I recently returned to my Amigos town in the Dominican Republic for the first time in 10 years – bringing my husband to meet my host family and use the latrine that my group of volunteers helped construct 18 years ago!
Since that summer when I was 16 years old, when I hardly spoke Spanish, and had no idea what I was getting myself in to….a lot has changed. Still, it’s amazing how going back to that town and interacting with the people who made me feel like a part of their family hasn’t changed.
I’ve heard this Maya Angelou quote a lot lately: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Nowhere in my life has this held as true as during my experience with Amigos. I’ve been back to visit my host family in the Dominican Republic 5 times now – spread out over the 18 years since my summer there. Every time I go back, I ask myself why I am returning and whether I’m dragging out high school memories and experiences that might be best left in the past. And then I return there and engage with a family who still includes me as part of the family, who always asks when I’ll be back and always tells me I didn’t stay long enough. My Amigos host family and the entire town became a family for me in the truest sense of the word. And that feeling is not one that I will ever forget. The latrine is still standing; I was proud to show my husband, and even happier to use it during my stay. But now they have indoor plumbing (in addition to the latrine!), and I know it won’t be long before the latrine is retired. I remember wanting the physical construction of that latrine to be the center point of my summer, wanting to bring something to these people who needed so much, and feeling so guilty to suddenly realize how much I had and how little others in the world were getting by with. But I had to face the hard reality then, and am reminded of it now, that there is very little we physically transform and so much we can share as human experiences.
I went into my Amigos summer hoping to give. I walked away having taken so much, and feeling awful for having done so. It’s 18 years later, and after my fifth trip back, for the first time I do feel like I have given them something – the honest belief in our shared connection.