For Hanna Keyes, the summer before her senior year at Oak Harbor High School was an opportunity to do something she’d never done before.
Keyes, along with her father Gordon, traveled to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to help build a medical center for the locals.
“I love to help other people,” she said. “And I thought it would be a really cool, eye- opening experience to go and help another country.”
For two and half weeks in July, Keyes woke up early to work toward building the medical center, mixing concrete and laying bricks. She also joined her group at a local school to teach children English.
Gordon Keyes has gone on previous trips to Peru and Ecuador, doing dentistry for locals, but this is the first time his daughter has been abroad for humanitarian work.
The group consisted of 20 students from all over the country and four adults, including Gordon Keyes. Through a nonprofit organization called Humanitarian Experience for Youth, more than 850 volunteers were able to go to 10 different countries to build schools, orphanages, medical clinics and homes.
The group Keyes was with was the second of the summer to go to this area. They were responsible for building the body of the building, after the first group worked on the foundation, and the third did the roof and painting.
“Dominican Republic seemed like it would be an amazing opportunity,” Keyes said. “Dominican Republic is one of the poorest places out of all the places that HEFY goes to.”
She said that while she was there, locals would often stop and thank her and her team for the work they were doing.
“They had nothing there and … they were still so happy and they were still so loving,” she said.
For her, the only real challenges she faced were the constant hard work of building and remembering to use bottled water for brushing her teeth, but overall, she didn’t find it to be a very challenging experience.
She was more focused on the rewards of the trip.
“It made me realize how lucky I am and I need to be so much more grateful for everything I have in my life,” she said.
This is an experience Keyes looks forward to repeating in the future. She said that after high school, she wants to go on a mission with her church, and possibly work with HEFY one day.
“Honestly, I felt I got more out of it than they did,” Keyes said. “Because I was able to feel the love from them, and I was able to feel how great it is when we serve.”