It was time, in a lot of ways, though in others it was very difficult to leave. I hate goodbyes. My last week in Tabara was definitely bitter sweet – everyone was being so overwhelmingly wonderful and loving that I forgot all of the things that made me crazy on a daily basis. Even the kids knew something was up. They were extra cariñoso. I lived with my house open for my last two days, giving things away, being farewelled over and over and over again. They had been anticipating this for two years. Almost since my arrival, everyone I got close to talked about when I would eventually leave. And despite this hyper-awareness of the impermanence of my life there, everyone still seemed shocked when the day arrived. It would have been easier to just say “peace out” and disappear, but I owed everyone a better goodbye than that.
We had a graduation for the students in the reading program, and a final motivational meeting with the teachers and facilitators. The students kept saying “gracias Laura, gracias.” Even kids who weren’t in the program. They probably didn’t even know what they were thanking me for, but I was teary.
My site unfortunately did not receive a follow-up volunteer for this year, but my facilitators promise that they will continue the program without me, and the director and teachers fully support them. This was the whole point. I have complete confidence in their abilities; the real issue is logistics. Will they be able to continue without someone there to replenish supplies and re-motivate every so often? When a facilitator leaves the program to continue her own studies at university, will they find someone to take her place, and train that person as I trained them? I told them to expect a call from me in September checking up on them. They laughed and made me swear that I would really call. If things continue, they might receive a new volunteer next year to continue where I left off. Time will tell.
So, I said my goodbyes in the school, and to the neighbors, and to my host family and other friends. These are not relationships that can be well maintained over the phone or Internet, but I am lucky. Had I been placed in a different country, or even just in a different community, it would be a lot harder to go back and visit. But I happened to be placed in a very accessible community, in a very accessible country. It is just a three-hour plane ride from New York to Santo Domingo, and just a three-hour bus ride from Santo Domingo to Tabara Arriba. Visiting is definitely not impossible. I’ll go back sometime soon.
* * *
Reflecting on the last two and a half years is kind of overwhelming. There is no way to boil down this “experience” into a few stories, or a summarizing sentence. But I will say that I couldn’t have spent the last two years of my life doing anything better. This feeling varies among volunteers, among countries, and among projects. Everyone’s experience is different. Though a lot of time is spent sitting around and making mistakes, this time is a valuable learning experience, and it is only by going through the first year of frustrations that you can ever really arrive to a second year of successes (and more frustrations). That’s assuming that you ever really achieve “success.” A lot of volunteer successes are not measurable, and that’s ok.
|Me and the elementary school teachers|
|Me and my facilitators (missing a few)|
|Me and the kiddos|
|Attempting a photo with certificates... fail|
|My facilitators learning to play jenga|
|My watchmen, Neno and Bombo|
|Two special kids, Bibi and Anjeli|
Facilitators with their students (these were clearly not taken by a professional):