An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Small Steps


I have to admit, trying to make a difference is not always easy. You think you want to do something in life, something that matters. In the back of your mind you imagine grandeur. Feeding the hungry, solving homelessness, saving the orphans. You take steps and when you finally stop and look around you feel like you’ve gone nowhere.

There were moments like this at the school we were volunteering at for desperately needy Dominican and Haitian children. Coming in we put out the call: raise $1,000 to buy supplies for these children. And we did it! Actually you did it. One week after we arrived the Dominican Republic we received a donation that put us over the $1,000 mark. We were stoked. Excited that we reached the goal, and amazed by those who donated. Donations from friends we knew were in a tough spot, from some we hardly knew, from some we didn’t know!

Needless to say when we arrived we were anxious to dig in, to make a difference. The first few days in the Dominican Republic we got acquainted with a small village surrounded by cane fields and filled with poverty. In the middle of the village, was a 3 year old school built to provide tremendously impoverished children with an education, school supplies, and for many of these kids their only meal.

The children were beautiful. In the morning, they lined up outside the gate to the school fitted in the uniforms they had been provided. They began their day with a piece of bread and warm milk. After going to class for a couple hours they returned for lunch. Bowed their heads, gave thanks, ate every grain of rice in front of them and after a couple of songs infiltrated the field to play baseball. They had little, but had no idea. They were happy. They played, laughed and smiled. Life was good.


I’m not a doctor, and it’s fairly difficult to teach when you don’t speak Spanish, so I did the other thing I know nothing about, construction. My job was to sand when the wood and/or equipment was available to do so. To be honest, I felt like I did as much standing as I did working. Which gets a guy trying to “change the world” thinking… what exactly was I doing? Sanding shelves?

But there was more to do. We had $1,000 and a school and children with a lot of need. We asked our friend Jessi and others at the school to compile a list their greatest needs. We explained that we had raised some money from the website and wanted to help with supplies. After several days they gave us the list.

There were needs that were obvious but some you wouldn’t think of… like a lawn mower. When we first arrived the school we watched as 5 men walked the grounds swinging machetes. They weren’t threatening, they were mowing the lawn. All week we watched them hack away at the overgrown grass where the children played, and by the time we left they still hadn’t finished. So on the list of needs was a lawnmower.

Jessi drove us into town, first to a department store. Dan and I walked pricing the listed items. Underwear, socks, belts, everything seemed more than we expected. Then Jessi got an idea: the Haitian markets. Row and rows of piled clothes. We split up and got to bargaining. We emerged we were sweaty, dirty and armed with bags supplies. When all was said and done here’s what we had:
∑ 200 pairs of underwear
∑ 17 belts
∑ 10 bras
∑ 70 pairs of socks
∑ And yes… a lawnmower

It occurred to me you won’t go anywhere in life if you don’t take steps. No matter what your path. Some steps are smaller than others every but step moves you a little bit closer. Someone has to hammer a nail, someone has to sand a board. It might not be what you expect but it’s something and it all adds up. It was a important lesson and one that would be put to test sooner than later.


1 Vicki Dixon (Jessi's Mom) { 02.17.08 at 11:51 pm }

I am so amazed at all you did to help out while in the DR…thanks for all the work and what an incredible thing to be able to get socks and underwear for ALL those kids! I love your blog! Be safe!

2 Rebecca Duncan { 02.18.08 at 10:42 am }

you are an amazing photographer! the children are beautiful. God is good… huh? come home safely. I still want your hat!

3 Vicki Dixon (Jessi's Mom) { 02.18.08 at 7:41 pm }

I love your blog…you are an excellent writer. Thanks for stopping in to work with Jessi.

4 jeremy { 02.18.08 at 11:48 pm }

Good writing Derek. It just keeps getting better. Thank you for keeping it up that has got to be hard. It is something I constantly look forward to reading. Thank you d. Rad, Jeremy

5 Ellen Antill { 02.19.08 at 10:01 am }

Hammering nails and sanding boards, talking with a friend all day and into the night, singing sensitive songs in a small-town bar . . . it doesn’t matter. It’s all about sharing hope and bringing light. Keep on, Derek. What you and Dan are daring to do matters a lot!

6 Spencer { 09.29.10 at 11:33 pm }

Amazing work. Your pictures and words tell a remarkable story of human kindness.

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