In the summer of 2002, Hampden-Sydney alumni David Klein '78, Michael Pace '78, and George "Trip" Howe '92 took their families to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, for a weekend of rock climbing and fly fishing. It was around the campfire one night that the group, building on a previous conversation with Howe, Klein, and Carlyle Chandler '93, created the humanitarian program Beyond The Hill.
For a dozen years, volunteer students, alumni, and friends have traveled to Central America or the Caribbean at least once per year to help the less fortunate. In January 2015, the 23 volunteers ventured into the town of La Lechosa in the Dominican Republic to work in the small village of Haitian refugees. The plan was to continue work on a school that they had started in 2014.
Beyond the Hill went to the village in 2013 as well, so many volunteers enjoyed seeing familiar faces and continuing their work on the ongoing project.
A typical day's agenda consisted of pouring concrete, leveling ground, and moving mounds of fill dirt, among other tasks. Conforming to the weather conditions and acting as the team into which they quickly grew, the group devised systems of labor in order to get the jobs done more efficiently.
Village leaders were often surprised at the progress made each day, finding it hard to believe that the jobs were completed so quickly. With time to spare, individuals were able to rekindle and form new friendships with the people in the village. Although the group was satisfied with each day's progress, it was through those relationships that volunteers quickly realized that this work would go far beyond building a school.
Aaron Gilani '15, student body president, put it well when he said, "The school we were building was more than a school; it was a safe haven, a place for communion, a sign of hope."
This theme seems to run true with each trip that Beyond the Hill takes. Over the years, those who return form stronger relationships with the familiar villagers, and new bondsare often made with native peoples in far-off locations. Those relationships seem to be some of the most rewarding aspects of these trips. Beyond the Hill looked forward to revisiting the same village in March, and perhaps finding new people and places to visit in January 2016.