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Amigos.

The happiness derived from others’ happiness, I realized today, is greater than any other feeling in the world.

Although we began by continuing with the rec center, painting, scraping, and cleaning, fortunately I was able to spend the second half of the day at the baseball field again. With the local kids, we finished painting the walls and benches there. Alongside the many photos we took, we also played games resembling the traditional “tag.” Interacting with the kids was both interesting and heartwarming, albeit a bit challenging as I attempted to quickly construct Spanish sentences. Oliver and Isaac are just two of the kids I will always remember – but all of them left a strong, lasting impression on me. Seeing their faces light up upon receiving the gifts (little notebooks and pens, and candy) and their enthusiasm about baseball and other games really helped me understand life in their perspective, and perhaps in the perspective of many people in the world.

While painting one of the walls at the field, I was joined by Willy. Unlike many of the other kids who were around, Willy was older, close to our age. While some of my fellow SSP friends had built a strong relationship with him already, I didn’t even have a face to match to his name. His constant awareness of his surroundings and other people’s needs made him stand out to me. Despite the language barrier, he still attempted to communicate through hand motions and words. Although I did not know that he was Willy when I first interacted with him, I soon realized that he must be the one who everyone was praising. Interacting with and learning about the local children was the highlight of my day.

Speaking of highlights, while we were leaving, all of us decided to donate our shoes to a person in the area. As they flocked to say goodbye, we asked them their shoe sizes and found someone who matched ours. For me, it was a bit of a struggle; Rosie, the principal of the Cigar Family School said there was hardly anyone who wore a 10.5. I was thrilled when we found someone, and the smile on the girl’s face was beautiful.

Today was, in my opinion, the best day of the trip. So many things transpired in a short duration of time; in two days, we painted the rec center, the baseball dugouts, I conversed in Spanish and some English with local children and adults (about Dominican and American politics!), and I bonded with everyone- chaperones and SSP. We’ve become JUAN big family now…it’s amazing what travelling does to friendships. I can’t wait to hopefully recreate such an experience in the future, and maybe even visit again on my own. The feeling I’m feeling as I write this cannot be put in words.

- Vishwa Shah