As I mentioned in my last post, passing the two-year milestone has been both salty and sweet. Good friendships – formed while navigating a foreign culture and work environment on unforgettable bus rides – will now have to be stretched over international waters. All but two other members of my swear-in group are continuing their studies, travels, and adventures elsewhere.
But this transition has been mostly sweet, especially because of Semana Santa! The official religion of the Dominican Republic is in fact Catholicism, but most religious holidays are celebrated outside of the church – wherever there happens to be music, food, and family. Though consumerism is not as prominent as say during Navidad, people buy plenty of new clothes and big plastic pools to celebrate Easter. If you’re not swimming in a pool in the middle of the street with a bunch of your neighbors, you’re not having a very Good Friday. No one here ‘gives up’ anything for Lent, but rather binges on a traditional dish called habichuelas con dulce. Beans (usually kidney but sometimes black or lima) are cooked with coconut water until soft. They are blended in a licuadora (though I like it how my doña leaves some whole), and then put back on the stove with cinnamon, chunks of sweet potato, a touch of salt, and sugar. After having boiled for un ratico, Carnation milk and raisons are added. For a final touch, habichuelas con dulce are served with a few wafer-life cookies on top. Though I find this concoction rather delicious, I can’t decide if HCD are a clever use of a typically savory food staple or maybe just that my food standards have dropped over these last 24 months…and to refresh your memory on how I spent Semana Santa last year, click here.
I will be moving from Pescadería to the capital sometime in May to start working in the Peace Corps office. As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development sector, I will serve as a liaison between the office and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. Some of my responsibilities include assisting the Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector in site development for future volunteers, providing technical support to my peers, and helping in the coordination of several In-Service Trainings and conferences. Though I will be working in the office, there will still be a fair amount of travel, especially because I plan to provide continued support to my people, groups, and projects in Pescadería.
To help prepare for this new role, I’ve been helping with the Community-Based Training for the new group of Community Economic Development trainees that arrived in March. I’m living with the same host family that I lived with in Peralvillo two years ago during my own CBT – a sincere and straightforward reminder of how generous, cohesive, and tranquilo most Dominicans are. I work alongside the Technical Trainer, a host country national who offers culturally aware feedback and advice to the trainees during CBT. Community Based Training lasts for five weeks, and allows trainees to deepen their cultural understanding of the DR by living with host families while also practicing newly acquired information related to business development by working directly with youth/community groups; it is designed to give trainees the basic information and tools necessary for 2 years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the CED sector.
My participation in the training sessions is beneficial for two reasons. First, my own experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer is supplemental but crucial information for the trainees to be exposed to – while the Technical Trainer offers a cultural perspective, I help relate the material to a volunteer’s experience. Whatever information or practice I feel might have lacked in my own training, I emphasize it in theirs to help make sure they are as prepared as they can be for service (which for them will start on May 13th). Furthermore, I’ve now gotten to know the people who I will be supporting for the next 12 months, which will allow me to tailor future advice or technical support to their personalities, learning styles, and experience. Overall, CBT has been productive and positive – the group is a set of talented individuals who all seem eager to apply their skills and knowledge to help make a difference – and I look forward to continue working with both the people of the CED sector and their community counterparts towards increased economic opportunities within the Dominican Republic.
In this same vein, the National Conference for Construye Tus Sueños is at the end of the month. CTS is an entrepreneurial course designed to help youth develop the skills and knowledge needed to start their own businesses. Once they’ve completed the course, students are encouraged to create written plans regarding their business ideas. These plans not only allow the students to apply the course material to a practical concept, but also give the students a tool to present to financial institutions and/or guide the execution of his/her business. At the national competition, students present their plans and compete to win the money needed to start/expand their businesses (usually capped at RD$50,000). I’ve been facilitating Construye Tus Sueños with the help of my project partner, Mónica, to two young people from Pescadería. Both of our students wrote plans for their own businesses – Chamila hopes to start a clothing store where she can sell both commercial and original clothing designs; Jonathan has already started his own veterinary practice but since CTS has realized the potential of his business and therefore aims to expand his target market and product variety as well as strengthen his marketing campaign and accounting practices.
Of all of the written plans that were turned in to compete in the National Conference, both Chamila’s and Jonathan’s plans were accepted into the Top 15 who will compete for prize money! While not at Community Based Training, Mónica and I will consult with both of them to create an oral presentation that effectively communicates their business concept and also demonstrates their passions and entrepreneurial spirits.
Wishing all of my fellow PCVs from 517-13-01 the best of luck. con los pies en la tierra, y los ojos en la luna //// eres dueño/a de todo lo que puedes imaginar.