Experiencing Gratitude Among the Most Gracious Cultures

Experiencing Gratitude Among the Most Gracious Cultures

Reese Peters

Dominican Republic | Island Living and Eco-Service 2017

I’m Reese Peters and I am nineteen years old. I am a photographer/videographer in San Diego, CA. I graduated from high school in 2020 and am now assisting in the startup of a company that helps eliminate single use plastics.

All photos have been provided by Reese. Read their story below!

My journey with Rustic Pathways began with a spontaneous decision to explore  a different culture while helping those in need. I had no idea it would end up being one  of my most memorable trips of my life. Traveling across the country to meet up with  random strangers to then flying south to the Dominican Republic seemed absolutely  frightening. By the time I met everyone who I would be staying with for nine days, I  realized I was in for an amazing time.

We started our trip off in Jarabacoa, a beautiful forest-like area where our basecamp was. Being in this utopia, I felt myself getting more confident and comfortable by  the minute. Our group learned about the native vegetation for the first couple days and how it affected the community. Their diverse natural landscape had a big impact on the  culture there, something I had not known until now. Our new knowledge of the  surrounding greenery translated into our work for the upcoming days: to assist in the work of building an aquifer to help sanitize the small community’s water.

For years now, polluted water had dramatically affected the way of life for these  people. Sanitization was a foreign concept for them, but with the help of Rustic Pathways, it was slowly being introduced. It was a huge eye-opener for me.

Watching  these kids run around with not a care in the world showed me how grateful I should be for something as simple as a glass of clean water. We spent all day with these amazing  kids; showing them how to clean up the polluted river banks to introducing fun games that we all played as children. My heart was full of joy seeing this project in the final stages before the town could experience a whole new way of life.

As we said goodbye to the people who made us feel so at home, I was getting emotional knowing I couldn’t do more to help these people at the moment. But, it made me look forward in hopes that one day I could return and make an even bigger impact on the people who made such an impact on me.

After leaving Jarabacoa, we headed to Sabana De La Mar, a small island with a  depleting mangrove population. Our job was to head deep into these mangrove forests  and plant as many baby mangroves as we could. At first it seemed a bit ridiculous because how much of an impact would 13 teenagers have on an entire forest?

Once we got there, the crowded terrain it once was had turned into a muddy swamp. But the older mangroves that had been there for years were absolutely beautiful. Our guide had  such passion for these forest since this was his home and was torn at the fact that these plants were dying. Their community thrived off of this land and it hurt the people to see it slowly diminishing. Our group hopped off the boat, ready to get to work. Our legs sunk into the mud all the way up to our knees, but our end goal didn’t involve  being clean.

We walked around and planted as many mangroves as we could, each leaving a couple feet around these new plants so they could grow as big as the others. We felt relieved as we looked back seeing this muddy landscape knowing it would one  day return to its former glory. Our guide was as grateful as could be knowing people our age still cared about these wonders of the world.

I never thought I would be knee deep in mud in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it was something that  changed my mindset till this day. Our ecosystems vary across the world, but are looked at as our true homes no matter where you are. I saw that these people enjoyed everything they had and didn’t complain a bit about their situations, but were  immensely grateful for the help that Rustic Pathways offered.

Since this trip, I’ve viewed life in a completely different way. Little things that might of bothered me before are seen as unimportant and haven’t affected my day. I  am beyond grateful for anything and everything I have, even the little things. I’ve begun to work on projects that spread awareness of pollution and help in any way that I can in my local community.

And most of all, I’m no longer scared of throwing myself in an  environment that I don’t know a lot about because I know in the end, it will be a trip that will leave me with memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in the Dominican Republic, or view more Alumni Stories here