We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

← Back to all stories
Photo ofMacKenzie McDonnell

Five years ago I went out of the country for the first time. With my parents, sister, aunt, and uncle, I went to the Dominican Republic for vacation. On the drive to the hotel, we went through the small towns and cities. While we drove through I saw rundown homes and animals wandering the streets. I had so many questions that I kept to myself, wondering if this was really the way that some people lived. I was nine at the time and had never seen anything like this. When we went on buggy rides in the same towns there were kids everywhere begging for food and money and it was so overwhelming seeing people living like that. 

When we came to the hotel we saw how nice and fancy it was. Meanwhile, just outside the wall, the people were living below the poverty line. At the same hotel, we saw kind and friendly people working hard. I thought about how they could also be living in challenging conditions. It was hard to imagine what they all might be going through. It felt strange for me to vacation in a place where people were struggling. We met a worker named Champion. He didn't live in a very good place or have a lot of money and he was still super fun and cheery. He thought all the stuff we told him about America was unbelievable and it amazed him. 

When I got back home I found myself appreciating the things I had: the ability to take care of my pets, a house, a comfy bed, a roof over my head. I think it taught me life lessons that I really couldn't experience without seeing for myself. People are living in America who have a ton of money and some people have nothing but you don’t see that. I live in Greendale so I wasn't exposed to that before. It was also easy to assume that the people living there didn't have any problems, but I could see there was much more to their lives. I never saw people living like that before. I think it changed how I view people because it got me thinking more deeply. There is more happening below the surface and out of your sight that you can’t see if you don’t experience the world. I think it also helped me value showing appreciation for what you have and the people in your life.

© MacKenzie McDonnell. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.