Cambiando Vidas Reflection

    June 12, 2018
    By: Kelsey Andrews ’19

    When I was told my ISP experience would involve building a home in the Dominican Republic, I didn’t know what to expect. I could have never imagined the warm welcome my group and I would receive, the community that would come to touch our lives or the beautiful lessons we would learn along the way. In one week with Cambiando Vidas, the organization the runs the project, we were able to build a family in San Juan not only a house but a home. In return, the family and members of the entire San Juan community helped to give us an experience that we will never forget.

    Throughout the week, we worked side by side with the founder of Cambiando Vidas, Jose “Pepo” Abreu, and the community of San Juan. Cambiando Vidas was established in 1997 by Jose as a way to give back to a community that gave so much to him and his family. In 1997, Jose’s mother’s home was destroyed by a fire while he was overseas. In an incredible act of kindness, his neighbors and community came together to build his mother a new home, even more beautiful than she had before. To this day, Jose does not know the names of all of the people who contributed to this incredible act of generosity. To pay forward this compassionate deed, Jose established an organization dedicated to building homes for deserving families in impoverished areas of the Dominican Republic. Since its inception, Cambiando Vidas has helped numerous families build new lives by helping to build them new homes; my group and I were fortunate enough to lend a hand in the 86th.

    During our first night in the DR, we were fortunate to meet the family we would be building with throughout the week: a young couple named Bladimir and Yosanny, and their four-year-old daughter, Josenni. We learned that they rented only half of a small house that was just big enough for their king size bed and a few other items. They did not have their own kitchen, bathroom or a space for their daughter to have her own bed. We were blessed to be able help build a home for them about four times larger than their current one, and it the first house Bladimir and his family could call their own.

    Every morning when our bus would arrive at the build site, we were not entirely sure what our jobs would be. From forming lines to pass buckets of concrete into the house, shoveling rocks and moving cinderblocks, to pulling the nails out of planks of wood and painting the finished walls – each day presented new surprises and challenges. Yet, one thing always remained the same – the incredible kindness, patience and warmth of the strangers with whom we worked and interacted. Though many of us were unable to speak the same language and sometimes struggled to communicate at the site, those with whom we worked never became angry, exasperated or upset with us. Instead, they greeted us with open arms, minds and hearts.


    "Cambiando Vidas is Spanish for 'changing lives' and, without a doubt, this experience changed ours."

    The love we felt from the family, neighbors and entire community leaves me at a loss for words. Day in and day out, the people of the Dominican Republic inspired and motivated us to work hard as they continued to give everything they had at the site at all hours of the day. Individuals who had even less than the family showed up all week to aid their neighbors; even the smallest children wanted to lend a hand. What is more, the women of the community made all of us an amazing lunch each day. One neighbor even allowed our group –  13 strangers –  to leave our personal belongings in the bedroom of her home. They all taught us how to open our hearts to others, appreciate the value of living in the moment, and to find joy in the little things every day. The community’s willingness to accept us as extended members of one large family was incredible.

    When we finished the home and presented the Bladimir and Yosanny with the keys, they told us that we would always have a home in the Dominican Republic. I cannot thank them, the community or Jose enough for making this experience unforgettable. Cambiando Vidas is Spanish for “changing lives” and, without a doubt, this experience changed ours.

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