All posts by Rachel Johnson

Little By Little

For the past four days we have been cooped up in a computer lab working tirelessly to compile ALL of the raw footage we have from our trip into some sort of rough cut.  Obviously, our final goal is to whip up a documentary on the story of Pedro and his work in the city of Cien Fuegos, and obviously this will not be done by tomorrow afternoon.  

We are quickly learning that this process is anything but quick.

It’s a good thing we are in good company (with plenty of new music and scrumptious treats to keep us going) though, because otherwise this process would probably feel as daunting as it actually is.

Although it has been jam packed, I have really enjoyed this week and being with the people I just shared a life-changing experience with.  Yes, we have a lot to do to get this film edited.  And yes, we have to be inside on these beautiful sunny days in order to get it done.  But we have all been moved by what we saw down in the DR, and we genuinely want to tell the stories of the incredible people we interviewed. Keeping this in mind, I know there isn’t anything we can’t do.

Earlier this week Gaby and I went through ALL of the notes we took on every person we interviewed.  We have done this in order to come up with some sort of script for the others who are brilliantly piecing together the footage.  One phrase that we consistently came across while writing the script was that of “little by little”.  This phrase was used by more than one community member in reference to the fact that working for change in the city will take time, but it will happen.  Little by little, the people of Cien Fuegos are recognizing not only their struggles, but also their opportunities in hopes of creating a future that is bright.

I feel like I can sum up this Backpack Journalism program by referencing this three-word phrase:

Little by little, we have gotten to know each other and learned how to work together.  

Little by little, we figured out what it was we wanted to capture on film while in the DR and now how we want to tell this incredible story to others.  

And little by little, we have opened ourselves up to this new experience and let it move us in ways we may have never imagined.

In accomplishing LOTS of things little by little, 

Ray J 


An Incredible Three Days (Part 2)

So people move to the cities in search of something more, of something they can call their own so that one day they will feel that their hard work has paid off.  It is hard to imagine doing the same thing every. single. day. without reaping any of the benefits.  But this is exactly what the people of this campo–and all campos for that matter– do, which is exactly why the want to move to the cities in the first place.  They want to find some sense of purpose for the back breaking work they do to make a living.  Just like the people of Cien Fuegos, the people of Majagual know how to survive.  They know how to deal with the challenges God has given them, and they know how to do so with their heads held high and their hearts wide open. 

It really is quite inspiring.

Saying goodbye to my family was so hard.  Way harder than I ever imagined it was going to be.  There were tears, hugs…and more tears and more hugs.  They told me I was always welcome back, that their house was my house.  I definitely left a part of me in Majagual last Thursday, and I will forever remember this community’s unending kindness towards me. 

I was able to live in the moment for these three days.  I was able to put everything else aside and enjoy the company of these incredible people that i was so blessed to have met.  I can truly say that I was fully present in this experience, and I have gained so much from this feeling.  I intend on bringing this mindset back with me as I re-enter into my crazy busy life back home.  It was an incredible three days with an incredible group of people I am now so proud to call my family. 

In a warmth and kindness I have never experienced before,

Ray J       

An Incredible Three Days (Part One)

We spent two full days and two nights in the campo of Majagaul. 

That is it. 

But that is seriously all it took for me to fall in love with this place.  I feel so honored to be able to call the beautiful people of this campo my family now.  It still amazes me to think that a community of strangers can come into your life and change it for the better in such a short amount of time, but now I know it is possible.

They didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is elementary at best, but this language barrier didn’t even matter for these three days.  From the moment we were first introduced, my family whole-heartedly embraced me.  They carried my bags up and down the hilly road to their home, they offered me coffee and mangoes and coconut juice, they made sure I always had a place to sit.  They made me feel like I belonged.  We did the best we could to verbally communicate with one another about our lives leading up to this point in time.  But for the most part, it was through pictures, dancing, laughter, dominoes, gestures, and just sitting around and enjoying each other’s company that we became the family we did. 

I cannot even begin to describe the hospitality my family showed towards me.  It was unreal.  And this was coming from a family of ten that has overcome many challenges, including a son’s battle with leukemia and a daughter who has been blind since birth.  On top of their many familial hardships, these people have close to nothing in this campo, yet they shared whatever they could with me.  They went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and content.  I have never felt so welcomed into a new and “out of my element” atmosphere so quickly in my life.   

Materially speaking, my family and I had little in common.  They still take bucket showers, go to the bathroom in latrines in their back yards, and just recently received a water system which now runs throughout their campo.  They can pretty much rely on their electricity going out every night and they cannot even brush their teeth in a real sink.  But none of this even mattered for the three days I was there; in fact, I hardly even thought about our economic differences.  We were able to connect on a level deeper than this.  A level in which we were able to just enjoy each other’s company, appreciate the breaths of fresh air we brought to each other’s lives for this short amount of time, and thank God for the many blessings he has given us in different ways.

Majagual is a beautiful place.  The endless hills we were surrounded by were lush, green, and beautiful…Jurassic Park style.  The stars were incredible and the view from the home where we ate all of our meals together was breathtaking.  We would literally gaze out over the rolling hills of palm trees and flowers to the ocean every morning during breakfast.  Because it was so beautiful and because the community was so tight-knit, it made me wonder why they would ever want to leave such a place for cities like Cien Fuegos that are dirty, loud, and crowded.  But building the latrines we did during the day helped me realize why so many people do in fact migrate to the cities. 

This community of Majagual barely has any control over this beautiful land they live on.  The land is owned by a select few who have a lot of money.  They then control the people of the lands however they wish.  So while this community harvests cocoa beans and various other crops day in and day out, they barely reap any of the benefits of such back breaking work.  We were literally building new latrines for houses that have been a part of this campo for over 30 years now and still didn’t have them…. 

Borderline Chaos (Part Two)

After lunch we took a long drive down the International Highway that literally separates the DR from Haiti. It is unreal how different the land is on either side of the highway.  The DR side is lush, green, and beautiful.  The Haitian side is desolate and bleak because of the massive deforestation that has taken place over the years.  Driving along the highway and watching the little Haitian children with distended bellies raise their hands and yell to us to “give them something” was tough, we were all silenced by everything we saw through the windows of the bus.  But luckily we had a 5 hour bus ride back to Santo Domingo to process the day’s events_

Borderline Chaos (Part One)

Gah, I cannot believe it has already been another two days since I last posted!  Times is flying by quickly.  The last couple of days have been just as overwhelming and eye-opening and incredible as the past week, but in different ways.  Seriously, each day here has been so new and unpredictable…I love it. 

Yesterday (Sunday) morning Amy and I went on a nice run on the “figure 8” shaped track they have in the back of ILAC.  While it is not too big, it is beautiful and has not gotten old yet.  We have been getting some nice (albeit sweaty) runs/walks in while we have been here, and it really has been great!  It has given us a chance to breathe, take everything in, and just talk about our experiences here thus far.  We both have said we are falling in love with that track and what it has done for us in this sense. 

After that we all attended the Spanish Mass at 11 am.  While I didn’t understand more than half of what was being said, it was great to just be present with God in this new place, and this I can understand in any language. 

We packed everything up after lunch and hit the road for a three hour drive to Dajabon-a border town between the DR and Haiti.  We would be staying there for the night so we could attend the weekly market (where Haitians can cross the border to the DR and purchase anything and everything they need and cannot get from their own country) they have every Monday.  Literally as soon as we got to Dajabon, it started pouring.  It was almost fitting though, considering we were about to be awed by yet another HUGE disparity between people.  But this time it was between the land and the poor of the DR and that/those of Haiti.  The rain was cleansing, and it got us ready for what we were about to bare witness to in the morning.

The place where we stayed for the night was definitely different than the ILAC Center I was beginning to get used to.  Because of the flooding, there was not running water, but we got over that quickly.  After a fun night of bonding through Dominoes, cards, and the like, we hit the hay ready to get up bright and early for the market. 

I do not even know how to begin to explain the market experience we had this morning.  It was utter chaos.  Every Monday, thousands of Haitians cross a bridge to the DR to purchase rice/chickens/pasta/bananas/etc. to feed their families for the rest of the week.  It is unbelievable the amount of people/carts/wheelbarrows we saw go back and forth and back and forth again as quickly as possible.  Splitting up into smaller groups to make it easier to get around, we held each other’s hands and literally pulled each other through the crowds to make it up to the bridge so we could just witness this chaos in action.

I could have stood there for hours just watching these people do the things they do every week to survive.  What I value most from this experience is the hard work, determination, and shear STRENGTH I saw in the faces of the Haitains.  These people know what they need to do every Monday morning to keep their families fed for the rest of the week, and they get it done.  The sun is hot, and the space is limited, but they tirelessly carry, push, or pull hundreds of pounds worth of food across the border if it means they will be able to support their families for another week. 

Because they have so much to do and so little time, they barely acknowledged that we Americans were on the bridge with them.  This was a nice change from Cien Fuegos, considering sometimes I wish I could be invisible as I watch these people go about their daily lives.  It is hard for me to feel like I just stand there and stare, but I am so fascinated by these beautiful people.  And I feel like I have already grown so much from what I have been able to be a part of through witnessing their ways of life thus far.  It was quite the morning to say the least…


It is so hard to believe that yesterday was already our 2nd and LAST day in Cien Fuegos.  It was a completely different day than Tuesday was.  After tediously reviewing the footage we had from Tuesday’s visit the night before, we knew what we had to do filming-wise, and I knew what I wanted to get out of the day personally as well.  We entered Cien Fuegos composed, focused, and ready to get the rest of the footage we needed to capture the story of Pedro and his work in this impoverished community.

I truly felt like I was walking WITH the people of Cien Fuegos yesterday, not just walking around them trying to capture their lives in a 15 second clip we may or may not even use in the final version of the documentary.  I was hot and sweaty and just out of my element, but I loved it.  Walking amongst these people was an inspiring experience for me in many ways.  My heart broke when I saw the dirt, the trash, the lack of clothes, the black water, and the run down houses/buildings that define this community.  But my heart was filled with joy every time I saw these beautiful people smile or wave, because it reminded me that these people are in fact human beings, just like we are.  They have their daily struggles and their challenges just as we do, although they are overwhelmingly different from our own, and they do the best that they can to overcome them.  To see them smile in the midst of the poverty they live in puts everything into perspective for me.  Yes, their lives are difficult in a way that I do not fully understand yet, but these people have hope in a brighter tomorrow, and this is what gets them through the day.  It is incredible.  And inspiring.

Yesterday, things got real.  We worked hard to capture Cien Fuegos on film, interview the amazing people who are making positive changes in the community, and understand/appreciate the hard work these people put in to overcoming obstacles that are beyond comprehension for many.  I witnessed the injustices these people face on a daily basis, but also the motivation they have to overcome them.  I saw the frustration in their eyes over their dire circumstances, but also the stamina they have to take on the cards they have been dealt.  I experienced the pain they must feel every day not knowing if they will have enough food to put on the table for their families, but also the faith they put in each other and in God for the future.  If there is one thing I have learned that Dominicans know how to do, it is survive.  They are strong, united, and hopeful that things will get better.  This is empowering.  It has made me realize that it is my turn to share these experiences with others.  Even if it only inspires one other person to stand up and make a difference in this world, that is one more person than there already is.  And overcoming the injustices of this world will take us understanding what they are and working together for change.

For as hesitant as I was to film the lives of the people of Cien Fuegos, everyone has been so gracious about us coming into their community.  It is unbelievable.  But I have realized that they want us to see their reality.  They want us to understand what it is they experience every single day.  And they want us share it with others.  This is exactly what we have been called to do on this trip, and it is an amazing feeling to know we are in the process of making it happen one film clip at a time.     

In witnessing the poverty, the pain, and the HOPE of the people of Cien Fuegos, 

Ray J

I Gotta Feelin (Part Duex…read the other one first!)

(I got cut off of my last blog post…so here is the rest!)

Today we went to a B-E-A-UTIFUL beach-Sosua- about two and a half hours away from the ILAC Center in Santiago. We were supposed to film again, but found out that today was a national holiday here in the DR, so we had a slight change of plans in order to accomodate for the city’s festivities. People here take their holidays seriously, so instead of filming, we let the city celebrate:P Anyways, the beach was breathtaking, the sun was shining, the company was wonderful. After a crazzzzy banana boat ride, a scrumptious fish fry lunch, and a little bit of bartering, we headed back to the Mission to look over our footage from yesterday. 

We talked a lot about the things we did well, but also about what we can work on for tomorrow.  This is definitely a learning process for all of us in many ways, especially considering we are the first group of Creighton students and faculty to participate in this program.  But this makes it SO fun because we are all actively involved in figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and just going for it.  The experiences I have had and the people I have met thus far are incredible, and I cannot wait for what is to come.

O YES!  The reason for this blog post title: Yesterday when we were all driving to Cien Fuegos for the 2nd time in the afternoon, we were just sitting on the bus trying to muster up the energy to shoot the footage we needed to get and interview the community members we had lined up for the day.  We were all nearly asleep when the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feelin” came on the Latino radio station!  We all just burst out into song and dance…it was GREAT.  AND we got ‘er all on film.  It just made me really happy.  It is SO fun to see our small group of faculty/students/journalists/photographers/filmmakers/etc. continue to build a strong community based on the many things we have in common that you would not necessarily expect at first.  We really do have a great group of dedicated individuals who know how to work hard, play hard, and just enjoy the journey in the process.

I gotta feelin’ that not only is tonight going to be a good night, but that the rest of these nights and days are going to be pretty darn good too.

Cannot wait.

Ray J  

I Gotta Feelin’…

Whelp, the adventures started before we even arrived here in the DR three days ago, and they definitely haven’t slowed down yet!  These last three days have been exciting, challenging, eye-opening, rewarding, overwhelming, and AWESOME in so many ways.  It really is hard to put into words everything we have witnessed so far.  We have already been immersed into so many different Dominican lifestyles, it has been overwhelming at times.   It is hard to believe that such disparity exists between the Dominican people in such close proximity to each other, but to be able to be a part of it all is pretty neat.    

On Tuesday, our first full day here at ILAC, we woke up bright and early after the crazy mad traveling that was Monday, had breakfast, and were ready to go.  We exchanged our money down the street and witnessed an electrical wire get caught on the top of a truck and literally pull the entire pole the electrical wires were attached to right out of the ground on the corner of the busy street.  It was INTENSE!  Seriously, some of us feared for our lives as the pole fell down. 

After that we took a tour of “downtown” Santiago.  It was cool!  All of the buildings are super close together and everything is just really crammed together.  There are always lots of people out on the streets or driving and it is just really loud all the time.  It is also pretty colorful, which definitely adds an element of excitement to the “hustle and bustle” feel of the city streets. Really there just always seems to be a lot of movement and lots of sounds-people just always seem to be going somewhere with a purpose.  This is kind of ironic, because we have talked so much about getting used to being on “Dominican time” down here (aka everything just happens at a slower pace or whenever people feel like getting things done) but they do NOT drive like that at all.  The driving is crazy…people are honking all the time and cars do not necessarily stay in their lanes.  Pretty much people just do not obey traffic laws at all.  So whenever we cram into a bus, I just have to remember to put all my confidence into the drivers who are used to this crazy driving and go with the flow.  We have had good luck with this so far, so I am keeping my fingers crossed!

At the end of the day Tuesday, we sat and prepared for the busy day of interviewing and filming we had ahead of us at Cien Fuegos yesterday…we were not entirely sure what to expect, but we prepared ourselves with questions for interviewing, made sure our batteries were charged, and got a good night’s sleep…

I think one of the hardest things for me upon first entering Cien Fuegos yesterday was the fact that at the same time we were placed right into the middle of this severely impovershed community, we were also working to set up the cameras and get ready to interview.  This was overwhelming.  I was SO focused on listening intently to and taking notes on every little thing each interviewee from Cien Fuegos was saying because I want this documentary to be as pure and real as possible.  But at the same time, I also wanted to take in every little thing I was personally observing and feeling about this community.  It was hard to find the balance between these extremes.  But as the day progressed, we got a little more comfortable with what we were doing as journalists.  We are indeed learning to balance this film making process with what we are experiencing as human beings from one country witnessing the struggles and successes of human beings from a comepletely different one. 

We got some great footage of some beautiful people.  People who work so hard day in and day out to instill HOPE for a brighter tomorrow into the hearts and minds of fellow community members.  This day made me realize ju