Our Youth

Let Them Speak: Experiencing the Beauty of Life

By Olivia Aneiro


In November of 2016, I found myself hesitantly walking down my stairs to my two parents watching television to ask them a very important question. Earlier that day, one of my teachers visited the junior class to tell us of a new opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic for a service trip.

She gave us a basic itinerary which I then silently handed to my parents while smiling ear to ear, explaining to them that I had already spent a good amount of time working on the application. Luckily my parents agreed to let me go and I was chosen by my school to attend as well.

But little did I know how significant of an impact that experience would have on my life. Fast forward to spring 2017 when I joined my nine fellow Fontbonne Hall Academy students, one of our teachers, our principal, tour guide and bus driver in the Dominican Republic. We were in the midst of our long-awaited trip, the beginning of an experience we will never forget.

On the second day of our trip, we were guided through the small community of San Felipede De Puerto Plata by Health Horizons International (HHI). While learning how the organization helps the townspeople, I felt someone grab my hand. I looked down, a little confused. There was a small shy girl in a bright pink dress from that community holding my hand. Just minutes before, another young girl did the same to my friend Caroline and the representative from HHI explained that this is a very welcoming community with children that like to make friends.

I smiled at her and crouched down asking, “What is your name?” in Spanish, and she replied, “Amy.” Amy and I walked hand in hand through that community with other children keeping up with our group as well. We learned about all the hardships they go through like the struggle for clean water and the burglary of their land. Nonetheless, in the midst of such trials, were these children who were incredibly happy and giggly enough to hold a hand, make a friend and accept a hug. Later it was pointed out to us by our tour guide that there was no sad face in the entire community. These people have been through so much and are still going through immense problems, yet they still remain welcoming and happy.

Aneiro, left, Amy and Kirsas Danis welcome each other with open arms in San Felipede De Puerto Plata. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Aneiro)

This served as an impactful reminder to not let your struggles overpower your emotions and life. It showed me to keep the small precious things and moments, like making a new friend, close to your heart.

Keeping all the memories and lessons learned in the back of our mind, it was on the last night of our trip when we were treated to dinner in a beautiful restaurant. It was there we shared our last meal as a group, exchanged gifts, and reflected on our experiences of the past week.

During that meal we were posed the question, “What does it mean that the real journey begins tomorrow as you return home?” This really resonated with me and was a beautiful way to end the trip. We spent seven days in the Dominican Republic meeting new people, exploring different communities and lifestyles, and learning about leadership specifically as young women, however that was only the beginning of what this experience was all about.

The word ‘experience’ itself according to Merriam-Webster dictionary means, “skill or knowledge that you get by doing something.” The experience was not only limited to those seven days, but it included how we were to apply the things we learned in the Dominican Republic back home in New York. So, my answer to that question was simple.

We must take what we learned and not only use it to benefit our lives, but to share it with others to really emphasize the beauty of life and how we must take nothing for granted. That is what my fellow friends and I chose to do. We intend on continuing this trip or similar trips in our school.

We wish to share our message with our school community, family, friends, and neighborhood hoping that even if they can’t take a trip like this themselves, they can still learn from it.

Olivia Aneiro is a rising senior at Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge.