By Sheyera Jayatunga, St. Mary Catholic Secondary School
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

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Being a part of D.R.E.A.M.S. (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support Program) 2013 was an incredible experience. I remember leaving for the Dominican believing I was building a house for a people in need, but I left knowing that I was building a home for a family that I was now very much a part of. I now know that I took much more from the Dominican and its people then what I gave to them. I had left everything that I had brought with me behind, but I still returned with much more than I could have ever imagined.

I came back home with a new family, with the Dominicans, and with the people with whom I travelled. We lived, slept, ate, laughed, cried, sang, and even screamed at large spiders together! Most of us came together as strangers, but came home together as a family.

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I had been told many times that love crosses all boundaries but D.R.E.A.M.S. was my first experience with that truism. I learned that language was only a small obstacle and that I did not need to speak to have a conversation. I will always remember the family that took care of us telling us that they loved us, never would forget us, and that they would always pray for us.

The only thing that made the Dominican people happy was not TV, or running water, or shopping–it was love. It was a love for the simple things such as friendship, dancing, and, mostly, community. Not only did I help build a home for the Dominicans, but they also gave me a home there. People say that home is where the heart is, and I must have left a piece of my heart there in the Dominican for I consider it my home as much as I consider Canada my home.

They took care of all our needs, protected us, and gave us friendship and love. They did not care about the things I have done before or what circumstances I had been through. They just loved.

Having not properly bathed in days and having to sleep in the same room as 20 other people, I would still do it all again for the chance to be with the Dominican people. I came to realize the joy in the little things, like education, bus rides, and even my home.

If I cannot be grateful for the small things I have, how can I be grateful for the much greater things that come? I realize that there is a futility to wanting more when there are people who have much less than half of what I enjoy every day. After D.R.E.A.M.S., I realize that I am more conscious about the decisions I make and how I use my resources.

Although it is hard to find true happiness in a society as materialistic as our 21st century society, I seem to find it in the simplest of places, which are also the most unexpected.

In the kindness of strangers, the unforgettable moments with my friends and family, and even the times I spend in complete solitude.

The Dominican people taught me that happiness does not come from the tangible, but from the moments that are temporary but last forever in our hearts. D.R.E.A.M.S., above all else, has taught me to “focus on the stars and not the mud”.