Shirtless Husker football players Kieron Williams (left) and Byerson Cockrell make new friends in the Dominican Republic.
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Williams, Cockrell Open Their Minds, Change Views

By NU Athletic Communications

Video: Day 1      Video: Day 2    Video: Day 3   Video Day 4

Video: Day 5      Video: Day 6    Video: Day 7   Video: Vision

Randy York N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

This is the first of a five-part series, featuring Nebraska student-athlete experiences in a trip abroad to the Dominican Republic this month.

A year after Nebraska student-athletes visited Guatemala on a “No Filter” trip that opened minds, changed views and created lifetime memories, 21 Huskers spent a week this month in the Dominican Republic.  They returned home with a noticeable shift in the way they look at the world and how dramatic differences shape their lives.

Today is the first of a five-part series that focuses on how Husker student-athletes left their marks in the Dominican Republic and why the experience will reshape the rest of their lives. We begin the blog featuring two Nebraska football players who took a step back and viewed the world through a different lens. Please listen to five Huskers who took the time to share their thoughts.  

Williams: This Trip May Be One of the Most Influential Trips that I Will Ever Take

Kieron Williams (getting a haircut above in the Dominican Republic), Football (Shreveport, Louisiana): “When I first signed up for this trip a couple months ago, I had no clue the effect it would have on my life. I can honestly say that this trip may be one of the most influential trips that I will ever take. I was able to fully experience the life of someone who has much less than I do and realized how important it is to adapt to a new setting. From the very first day, I knew this trip would be one to remember, mainly because every time I turned around a corner, a child was standing there with their arms wide open and their eyes full of joy and expectation to play.

“We played everything from hand games to basketball on a court that was made of dirt and was only about 5-by 5-feet. I enjoyed all of them so much that as each day passed, they felt less like strangers and more like family. In no way am I a big-time crier, but on the last day, I found myself tearing up as I left the children. From Josalie to Yo’Hidey, these children were the highlight of the day. I never thought that I would see myself enjoying the company of children so much. I guess it’s because I’m always so caught up in my sport and school that I’ve never really noticed. After this trip, I know now that I need to give more back to the community and work more with youth."

The Best Way Cockrell Builds Relationships: Just Be Around Each Another

Byerson Cockrell (above), Football (Columbus, Mississippi): “I learned a lot about life in the  Dominican Republic. It opened my eyes to another world but only for the good. My proudest moment while there was making new friends with the kids. I feel like they really enjoyed us while we were there. There was something to laugh at every day, even though we could not understand each other because of the language barrier. It seems like we connected so well with the people because we knew and understood that we came from different environments.

“My most inspirational moment there was the whole community coming together and working on the basketball court. It showed me that you can build a great relationship with people by just being around one another. This is something I’d like to see back home because many don’t know you can bring the community together doing simple things. I definitely needed this kind of experience and I’m hopeful that someday I’ll get a chance to go back.”

Eventually, Dominican Community Broke Down the Barriers and United Itself

Maggy Lehmicke (painting a mural for kids in the Dominican Republic), Tennis (Kirkland, Washington): “The most memorable experience for me occurred on the last day. Everyone was increasingly frustrated with the court not being finished and it was becoming more and more clear that we would never see the end product. Throughout the week, we had limited help from locals, which was to be expected. Some of the girls in the group had to deal with men trying to take their shovels away because we weren't expected to contribute to the physical work.

“Then on the last day, a few women came out of their houses and started shoveling. One even had a full-on kitchen knife sticking out of her back pocket. No one stopped them. Then a younger girl, maybe 18 or 19, came out to help. A boy her age made fun of her for a while and then quit when he realized she wasn't going to stop. Eventually, he realized he could help as well and pitched in. By the end of the day, the entire community, from older men to 4-year-old girls were contributing in one way or another. We came to build a sports court that would unite the community, but we saw the community unite itself and break down barriers on that final day.”

South Dakota Native Tingle Grateful that She Doesn’t Live in Patriarchal Society

Tiara Tingle (with Aaron Wong above), Women's Track & Field (Brandon, South Dakota): “I was in the middle of shoveling, drenched in sweat and already exhausted with several hours of work left to do, when I realized that I was completely surrounded by men. It hadn't quite dawned on me that the women didn't partake in the manual labor until this moment when I finally understood. The women from Nebraska helped, but a majority of them were helping paint the mural. Whenever we were out working on the court, I didn’t see very much of the local women. I remember this issue being mentioned when we took time to reflect on the day's progress. 

“As it turns out, the women didn't participate in manual labor, partly because they didn't feel they were capable and also because they were expected to tend to domestic duties. I felt grateful for my roots being in the United States. A strongly patriarchal society with predetermined roles for each gender would be difficult for me. However, on Friday, one of the local women asked me while I was rolling a wheelbarrow if she could take it to the work site and help. My first response was no because I had it and was going to take it myself. Then I realized how important it was for the local girl to take the initiative, so I immediately admired her and let her get involved.”

Making a Difference Can Be Simplified Because Small Actions = Big Impact

Michaela Cunningham (above left with Maggy Lehmicke), Swimming & Diving (Saverna Park, Maryland): “For two days, we had to use wheelbarrows to cart the material for the foundation to the court. The most memorable part for me was watching all the kids jump into the empty wheelbarrows and see the joy on their faces while we pushed them back up the hill. It wasn't much effort for us to push them in the wheelbarrow, but you could tell that it made all the difference in the world to them. It doesn't take an extravagant effort to make a difference and we learned that even small actions can have a big impact.”

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