My grandmother took my family to the Dominican Republic the day after Christmas for a family vacation.
We stayed in Punta Cana in the La Altagracia Province of the Dominican Republic. La Altagracia Province is the eastern-most area of the Dominican Republic.
What struck me the most about the trip was the stark contrast between poverty and wealth in Punta Cana. There were numerous fancy, all-inclusive resorts but they were surrounded by dirt roads, dirty cars and motorcycles, and dilapidated houses. There were kids begging and doing anything they could for money for their families and schools. We had the chance to enjoy a short trip driving dune buggies on the beach and through a local town. Towards the end of the excursion we made a stop at a small cave filled with natural spring water for swimming. When we left the cave, a few small children began wiping dirt off the seats of our buggies. Immediately after they cleaned the seats, they asked for “a dollar for the school.” This stood out to me, that the children had resorted to wiping dirt off tourists’ seats just to earn a dollar for their school.
While we were at the cave, we noticed some kids walking around the area just outside the cave entrance. Some were conversing and others were helping clean the dune buggy seats. However, on the way to the cave, we saw school buses full of kids. Is there education for just some kids? Are there public schools or is there a fee to attend school?
Another time I saw the stark realities of poverty was with an incident that took place with my little cousin. My cousin, Mason, is allergic to pretty much everything. Finding him food he could eat was difficult, but manageable. One afternoon he had an allergic reaction to something he ate and was sent to a hospital via “ambulance.” I didn’t go with his family, but it was reported that the “ambulance” was just an emptied out van. There were no sirens or lights, rather the driver just honked the horn. When they arrived at the hospital, the doctors didn’t use gloves, even when administering/removing an IV and there were bugs on the floor.
Throughout the trip I kept reflecting on the differences between the people just outside the resort gates and myself. Here I was, sitting in an all-inclusive resort with unlimited food and beverages and some people a couple hundred yards away were struggling for their next meal. Some of us back at home get to drive our own cars to and from school, and attending school isn’t an issue. Some teens don’t have to have a job or go out and find money to support their families or schools. In Punta Cana, people would do anything they could to earn a dollar.
My trip to the Dominican Republic was planned as a nice family vacation in a beautiful country away from the rush of things back at home, but it ended up being something more. I left feeling more appreciative for a nice roof over my head, my own car, food and water, and the ability to easily attend school.