing the complexity of the issues Yspaniola handles. The organization itself focuses on the issue of literacy, but education is so deeply intertwined with other issues including access to food and water as well as wealth. Yspaniola also has to work to address these issues and work with community members to figure out ways to address these inequalities. I really appreciate that Yspaniola places the voice of the community at the forefront and works to empower community members. While we were travelling, we actually witnessed a community carry out a water strike. Communities are starting to raise their voices against injustices, and I am happy that organizations like Yspaniola are helping communities like Batey Libertad to demand equality.

The community members of Batey Libertad.
The community of Batey Libertad!

Samantha: While I had been to Sri Lanka several times with my family, I had only ever been to visit family and friends. Some of my best childhood memories were from Sri Lanka, so Kenneth and I decided that we wanted to be able to give back to Sri Lanka, this amazing country that had given us so much. I had observed Sri Lanka’s complex socio-economic and political problems before, but this was my first time getting involved in them. The experience with the children at Sanhinda and all of our amazing trip participants was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I wish I could do it all over again!

The volunteers with all of the children at the orphanage.
Our entire group with the children from Sanhinda!