The Alum

We work to affect change in the Dominican Southwest, but we are often the ones most changed. Our vision is for our alumni to do great things, to be engaged in the issues, serve others, and affect their own change in the world. Here are some of their stories, in a way fragments of our own.

Name: Matt Gunn

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008.

Current Occupation: Farmer, student of agronomy, inspired home-chef.

Favorite Dominican Food: Maduros (fried, ripe plantain).

On the traveling to the Dominican for the first time: “Going into the trip my expectations were high and vague; then I was humbled and gratified by the particulars of the present: the bouncing along of a home-made plastic-and-string toy, a phrase (?como tu ta?), a laugh.”

On the impact of the trip: “My time in the DR altered my whole sense of identity, and elevated my consciousness, and influenced my path in life.”

On gaining perspective: “I think my time abroad makes global issues more tangible for me.  There is a debate currently about how to feed the world’s burgeoning population, particularly in the developing world.  Places like Haiti.  Conventional agriculture suggests that the world will starve without genetically modified seed stock and toxic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  Others site lower yields, decreased pest and disease resistance, and rampant suicide among conventional farmers (particularly in developing countries like India) as evidence that, no, conventional agriculture is not the solution but part of the problem.  As I engage in this debate, and garner the experience to back my position, I think of my Haitian and Dominican brothers and sisters.  I think I care so much because of them.”

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Name: John M. Busick

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 1998-2004

Current Occupation: Father, outdoor enthusiast, VP of Business Development, Down Syndrome activist

The DR for John in one word: Compassion

On seeing the world differently: “My expectations were to essentially change the world in two weeks: leave my mark on the map, build a home for a ‘poor family, learn a little Spanish along the way, and offer up all of my extensive wisdom and knowledge to the ‘uneducated rural children’. Yeah right. Instead, that “poor family” subconsciously gave me a crash course in family values, friendship, and love.  I found myself working next to one of the smartest and most innovative building contractors I have ever met; a man who didn’t have the most effective tools nor excuse for not having them.”

Advice on your trip to the DR: “Enter with open arms, mind, body, soul, spirit, heart and you will never forget this experience.”

On being a father: “The trips have shaped who I am today as an employer, husband, and father.  My wife and I were blessed with our son Jack, who has Down Syndrome.  Due in part with my experience with Una Vida, I value community involvement and have taken it upon myself to be active not only in my son’s life, but the entire special needs community.”

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Name: Sarina Consulter

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2008, 2009, and 2011

Current Occupation: Student, Santa Rosa Junior College

Known for: Providing on the street manicures and pedicures to anyone who wants one in La Descubierta.

On authentic connection: “As a result of going to the Dominican Republic, I see my world through new eyes.  The Dominican Republic has taught me to see people for who they are, not by the things that they own or their appearances. In La Descubierta, everyone hugs or makes some sort of contact with the people around them on a daily basis, even when they just run into each other on the street. It doesn’t matter what a person is wearing, or how they smell, or what kind of education they have – the Dominicans always make contact with each other. The Dominicans have shown me how to be nice to everyone around me, not based on appearances.”

On living with a host family: “By living with a family, you actually get immersed into the culture at a much higher level than you would living with the rest of the group participants, and you make lasting relationships with the people living there. There is no such thing as a bad host family in La Descubierta. Of course, none of the families are as awesome as mine though. ;)

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Name: Erica Sedlander

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2000, 2003, 2010

Current Occupation: Grad student at UC Berkeley’s school of Public Health, bike-rider, and traveler extraordinaire.

On seeing herself: “My trips to the DR as a student and then as a leader made me feel empowered.  Not only did I succeed in a challenging environment but I was able to point to tangible differences that I made in the Dominicans lives or in my students lives. As a result, I have felt more confident tackling challenges in my life back in the States.”

On growth: “The trip will stretch you more than you thought you could stretch both physically and emotionally. This is the feeling that you get right when you begin to grow as a person. Go for it!”

On cross-cultural exchange: “The Dominicans make you feel like family and there is no other trip that will give you a real, meaningful look into the lives of others. Dominicans open up their homes and their lives to you.This trip will make you question previous assumptions and reflect on our American values.”

On finding her passion: “I have decided to dedicate my life to reducing health inequities. There are many experiences that have led me to where I am now but the Dominican Republic specifically left me feeling empowered to make change back at home.”

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Name: Kylie Culver

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2010

Current Occupation: Field Director, Pedrenales, Dominican Republic, working to stop violence against women

On working in the DR: “I am currently working as a field director on the project, after being promoted from volunteer. Our project, sponsored by USAID, focuses to empower Haitian women, teaching and equipping them to be entrepreneurs and community leaders. We have components of agriculture, leadership, health, and micro-finance, while also working to stop gender-based violence in these regions.

On recognizing need: “The trip wholly influenced the work I am doing. It introduced me to the island and its people. I became aware of some of the major needs of those living in poverty. With this introduction, a great burden grew in my heart to come love and serve these amazing people I had met and fallen in love with.”

On connecting with her host family: “Una Vida trips are uniquely and strategically designed to give participants a full-immersion experience. Unlike most other programs, Una Vida plans for its participants to stay with members of the community they serve in. The participants have the opportunity to see what everyday life is like, as they live with a local family. This is huge, not only to be able to learn and experience first-hand various aspects of the culture, but also to build relationships.”

On Una Vida: “The trip leaders are well-equipped to guide participants on a challenging, eye-opening journey of life in rural, impoverished communities. The leaders challenge participants to rethink ideas of poverty, service, justice, and much more, and help them to process the experience along the way. Its such a blessing to have guidance from individuals who have themselves been challenged in such ways and since made long-term commitments to leading lives of service.”

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Name: Sacha Furgeson

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2009

Current Occupation: Nursing student, Columbia University

Is known for:  Hosting front yard barbecues in her hometown to bring the Dominican spirit of community to her own neighborhood.

On a life of service: “Traveling to the Dominican Republic with Una Vida changed my life. That may sound cliche and laughable to some, but that is only because they have not been a part of this amazing group. The experience led me to study Spanish with a tenacity that I know would not have existed otherwise, it led me to imagine the possibilities of making a career based on service, it led me nursing school and finally it showed me the beauty of Dominican culture. I could not say enough about my trips and I could not fully explain the feeling of love I have for the communities we visited and the people we met.”

On sharing the trip with family: “I was lucky enough to have my mother and sister join me on my trips to the Dominican Republic. We are able to reminisce about the rice and beans, dancing merengue, people we met and, most importantly, how we see our lives differently now. I remember my mother the night we came back from a market on the border with Haiti talking to me about how shocked she was that a woman could not give her change for a coin worth only a dollar. I still hear her tell this story when she talks about the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As she tells this story, I still picture the woman’s face, with her bags of beans by her side, and the deforested hills in the background.”

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Name: Meg Healy

Years traveled to the Dominican Republic: 2008, 2009

The best part of her trips to the DR: Her Dominican family.

Current occupation: Student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Geography and International Studies

On making a difference: “My two trips to the D.R. impacted me on many levels, but most significantly was the dedication to public service that I returned home with. Since traveling to the DR I have developed a passion for international development, and particularly for addressing urban poverty.”

On a new perspective:  “This is an incredible opportunity to see the world from a perspective that most Americans never experience. I learned more about the world in four weeks in the DR than I did in a year in many of my high school classes. Everyone should have an experience like this!”

On the Una Vida experience: “These trips are unique because they are organized and led by people who have years of experience in the DR. It is not a company looking to profit off of your travel expenses, but an organization of individuals who have an abundance of knowledge of and love for Dominican people and culture.”