Dominican Republic #10: Cambiando Vidas

On their last day in the Dominican Republic, trip leaders ask students to reflect on the following prompts, “What does Cambiando Vidas mean?” or “You wrote about community before coming on this trip.  How has that definition changed in the last week?” Below are students responses:

Davey Mazur ’24:

To me Cambiando Vidas means to leave something behind, something that outlasts the memories of you in that place, something functional and dependable. Cambiando Vidas isn’t to add to a legacy or for self gratification, it is to change lives and have a lasting impact no matter how you are perceived or even remembered.

Alessia Root ’23:

I used to think that community was simply a group of people co-existing in close proximity to one another, but this trip has shown me that it’s so much more. Working with Cambiando Vidas has shown me what a true community is. Being part of a community means working together toward a greater good and sacrificing for the benefit of the majority. I was awe-struck at the selflessness of the Cambiando Vidas workers and all they do and how hard they work in order for their fellow community members to prosper. Community is something that needs to be fostered by every member in which it belongs to, it is not something that can idly exist.

Blix Salz ’24:

Cambiando Vidas to me resembles more than an organization aimed toward poverty. Instead, during my time in the DR, I have come to understand Cambiando Vidas as a community. At the work site everyone is friends and together they help one another. After understanding this, my viewpoint shifted from looking at Cambiando Vidas as a charity to instead a community working to help those in need. The organization could never run without the help and commitment of the community members. Cambiando Vidas has brought the community together in so many ways.

Zhexuan Li ’23:

I think Cambiando Vidas serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the local community in San Juan and also myself. Listening to Jose’s inspirational story of his son and the destruction of his house and founding Cambiando Vidas, made me realize that each individual has a social responsibility to give back in any way they can. Cambiando Vidas also taught me to take initiatives whether I think it is a big or small project. The most important part is to start working on your idea.

Tyler Ettelson ’23:

Often the connotation of a word or phrase is lost in translation; however, in the translation of Cambiando Vidas, it remains stagnant. It translates to “changing lives”. A more complex perspective to ascertain the meaning can be accomplished by asking the question of for whom and by whom we and this organization are changing lives for. To answer the to whom, I look to Jose, Cambiando Vidas founder, and his explanation of the requirements to have a house. Said house is for a family and it cannot be for someone who is single. As for by whom, we are meant to change lives. We must be proactive in change, both through monetary funding and manual labor. Additionally, the willingness to participate is important. In a conversation with four DR kids, Victor, Rome, Jazmine, and Christiana, I learned that some gringos only come to take photos, acting as a passive bystander instead of being proactive about the situation they elected to help. This is what Cambiando Vidas means to me.

Ryan Amundson ’24:

Cambiando Vidas now, means much more than I thought it would. As I spent the week working, learning about Dominican Culture, and meeting the locals, I felt purpose at the beginning and end of each day. I feel like something sparked inside of me that is pushing me to be an advocate for change. After coming together with my peers and newly made friends, I can say this experience means the beginning of something meaningful I want to further explore in my life. Something authentic that one can reach by simply putting themselves out there.

Xavier Aviles ’24:

Cambiando Vidas as an organization has an incredible parallel to Deerfield. So many people are separated by disparities, whether that be concerning wealth or accessibility. Both places and organizations bring people together and ignore the barrier that separates us from uniting. As a group, we go out to the site every day to be welcomed by smiling faces and people who have been brought together under a single goal. We often forget that we are all human, and we all want to find is security within our lives.

Amelia Tyler ’23:

After spending one week with Jose and the other community members of Las Charcas, I can attest to the fact that Cambiando Vidas, or “changing lives” truly lives up to its name. I initially thought that my purpose of going to the Dominican Republic was simply to build a home. What I neglected was the significance of what a simple home can do for a family. Cambiando Vidas emphasizes the importance of community, something I myself have always cherished. It’s apparent that those working on the home — whether its local children, masons, carpenters, or Deerfield students – are committed to benefitting the family and the entire community for the greater good. Shared meals and simple conversations with the Dominicans have taught me that we Americans share many similarities with the Dominicans despite our many differences, the most apparent being our language barrier. When I first heard the phrase Cambiando Vidas, I thought that it only applied to the family who would be receiving the house, but after this week, I believe that it has undoubtedly changed my life and many others as well.

Lauren Smith ’24:

Cambiando Vidas means changing lives, and it does not fail to live up to its name. However, to me, it holds much more because it does what most organizations can’t do. Instead of only focusing at the goal at hand, it strives to create a family of everyone involved in the project. I came into this trip truly only knowing a few of the people, now I leave with bonds greater than the 17 Deerfield members that I came with. I am thankful for what Cambiando Vidas has done for me because it showed me that a community can exceed all cultures, distances between homes, and language barriers. Cambiando Vidas not only changes lives, but they create a family full of people from all different parts of the world.

Jasmine Irizarry ’23:

Before coming to the Dominican Republic, I thought that Cambiando Vidas was just an organization that built houses for those who couldn’t afford one. Being here now though, I realized that it means so much more.  Cambiando Vidas means going out of your way to help others to the best of your ability. It doesn’t always have to be building a house. It could mean something as little as becoming more involved in your community. It could mean spending time with your loved ones or even with people who you may not know that well – just go and take the time to get to know them. Even just a ¡Hola! Que lo que? can make a difference. Although, you could get involved with Cambiando Vidas and do all of the above all at once. To me, Cambiando Vidas means stop focusing all of your energy on your own needs and worries all the time, and use it to think and help others. This organization may have changed the life of the family that we are building the house for, but it has also changed my own.

Maddie Bialek ’23:

Before this trip, I thought a group of people who simply lived near each other or shared an identity marker qualified as a community. But now, I understand that truly being a part of a strong community takes hard work, constant empathy and thoughtfulness, and perseverance. Choosing to help others is a necessary part of being in a community, but you don’t need to be endlessly selfless. Jose told us that he brings the community together in order to help a family in need of a home, but they are expected to join the build, connect with the workers and volunteers, and eventually pay back some of the cost of the house. Each member of the Cambiando Vidas community gives immensely: their time, their labor, their food, or their money, and each of us receives something in return: a salary, a home, or the joy of making other peoples lives a little better.

Ella Hynds ’23:

The literal translation of Cambiando Vidas is changing lives and that is exactly what this trip has done for me. CV means the sparkle in Jose’s eye when he is up to no good, Victor’s giggle as he is tickled, and Checha’s patience as I try to form sentences in Spanish, and at the end of the day it means pants caked in mezcla and paint. Not only did we build a house for an incredible family, but we built a Caribbean home away from home.

Kevin Gonzalez ’24:

The word Cambiando Vidas means a lot to me because you’re impacting someone’s life forever. Yes, Cambiando Vidas means that it’s a organization that is changing family’s lives forever by building a home. But now after a week building a home for a family, we are not only changing this family’s life but many others in the community, through telling stories and having small conversations that will never be forgotten.

Charlotte Iler ’23:

Before I arrived to the DR, I knew that I was fortunate. I along with everyone else on this trip, have been told this at one time or another. We have clean water, nationwide access to education, three meals a day, and a roof over our heads; I consider us lucky. Aside from these necessities, we have other luxuries that we take advantage of, such as cell phones and air conditioning. Through Cambiando Vidas (Changing Lives), now I truly see how lucky I am, and more importantly, I feel extremely grateful for all that I have. By working on the site and exploring the area, I can see the impact we have made for this one family and the community. Before we arrived, the family of three shared a home with two other family units, each divided by a wall and a curtain. Now, the couple and their son can live independently and create their own family memories. As I leave, I want to continue changing lives and giving back through service more and more. I am so grateful for this experience.

Click here to see more pictures of the DR trip!