Over spring break, I spent a week in the Dominican Republic, working on community projects in the rural town of El Cercado. There, I served locals by making fertilizer for their agricultural nurseries, producing nutritious peanut butter, and creating aqueducts to provide water to communities in a drought.

While it was not glamorous work, I not only enjoyed the experience but also learned so much from it about another culture and about myself and my responsibilities in life.

In addition to doing productive work along with seven other Stonehill students and two faculty members, I got to know the people of El Cercado as well as their challenges, hopes, and sense of community. In my interactions, I saw how they count on each other to take care of their community—pushing through challenges and celebrating together in growth and successes.

In the face of limited resources and many disadvantages, the locals welcomed us so warmly. They also shared their spirit of possibility and how they are working together to better their town— advocating for women’s rights, sharing food and other resources with their neighbors and supporting each other in the work that they do.

For three of my four years at Stonehill, I have participated in service immersion experiences and each one has opened my eyes to the advantages I have and to how others struggle for what I take for granted.

That means I have a responsibility to take what I have learned from each experience and bring it home with me. I can be an active citizen by engaging in work that supports the issues I have been confronted with on these service immersion experiences.

Through these visits to the Dominican Republic, Florida, and Ware, Massachusetts, I have grown in maturity and responsibility, and in each one, I have learned things that I could not discover in a formal classroom.

I have heard stories firsthand from people facing difficulties that are relevant to social justice issues in our world today, contributed to the efforts of impactful nonprofit organizations, and learned more about issues like sustainability and community development, as they occur globally.

Stonehill’s HOPE service immersion program, where we Honor our Neighbors, Organize for Justice, Practice Peace, and Encounter God, has given me so much—more than I could ever give the communities we serve for a week. Preparing to graduate in May, I am so grateful for an education that has helped me to develop a strong mind and an even stronger heart.

An English major with a double minor in Creative Writing and Philosophy, Riani graduated in May and is the Development and Communications Coordinator at the Children's Museum in Easton.