Written and Media by Sara Dawson.
The Greenville University Women’s Volleyball Team went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic July 26 – August 2. The team did many exciting and fun things while on the trip. Many of the girls had never been out the country or on a plane before their adventure.
The team left Greenville early in the morning of July 26. They then got off the plane in Puerto Plata and took a bus to Santiago. The bus ride was an hour and a half, so the team got to see many things. They witnessed the chaos of driving in the Dominican Republic and the smells of the chickens, cows, and all the other animals. In Santiago, the team stayed at Instituto Evangelico. They arrived at Santiago just in time for dinner, and Lauren Witte said, “The first meal was amazing! We had chicken, rice, and beans. All of it was amazing, it was the best chicken I have ever had, the best rice and beans. It was so good!”
After dinner, Coach Ivan Estevez introduced the team to some youth group kids. The team got to hang out with them, and Witte mentioned, “They’re teaching us Spanish, we’re teaching them English. We’re singing and dancing, and it was super cool. We’re teaching them all this volleyball stuff.” The children came up to them and said, “Oh, you guys are spikers!” Witte replied back, “No, we’re hitters.” She stated, “It was really cool and fun to get to know the kids that were our age, get to know them and know what they do on a daily basis, and how they live their lives.”
On the first day of the trip, the team went to clear a piece of land that had a bunch of plantain trees, rocks, and a huge pile of debris. There was a building there originally, but they knocked it down to build a new building, which will be a church when they have enough money to build it. Witte stated, “That’s so crazy that they really want this, and they don’t have enough money to even start it. I got really emotional during that, I held up my tears, but I almost cried.”
After a hard day of cleaning, the team got to go swimming. Witte said, “We meet this little boy while swimming. His name was Davie, he was from the Dominican, and he was talking to us. He didn’t know any English… but he could still understand me; he would laugh at me. It was really awesome, in such a large Spanish-speaking country, they know English, but not all of them do. It was really cool seeing how there’s not really a barrier between people you can still communicate and laugh and have a good time and [language] doesn’t matter.”
The team then went for a match against the Dominican City Volleyball Team, who have not been able to play because their arena got flooded and the power was out. This was completely different from what they were used to. Alex Falcone said, “We’re so blessed to have nice gyms, and even though it’s not air-conditioned, it’s super nice compared to some of the stuff we saw over there. We complain about a lot of things over here, about not having AC, just random stuff like that. And they’re not even complaining over there. They’re diving on concrete and that was really hard to see.”
On the second day, the team went out to a local orphanage. At this orphanage, the kids were victims of abuse and abandonment. When the team got there they got to do art with the kids. Witte stated, “The couple of kids I had didn’t know any English and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ I was just asking ‘What’s your favorite color, favorite animal, favorite food?’ and they would ramble something off and I was like ‘Oh yeah, me too.’ I was like ‘I don’t know what you said, but that’s okay,’ and then they would laugh at me, because I would pronounce something wrong. That was super cool.”
After having art with the children the team got to tour the orphanage. They played soccer outside with the children. “They love soccer,” Witte mentioned. After that, they went inside to see the babies. The children at the orphanage stay there until they get married. Whitte said, “It was really sad and life-changing. I cried.” Falcone added, “The orphanage was my favorite part, just getting to see all the babies; they’re so cute. As soon as you walked in they all raised their arms up because they just wanted you to hold them. They just wanted to be held and hugged.”
Allyson Grabowski also shared her thoughts: “Our trip to the Dominican Republic was something I will remember for the rest of my life. Every person we encountered was extremely helpful and caring. My favorite part about the Dominican was our day at the orphanage. Even though there was a
language barrier and we did not know the kids, they accepted us and played with us like we were their best friends. I specifically remember going to the playground to meet some more children and a boy jumped into my arms before I was even through the gate. It was amazing how happy these kids were even though they may not have had the best lives before going to the orphanage. It really taught me to appreciate all the things I get to do and have in my life.”
On the third day, the team went to Universidad APEC, which was a two-hour drive. The Panther volleyball team competed against them. They played the game outside, and after the game, they ate together. When talking with the other team, they asked, “Is that your only volleyball court?” The other team said “No, but we had to play here, because you Americans love the sun; we hate it.” The girls replied back, “No, we would have played inside.” After dinner the team learned Dominican dances from the other girls. Falcone said, “ It was really cool getting to experience playing, but in a different element, with my team. And we all had great attitudes and we loved it and we were all for each other. It was really fun play against other teams and see how they did stuff.”
On the fourth day, the team went to church, where the whole service was in Spanish. The church was celebrating Father’s Day that Sunday. Evalynne Snyder said, “Church was cool; it connected with my niece, how she doesn’t have a dad. [But] God really does love you, even though you don’t have a dad. You’ve got God and he’s always going to be there for you.”
Felicity Giddings shared her testimony that day, too. Coach Estevez had it translated into Spanish for the congregation to understand.
After service, the team got little black trash bags together with notebooks, crayons, markers, pens, and pencils for the overjoyed students to have school supplies. The church fed the team after service, and they went to the preacher’s house where they had coffee that’s only made in that town.
The team played their final volleyball game, and after the game, they gave their old Nike shoes, volleyball shoes from last year, knee pads, jerseys, and their bags to the girls. Witte mentioned, “That’s when it really hit me, like of how fortunate I am in my life… We gave them our Nike gear and all that stuff from volleyball, and they’re crying and so happy… I just lost it; I started crying. Estevez’s wife said it perfectly: we’re just all raised differently.”
On the last day, the team went to the beach. Coach Ivan Estevez reflected on the trip: “This Dominican trip was one of the best we’ve ever had. We were so blessed to spend time with the kids from Santiago. We also were able to bring school supplies to the kids from Bonao. I love this trip because we are able to learn about the art of being grateful from the Dominican people. We are very proud of this trip, there are not many times that you have the opportunity to play ball against some very good players of another country, worship in another language, and be blessed by God and the people of another country.”
Coach Tom Ackerman added, “The trip is an amazing opportunity for us to serve the community we visit, and I always come away with a greater appreciate of the many blessings we have. Coach Estevez does an amazing job of coordinating the trip and the growth our players experience in a short amount of time.”