The Longwood men's basketball team embarked on a week-long international trip to the Dominican Republic Aug. 2-9 for service work and four games against some of the country's top teams. The team visited a girl's orphanage, a daycare facility and a remote village with no electricity and limited resources. Redshirt senior center Lotanna Nwogbo provided the blog below chronicling the team's trip and its impact on the program. This blog post, photos and video is courtesy Longwood University.
By LOTANNA NWOGBO
Longwood Men’s Basketball
Coming in to our trip to the Dominican Republic, I was one of the few players who had traveled outside of the country. I was a part of a mission team that traveled to the Philippines just this past summer. Because of this experience, I told myself that if every member of our team did not cry or get extremely emotional, then they did not invest correctly in this trip. This thought became a reality during our first service project as we visited a girl's orphanage right outside of Santo Domingo.
[caption id="attachment_2896" align="alignright" width="150"] Kanayo Obi-Rapu colors with a child at the orphanage. (Courtesy Longwood Athletics)[/caption]
As soon as we walked into the orphanage, the girls embraced us as if we were celebrities. The guys showed a side of themselves that many never had before. Some of the guys went into big-brother mode, drawing with the kids and playing with them on the trampoline. Shaq was doing backflips, which was something the kids said they had never seen before. DJ showed off the dance moves that he's famous for back on campus.
I could give examples of how every player shared a heart-warming moment, but one of the best came from Kanayo (Obi-Rapu). Kanayo is a guy who wears his emotions of his sleeve. He was brought to tears when the girls starting singing and performing for us. The whole experience was overwhelming for us all. The smiles we were able to put on their faces were priceless and something that we will never forget. I like to think the girls at the orphanage feel the same way about us.
Every place we visited – the orphanage, the daycare center and the village – all the kids were really receptive to us. Even though we didn't speak the same language, they still came to us like they knew us their whole lives. They were very excited to see us. We were like celebrities to them. I guess they haven't seen many Americans, or maybe they just haven't seen a lot of people the size of college basketball players.
I think my teammates had some uncertainty about the language barrier at first, but it became obvious soon after we got to each destination that it wouldn't be a problem. If you throw a ball to a kid, regardless of what language they speak, they're going to put their hands up and try to catch it. We had a translator for when we really needed something said or interpreted, but the older kids and the ladies there knew enough English. Some of us knew
[caption id="attachment_2894" align="alignleft" width="150"] Longwood basketball players and the children at the orphanage in the Dominican Republic (Courtesy Longwood Athletics)[/caption]
Spanish ourselves, at least the basics, so we could understand some of what they were saying or what they wanted. We have a pretty outgoing group of guys anyway, so if the kids wanted to dance or play or just be goofy, that was easy for our team.
I feel like one of the biggest takeaways from the trip was that our team gained perspective. You could tell that the guys learned to appreciate their lives a little more after we went to each of our destinations. When we first got to the hotel, some of them were complaining about the WiFi not working, about not being able to use their phones…what you would call "first-world problems." After our first trip to the orphanage, I didn't hear any more complaints about anything like that. The only complaints I heard after that were not being able to communicate with their families.
Something else that came out of the trip was the bonding we all shared as a team. We are all close anyway, but when you see others struggling like we saw and you see the happiness they have through those struggles, it brought us together and made us appreciate each other, our situations and our lives more.
On the cover: Isaac Belton (left, holding swing) and Bryan Gee (right, black shirt) help out on the playground at the orphanage in the Dominican Republic (Courtesy Longwood Athletics)