Back to the Bateyes

Back to the Bateyes

By Jessica Sheehan

Dominican Republic 2017 | Peru 2018 | Dominican Republic 2021

Jessica is a student at SUNY Geneseo, studying Business Administration as well as working towards her commercial pilots license.

All photos provided by Jessica. Read her story below!

For as long as I can remember, travel has been the most constant aspect of my life. Being raised in a place where none of my family lived, by two parents whose lives have also been fueled by travel, how could it not be?

So when the opportunity arose to embark on an international service project to the Dominican Republic, I jumped at the chance. It wasn’t until we stepped off the open-air bus in Jarabacoa, or saw the never ending fields of sugar cane in the Bateyes that I began to truly understand what a small fraction of the world I had actually come to know.

During the first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2018, our group spent two days in the mountainous region of Jarabacoa. From there, we traveled to the Bateyes, small communities deep within the sugarcane plantations in which the locals work. It was there that I met some of the most incredible people on the planet.

We spent our entire final day of service at the school in Monte Coca, spending time with the children and other community members.

This was when our group began to explore the true definition of poverty, in terms of physical possessions and emotional fulfillment, changing our interpretation of the word in its entirety. While they may lack many of the physical possessions we deem necessary in our day-to-day lives, the people in the Bateyes were genuinely happy to simply be in the presence of loved ones and strangers alike.

A year later, we travelled to the remote village of Huilloc Alto, located 15,000 feet above sea level in Peru. The most impactful aspect of this trip was the homestay, where we were welcomed with open arms into the homes of community members who completely embraced us into their culture.

On this trip more than the others, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. Adapting physically to a new environment, and mentally to an unfamiliar, beautiful culture challenged me to look deep within myself. I wanted to find a way to incorporate all that I had seen and learned into my life back home.

Still to this day, I think about the four sisters, mother, and father that gave me the gift of a home away from home. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, I know that they will always feel like family to me.

My final adventure was an alumni project back to the Bateyes during the summer of 2021. Everyone on the trip had been on at least one before, and most had graduated high school.

The night before we started our service, our group leader asked us the question, “What are you hoping to get out of this trip after having been here before?” This was a question that had been running through my mind since the opportunity for the trip was first presented to me.

When it came time for another member of our group to answer, he explained that we had been spending the past few years turning extraordinary into normal with the work we had been doing. It wasn’t until I heard these words that I grasped a full understanding of the importance of this journey.

While our first couple trips shaped many aspects of my life, there were lessons I learned that somehow seemed to slip away as time went by. All of a sudden it was nearly three years later. I had become a focused college student, making decisions based on my future and personal success.

While this was something I had grown proud of, it didn’t take long to recognize what little regard I had for our global community and the purpose that was lacking from my life. The five days that we spent with the people in La Plaza reminded me what a small world we live in. It reminded me that even with our differences, we all have a responsibility to serve our neighbors, near and far.

The fact is that opportunities like this are far from normal and it has been the privilege of a lifetime to know the love that exists on such extraordinary projects. I am beyond grateful for my travels and the beautiful cultures I have come to know, but having the ability to serve others was a greater gift than I ever could have asked for. While I may not know exactly what the future has in store, I am certain that service will be a part of it.

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