Archive | October, 2013

Mio, my!

12 Oct

Government in any country can be a touchy subject.  Take for example what’s happening in the US.  It’s been important for me to demonstrate to the people I’ve met here that even the most developed countries have plenty of problems to sort out.

Here, as a representative democracy, there are two main parties – the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).  Aside from the fact that the PLD party is represented by the color purple and the PRD by the color white, few people know the fundamental differences between the two; people are generally loyal to the party to which their parents supported.

Unfortunately, almost every aspect of this country is affected by political corruption.  Take teacher employment for example.  Given that the current president, Danilo Medina, belongs to the PLD party, it’s nearly impossible for any PRD teacher or school staff to find jobs (unless they’re already working there).  If and when the next president is PRD, the current PLD janitors will lose their jobs and will be replaced by PRD janitors.

Given my limited Internet access, I’ve had very little contact with the ‘outside world’ and learn only through news snippets or town gossip what’s happening on an international level.  However, when someone told me the other day that the United States had formed two new states or that Angelina Jolie had been murdered, it confirmed that I seriously have to filter and think twice about any information I’m told.  Anyway, there are lots of things here that needs fixing (government being one of them), but as my own mother put it, most days I feel very lucky to just be eating rice and beans and watching cockfights.  Long story short, the closure of various government agencies and such should not effect my stay here as a volunteer with Peace Corps (ironically, a government agency).  It does however affect funding and the opportunity to access and apply for grants, which I will explain a bit later.

http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/documents/Peace_Corps_Operations_Plan_in_the_Absence_of_Appropriations.pdf

And so, in addition to eating rice and beans and watching cockfights, here’s some pictures to show you what we’ve been up to in Pescadería…

I got a kitty!  Mio keeps me company, and also helps me keep the creepy crawlies under control.

Mio - playing with a cockroach and a tarantula

Mio – playing with a cockroach and a tarantula

I attended a local religious celebration called ‘Los Palos‘.  A group of guys were playing drums, doñas served yummy snacks, and people danced, offered food/drinks/cigarettes to the saints, and got lost in trances.  I didn’t participate in the dancing per se, but it was certainly interesting to witness.

cake and offerings to saints at Los Palos

cake and offerings to saints at Los Palos

my neighbor Reni, her son Omeilin, and me at Los Palos

my neighbor Reni, her son Omeilin, and me at Los Palos

I went to the San Rafael beach with a large group of people from my community.  Of the four guaguas that took people back and forth, I was of course on the one with the live band.  Going to the beach with Dominicans is a big to-do.  They make tons of food (we brought moro de guandules y coco, chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, and homemade passion fruit juice) and get all dolled up.

San Rafael - fresh water pools with the ocean at the bottom

San Rafael – fresh water pools with the ocean at the bottom

We harvested fallen coquitos (literally, little coconuts, but they’re almonds!) from the beach to make a delicious almond dulce with milk, sugar, cinnamon, and star anise.

Juana cracking coquitos

Juana cracking coquitos

Coquitos (almonds)

Coquitos (almonds)

Finished almond dessert

Finished almond dessert

I’m finally doing laundry on my own.  My neighbor Reni was helping me before, but now that I’m comfortable with the Dominican way of washing my clothes, I’m my own doña.  

Laundry + tubie = full on doña

Laundry + tubie = full on doña

I’ve had two very successful Chicas Brillantes meetings.  We have one group that meets in the morning and another in the afternoon to accommodate the half-day school schedule.

first Chicas Brillantes meeting

first Chicas Brillantes meeting

We plan to continue meeting weekly, and will cover topics such as leadership, team work, body image, sexual education, healthy communication, personal and professional life planning, and so on.  We also do fun stuff, like draw and play Peso Caliente.

Chicas Brillantes group

Chicas Brillantes group

Peso Caliente - a race in two teams to see which can get the peso through their clothes first

Peso Caliente – a race in two teams to see which can get the peso through their clothes first

This week I had 51 seventh and eighth graders participate in a savings class.  I taught the class in the library of the school with the help of a local savings bank, Banco Ademi.

Banco Ademi savings class

Banco Ademi savings class

We discussed the history of money, the financial system, the importance of saving, and the advantages of saving in a bank.  10 of the students won the opportunity to go on a field trip to the local Banco Ademi branch to get a tour of the bank and to open their very own savings account.

25 of the 51 students that participated in the Banco Ademi savings course

25 of the 51 students that participated in the Banco Ademi savings course

Since February, La Cabrita has been in the process of applying for government funding via FEDA (Fondo especial para el desarrollo agropecuario – Special Fund for Agricultural Development) to be able to expand the infrastructure and milk production of their project.  Last week, their proposed budget was approved, and they will eventually receive a loan totaling over RD$11,000,000.00.  They are required to pay these funds back within two years after their business starts earning profit.  Needless to say, a lot of my time with them will spent helping to plan payments, manage funds, and assure efficient scheduling/development of funded projects.

Irrigation system at La Cabrita - part of the loan funds will go towards the construction of a reservoir

Irrigation system at La Cabrita – part of the loan funds will go towards the construction of a reservoir

Lastly, about a month ago my youth/sports group and I applied to the program Courts for Kids to see if they’d help us build a basketball court in Pescadería.  Courts for Kids provides $5000 towards construction costs and sends a group of about 20 students down to help build the court.  Good news is, we’ve been approved!  Other news is that we have loooootttsss of work ahead of us – preparing the land, raising the rest of the funds (court will end up costing over $12000), planning logistics/activities for when the group comes in June, keeping the community involved, etc.

Pescadería from the highway

Pescadería from the highway

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is my job to coordinate the project, but to also ensure that my community is involved every step of the way.  So you ask, how on earth are we going to raise over $7000?  Good question.  At this point we need to start on a local level by talking to the mayor and reaching out to national institutions, programs, and foundations.  Additionally, as a PCV, there are international funds that I can tap into aka YOU J  Because Peace Corps is a government agency, they prohibit us to receive donations directly, but rather offer a grant called PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program), which allows us to funnel donations towards any project we’re working on, like building a court.  We, alongside individuals from our community, must apply for the grant in order to start receiving donations.  By helping me complete the application, local community members will learn all about the grant process including project planning, recognizing beneficiaries, monitoring and evaluation (a requirement for receiving a grant), and budgeting.  BUT, as I mentioned towards the beginning of the post, given the government shut-down and lack of Peace Corps funding, the grant office is currently closed and is not receiving any applications for new projects.  Regardless, I plan to start putting together the application with my group so that when our government gets itself sorted out, we can submit it and we can start fundraising immediately.

Lastly, I’m feeling very well adjusted in my new home – I’ve been here for almost two months now!  I soon plan to buy an Internet stick (so I can update you all more than once a month) and also another bed (so my visitors have a place to sleep!)  I will keep you all posted on the grant and how you’ll be able to help.  I thank you in advance for your interest, advice, and support.

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