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Article updated: 1/19/2012 10:41 PM
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In Dominican Republic, Warriors appreciate what they have
 

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In Dominican Republic, Warriors appreciate what they have
 

In schools across this country, athletics is an assumed part of many a teenage girl's life.

No extra thought is given to what's in the next glass of water.

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This holiday the Wheaton Academy girls basketball team learned these are things to treasure.

The Wheaton Academy girls recently traveled to the Dominican Republic during their extended Winterim break from school.

In their eight days there the girls gave 250 much-needed water filters to people in Palo Blanco. Wheaton Academy also conducted basketball, soccer and volleyball clinics.

The genesis of the idea started during last year's Winterim basketball trip to Florida. Tobi Ballantine, then a junior on the team, previously lived for four years in the Dominican Republic. While living there her mother, Lisa, started FilterPure, a non-profit whose aim is to bring clean and safe drinking water to the people of developing nations through ceramic water filters.

The idea was thrown out -- why not go to the Dominican Republic?

"Winterim trips have always been about us, doing things for us, and I wanted to change the focus," Wheaton Academy coach Beth Mitchell said. "We switched our focus to serving others and it proved to be a very life-changing, impactful experience."

Before the trip the girls went to immediate family and churches and raised more than $11,000 for sponsorships of the filters, which cost $35 and provide clean water for about five years.

Upon arriving in Palo Blanco they analyzed the water at a treatment center and four homes. Tests came back with e-coli and numerous other bacteria.

Sickness among the Dominican people follows in random form. For some skin turns yellow. Others experience stomache problems. Ally Witt saw one girl losing her hair from parasites in the contaminated water.

"It was heartbreaking, something that shouldn't happen," Witt said. "I think everybody should go there just to appreciate what we have."

The girls later went to the FilterPure factory, where they learned to clean and assemble the filters. The filter is a bucket and portable, and the negative ions in it help kill bacteria.

They later had the opportunity go into family's homes, view their living conditions, and give the filters.

"We are so used to using tap water to brush our teeth, and it's something we take for granted," senior Renatta Gorski said. "There they are using dirty water from random pipes to do mundane activities. It was cool to give them something so simple as clean water."

Just as cool was teaching Dominican girls games Wheaton Academy girls play year-round.

In the male-dominated Dominican culture, though, female athletics is unheard of. Wheaton Academy had 42 girls come to the first day of sports camp, 60 the second day, many dressed in jeans or dresses.

"A lot of the girls gain weight, aren't taught to work out and die younger," said Wheaton Academy senior Sarah Drury. "Being able to show them that they can work out, and that it can be a fun and healthy way to live, it was awesome."

Ballantine enjoyed bringing her friends down to a place, among people, that matter greatly to her.

"It was cool to combine my two worlds, to show them how I lived, how I grew up," Ballantine said.

Ballantine was pretty much the only girl who speaks fluent Spanish on the team, so communication was difficult.

But a connection between people of different cultures was made.

They enjoyed whitewater rafting while down there and a beach trip. They took in the majestic mountains that ironically surround such poor living conditions.

As much as the Wheaton Academy girls gave to the Dominican people, they also took much back -- including a perspective on their own lives.

"In the States people are more fortunate to have a lot of things but are more selfish with their time," Ballantine said. "In the D.R. people are always a priority. I've always felt very loved when I'm there. When people think of poverty, they think of the things you don't have, but when they get to the emotional part the people there are very blessed."

"I learned that you can have so much with so little," Gorski said. "In the U.S. we have houses three times the size of theirs, and we find stuff to complain about it. They have little but are so welcoming and so joyful. It was amazing to see how open and welcoming they were."

jwelge@dailyherald.com

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