Solo Outreach

by Alexandra White

Did the orphanage really exist or had I been the victim of a Ponzi scheme? My dad panicked, pacing up and down the sidewalk with a handmade sign: “Orphanage Outreach.” I felt stranded.  I had sent more than $3,000 to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. I stood waiting for a ride to take me to the place that had absorbed my efforts for two years.

After 30 minutes, a car stopped. My relief didn’t last long. A raggedy, black car with cracked windows took us on the two-hour ride to the orphanage.

I was shocked. After all the donations, the orphanage was still dilapidated. The playground was two broken swings. Huge piles of garbage sat between trees.  Later while watering plants, a little boy popped up with a dirty detergent bottle. While the other kids played, he filled it up and began to help.

“Mira (look).”  He identified each plant and showed us how to water them efficiently. His name was Ali. He said he was seven or eight and was smaller than the others but more independent. While watering, I stepped on a thorn. Ali rushed to my side, showing me where to step so that I arrived safely at the volunteer quarters. Ali’s care put me at ease.

My first day in the Dominican Republic was hectic, but my journey getting there was even crazier. It started two years ago when I saw a presentation about students doing community service in Mexico.  My mind buzzed with ways to do something similar. The passion leaked from my heart to my head and I was ready. But there was one problem: There weren’t any clubs at my school for service work in other countries. I decided to start a club and my research led me to Orphanage Outreach.

In Tenth Grade, I  shared my idea with friends. Some discouraged me:  “Why do you have to start a club. Why can’t you just join one?”

I ignored them. I was determined. I knew people wouldn’t naturally be interested in the mission, so I lured them to join by providing food at meetings. I created bylaws, appointed officers and oversaw fundraising. As president, I had two main goals for the club’s second year: to dramatically increase fundraising and to volunteer at the orphanage. In the beginning of junior year, ten people signed up for the trip! I was ecstatic.

The excitement unraveled when six people dropped out over safety concerns. “Oh come on, it’s just the Dominican Republic! We’re going to be staying in an orphanage,” I reassured them.

They looked at each other nervously: “It  would be different if we were staying in a hotel but we’re staying in an orphanage.”

Others blamed their parents. One by one, they deserted the trip until it was just Christina and I.  Soon Christina began to act strange; whenever I told her that our mothers needed to discuss the trip, her mom was always “busy. ”

By April, she told me she couldn’t go. “It’s too expensive,” she explained.  “Especially since I’m already going to Spain this summer.”

My body swelled but I suppressed my rage. I decided to go anyway and raise the money by myself. I realized that having a passion for something doesn’t make it any easier.

In June, I was teaching Ali how to read. It was not as easy as I thought. Getting him to concentrate felt as difficult as convincing my classmates to travel there. At the end of the week, I was upset that Ali’s reading didn’t improve. But then I remembered the orphanage’s motto, “poco a poco” or “little by little.” Change takes time.  Getting my classmates to come on the trip failed the first time, but if I keep working poco a poco, eventually I will get ten people. If I keep returning to the orphanage and trying to teach Ali to read, eventually I will succeed.

Alexandra White is a Freshman at Wesleyan University and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Friends.