Tag Archives: basketball

(los) weschler perspective

10 Oct

As one door closes, another opens. Windows of opportunity continue to present themselves, and the ceiling limiting my options and interests to pursue after Peace Corps grows taller, further away. My blog posts seem infrequent, not because I’m uninspired, but because it’s difficult to transmit all of what I’ve been learning since moving to the capital. My day-to-day life, while its schedule is more ‘traditional’ than it was the campo, experiences a vast array of tasks, locations, and conversations. This third year in Peace Corps has been as invigorating and tumultuous as the last two, but how I’ve developed professionally is incomparable.  This has after all been my first ‘office job’ ever.

Pics from a recent stateside visitor

Pics from a recent stateside visitor

Las Terrenas, Samaná

Las Terrenas, Samaná

It has been six months since most of my friends from my March 2013 cohort left, meaning that yet another group is now wrapping up their service to move on to other travel, work, and study plans. A new batch of trainees arrived to country in August, one of whom is staying with the very same host family I lived with during the six unforgettable weeks we spent in Peralvillo, Monteplata for Community Based Training. Additionally, one of these same trainees will eventually come to serve for two years as a follow-up youth volunteer in Pescadería, my home and ‘office’ for the majority of my time here. The new business volunteers, who I helped guide through their Community-Based Training in April, are now settled into their site assignments, some beginning to move out of their host families’ houses to live independently. I recall this part of my service fondly. It is when I regained a bit of independence, delved deeper into cultural integration alongside my beloved neighbors, and began to take on work projects that would ultimately define themselves as the most challenging yet rewarding parts of my service.

Latest visit to Pescadería with my girls Reni and Juana

Latest visit to Pescadería with my girls Reni and Juana

Omailin and fellow-biker, Angely

Omailin and fellow-biker, Angely

Nothing beats star-gazing in the campo...neighbors watching the eclipse/Super Moon.

Nothing beats star-gazing in the campo…neighbors watching the eclipse/Super Moon.

So, why has this third year so far been the icing on the cake to an already incredible experience? In one word: perspective. Peace Corps service tests all aspects of one’s life. Culture, identity, skills, beliefs, and boundaries. Not to mention patience and willpower. A fellow volunteer mentioned that, as volunteers, there is a thin line between our personal and professional lives; it is our job to make it thicker. The perspective this third year extension has brought to my own service has helped to fill in the gaps where I often didn’t see a line existing – moments where relationships defined productivity; times where only retrospect could offer clearer resolution. Spending time with other volunteers at their sites, investigating sites for future volunteers, talking to locals in nearly every province of the country, staying in touch and visiting people back in Pescadería – it has all helped to wrap my head around the 24 months I spent among the goats and plantain trees.  A big ‘hats off’ to those still out in the field.

YES I still work with these fools.

YES I still work with these fools.

Latest edition at La Cabrita - a reservoir so they can save water and use to irrigate the plantains they are planting to eventually generate income

Latest addition to La Cabrita – a reservoir so they can save water and use to irrigate the plantains they are planting to eventually generate income

By working in more direct contact with the people that function “behind the scenes” of a Peace Corps volunteer’s service, my campo blinders have been removed. I’m seeing the bigger picture, and realizing how we’re often just cogs within a large, bureaucratic machine. Good things take time – both inside and outside of the office. There are no parts of my two years that I regret, but I’ve gained a certain perspective that could’ve helped me navigate my service a bit easier. PCV or not however, I think it’d be hard to find someone who has never had that feeling of nostalgia plus “what if” on their conscience.

Another trip, another roadside stand - this one features mangoes, coconuts, eggs, and avocados.

Another trip, another roadside stand – this one features mangoes, honey, coconuts, eggs, and avocados.

Fellow PCV and my boss, Michael, enjoying a breakfast with a view in Moca

Fellow PCV Matty J and my boss, Michael, enjoying a breakfast with a view in Moca

Avocados and sunsets

Avocados and sunsets

This bathing spot made a long, steep hike well worth it!

This bathing spot made a long, steep hike well worth it!

PCVs outside of Matty J's house

PCVs outside of Matty J’s house

Cacao nursery near Cotui

Cacao nursery near Cotui, visiting another PCV

Hiking with fellow PCV near San Francisco de Marcoris

Hiking with fellow PCV near San Francisco de Marcoris

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Peace Corps will never be the job where you can arrive home from work and forget about your day at the office. Until the move from campo to capitaleña, my home WAS my office. My house in Pescadería was where I learned to prepare lunch the Dominican way and where I taught my chicas sexual health; home was where I watched Omailin learn to walk, where we stored the supplies used to build our basketball court, and where I mentored young entrepreneurs on feasible business plans. Work colleagues are also neighbors, church leaders, and school principals – a complex but wholesome quilt of personal and professional networks that blankets a volunteer’s understanding of the additional threads that hold the culture and community together.

Latest work trip: headed down south to the Barahona region to visit some of the winners of the Construye Tus Sueños competition. This is Raylin's San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours business

Latest work trip: headed down south to the Barahona region to visit some of the winners of the Construye Tus Sueños competition. This is Raylin’s San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours business

Michael, Raylin's mom, and Raylin's facilitator Jim (fellow PCV and Vermonter!) at his business

Michael, Raylin’s mom, and Raylin’s facilitator Jim (fellow PCV and Vermonter!) at his business

Lunch view.

Lunch view.

Lunch! Jim, Michael, and I

Conch for lunch! Jim, Michael, and I at Raylin’s business – food side of the business ran and cooked by his mom!

What better way to start the day than to watch the sun rise over an endless, ocean seascape

What better way to start the day than to watch the sun rise over an endless, ocean seascape?

Ready to start the mountain tour - note the Clemson Lacrosse shirt and view of San Rafael :)

Ready to start the Raylin’s mountain tour – note the Clemson Lacrosse shirt and view of San Rafael 🙂

CENTIPEDE

CENTIPEDE

views from the tour

views from the tour

Raylin - winner of Construye Tus Sueños and owner of San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours

Raylin – winner of Construye Tus Sueños and owner of San Rafael Surf School and Eco-Tours

San Rafael

San Rafael

Michael and I stopping for breakfast on our way to a community meeting.

Michael and I stopping for breakfast on our way to a community meeting.

Visiting a potential site for a future volunteer - an association that makes fruit marmalades !

Visiting a potential site for a future volunteer – an association that makes fruit marmalades !

Ladies in action - preparing orange jam

Ladies in action – preparing orange jam

Another stop to check out the 'gem' of the southern region - larimar

Another stop to check out the ‘gem’ of the southern region – larimar

Larimar - mined ONLY in Barahona

Larimar – mined ONLY in Barahona

I appreciate the opportunity to continue collaborating with Pescadería while not living there. This past weekend I watched one of my chicas graduate from high school – the 3rd graduation I’ve been a part of here. Though still soft-spoken and naive, she’s blossomed into a young leader, capable of commanding a classroom of adolescents while educating them on their anatomy and self-esteem. I also visited with Jonathan, one of my Construye Tus Sueños students, who has seen more than a 150% sales increase since taking the course and winning RD$50,000 to enhance his agro-veterinary business in May. Lastly, my friends who I became close to during the basketball court chronicles, informed me that they had not only bought new jerseys, but that they also had a new team name: The Pescadería Weschlers. Young people that I’ve had the pleasure to work with are becoming catalysts for change, and theirs are the stories that make me feel like I’m still fighting the good fight.

Colorful, festive high school graduation

Colorful, festive high school graduation

Graduation parade

Graduation parade

Odalina (graduate), Grissel, and I at the high school graduation. These two girls were my super-star multipliers for Chicas Brillantes.

Odalina (graduate), Grissel, and I at the high school graduation. These two girls were my super-star multipliers for Chicas Brillantes.

Photo of the Pescadería Weschlers. They captioned the photo:

Photo of the Pescadería Weschlers. They captioned the photo: “this has been done with great motivation for our friend, who helped us achieve what we’ve been waiting for. today with a truly united team, we dedicate it all to you kate weschler. we love and will always remember you.”

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leaders, dreamers, and painters

10 Aug

Believe it or not, funerals aside, I’ve also been participating in other productive, Peace Corps-related events.

A couple of weeks ago two of my chicas and I attended Camp GLOW – the national Chicas Brillantes conference. Held about 30 minutes outside of the capital, about 80 girls represented all corners of the country. Similar to the regional conference, we discussed the importance of family planning, goal setting, healthy eating habits, constructive decision making skills, and then how to multiply such information once back in our respective communities. There was also a panel of seven professional women who offered priceless advice, sharing their stories with the girls who they once bore resemblance to.

learning about the menstruation cycle

learning about the menstruation cycle

group dinámica

group dinámica

Yissel, one of my beautiful chicas :)

Yissel, one of my beautiful chicas 🙂

condom party!

condom party!

"Different Ways to Say NO" drama

Two PCVs acting in a drama – “Different Ways to Say NO”

3 members of the professional panel - teacher, architect, and orthodontist

3 members of the professional panel – teacher, architect, and orthodontist

professional panel

professional panel

bonfire = S'MORES

bonfire = S’MORES

goal-setting workshop

goal-setting workshop

goal-setting workshop

goal-setting workshop

we got a visit one night from this lovely creature - 6-inch long centipede

we got a visit one night from this lovely creature – over 6-inch long centipede

team-building activity

team-building activity

Back in Pescadería we are doing our best to share what we’ve learned at GLOW. Three of my oldest girls have now attended a conference where they’ve been able to develop their public speaking skills, enhance their knowledge of various topics, and network with other multiplicadoras. Combining this maturity with the spreading of knowledge is key to the sustainability of this sort of work. When school starts in a few weeks (really, whenever the students decide to start attending school) is when we hope to offer various charlas and/or initiate another group of Chicas that is not spearheaded by me but rather by those that have already graduated from the course. 

conference graduation with my two girls - Yissel and Odalina

conference graduation with PCV conference coordinators, Comité, and my two girls – Yissel and Odalina

Comité - Dominican girls that have graduated the Chicas course and now serve as liaisons, facilitators, mentors, and inspiration for younger girls

Comité – Dominican girls that have long since graduated the course and now serve as liaisons, facilitators, mentors, multipliers, and inspiration for younger Chicas

Neighbors - Shelly and Rebecca both live about 5 minutes from Pescadería :)

Neighbors – Shelly and Becca both live about 5 minutes from Pescadería 🙂

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Other youth volunteers and I – Lisa, Natalie, and Maria

Amanda (CED) and Susan (Education) both swore-in as volunteers in May 2013 with me.

Amanda (CED) and Susan (Education) both swore-in as volunteers in May 2013 with me.

Odalina, myself, and Yissel

Odalina, myself, and Yissel

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Camp GLOW, July 2014

Camp GLOW, July 2014

Another ongoing project has been my business class, Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams). Funded by Mondelez (formerly Kraft Foods), the idea is to encourage youth entrepreneurship and community development through small-business start-ups. In a former post I explained that “CTS is a CED initiative that motivates entrepreneurship and teaches business skills to youth.  Kraft Foods, producer of Green & Black Chocolate, took particular interest in Construye because their product is made entirely from 100% organic cacao that is grown right here in the Dominican Republic.  They realized that it was important to invest in the communities their cacao was grown in by making them more viable places for youth to stay and work.  As opposed to leaving to find work in the city, Construye motivates youth to open a small business in their own hometowns.  Given all of this, CTS is the only Peace Corps initiative worldwide that is funded by a private or public business – Kraft has offered to fund Construye for at least the next three years.”

A key part to CTS is not just the business course but also the creation of a business plan. Participants that actually dream to start a business are encouraged to write a formal plan that describes principle parts of their business in detail – goals, characteristics and benefits of the product/service, target market, marketing strategies, finances, budget, etc. The incentive to complete such a laborious paper is not just to practice writing skills, but also to provide the students with a tool they could offer to microfinance groups or banks; it is an elaborated account that summarizes what they learned in the course and makes their dream seem a bit more tangible. Lastly, all students that submit a plan have the chance to compete to win their proposed budget – the top 15 graded plans have the opportunity to present their business ideas to a panel of professional judges. The three that show the most potential and leave the judges with the best impression win the amount of money detailed in their proposed budget.

Writing these plans was not easy, particularly because the Dominican education system promotes very little critical thinking skills, originality, or creative writing practice. To develop such a detailed description of a concept that they had never thought to put into writing, in addition to not having the experience of ever doing so, took hours of patience, reiteration, and prompting.  As volunteers, we must learn how to facilitate the course and writing process without putting words in their mouth or writing the plan for them, as that would only prohibit skill development and put other students at a disadvantage.  Under my limited guidance, all of my two students submitted plans, one for a nail salon and another for knitted crafts.

All of us business volunteers met up to plan the national conference, where finalists will present to judges and participants will learn about networking, microfinance, and professionalism. We read 37 submitted plans, sent in from communities where volunteers are serving from around the country. The ideas were creative and well elaborated, describing potential businesses ranging from surf shops to salons. As it turns out, the two plans my students submitted were chosen within the top 15! Until the conference in September, we will be working on revising each plan and practicing their presentations for the judges.

Brigada Verde, another recent project - co-ed course about the environment andsustainable use of natural resources...also a good excuse to hang out on the porch

Brigada Verde, another recent project – co-ed course about the environment andsustainable use of natural resources…also a good excuse to hang out on the porch

 

Last but not least – our court is fully painted! The fact that I’ve had very little to do with the termination of this project speaks volumes. Though I was there in the beginning to spark the idea and facilitate funds, their follow-through demonstrates the community’s unwavering involvement and dedication to the cause. Plans are in the works to host a tournament in December between the various neighborhoods in Pescadería. 

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the guys – measuring, painting, and finishing the court all by themselves 🙂

"Los Cañeros" - literally, the Pescadería Sugar Cane-ers

“Los Cañeros” – literally, the Pescadería Sugar Cane-ers

 

Something I’m really looking forward to is the Deportes para la Vida (Sports for Life) conference at the end of August.  Two of my go-to basketball guys and I applied to participate in the 4-day long event where we will be trained as facilitators and learn how to impart the course within our own community.  DPV is a Peace Corps Dominican Republic adaptation and fruition of collaboration between Grass Roots Soccer and University of Vermont students; it is an interactive course that uses sports to teach youth about healthy decision making skills and HIV/AIDS prevention.  Learn more about DPV here.  

Now that we have such an appropriate space to facilitate DPV, I’m hoping that the three of us will be able to use the court to enhance the community’s benefits from the finalized project, encourage healthy lifestyles, and enlighten local youth through a medium that they are already most certainly invested in.  

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unity makes strength

21 Jun

We did it folks!  After months of anticipation, weeks of preparation, too many errands and pesos spent on phone minutes, and numerous days of tough physical labor in the hot Caribbean sun, Pescadería has a basketball/volleyball court.

the court!

the court!

I’ve always been one for challenging myself, but these last few weeks were hands down some of the most difficult, high-pressure moments of my life. In the end though, it was more than worth it.  I shared my new home with 22 Americans who ate Dominican cuisine, learned how to dance bachata and play dominoes, and helped hundreds of local athletes realize a long-standing dream.  The people of Pescadería who I thought I might never have the opportunity to work with are now some of my closest friends.  

As I continue to relish and celebrate this huge accomplishment, I can’t help but marvel at how various of groups of strangers came together to successfully create memorable friendships and moments, not to mention build a freakin’ basketball court!  While the extensive amount of work, effort, resources, passion, and perseverance put in by both the local community and the Courts for Kids group is not done justice, the video below portrays the construction process from start to finish.

The court was inaugurated on June 14th, 2014 and immediately celebrated through numerous games of pick-up basketball and volleyball.  With memories, sweat, frustration, and passion engrained into every inch of cement, our court is now used by basketball and volleyball athletes from dawn until dusk.

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Many thanks to Courts for Kids for facilitating such a positive experience (read about their time in Pescadería here), and to you all for your continued support.

Courts for Kids group

Courts for Kids group

Go to the people, live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know, build on what they have. But, with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say “We have done this ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

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me with some of my basketball guys, without whom this project would have been impossible

 

blocks, crocs, and doñas

31 May

I want to thank all of those who responded to my desperate pleas for donations towards our basketball/volleyball court because we’ve raised $400 dollars over our fundraising goal! In addition to what the town mayor is offering towards the project, we have about US$6000 to work with. Our Courts for Kids group is scheduled to arrive in Pescadería June 8th. They will sleep in the local school, and will have their daily meals prepared by two gung-ho doñas. We plan to work June 9th through June 12th, mixing and pouring cement alongside the multitudes of jovenes that will very soon benefit from the court’s completion – who are also in charge of planning various cultural activities for our visitors. If all goes as plans and we finish the court, we’ll head Friday to celebrate at San Rafael beach and then inaugurate the court the morning of the 14th. The group will then go to the capital on the 15th, stay the night at another local beach, and head home to the States on the 16th.

the team on one of our first days of hard labor

the local team on one of our first days of hard labor

materials arrive and cement is mixed

materials arrive and cement is mixed

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the court with the base dug and rebar set

the court with the base dug and rebar set

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Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

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Regino

Regino

Genesis

Genesis

taking five

taking five

blocks being laid!

blocks being laid!

The excitement and energy of the local athletes is motivating– I can’t tell if they are more anxious to meet our visitors or to play on the court. Before the group comes we need to have the base finished, columns built, and ground leveled. This way, we’ll have four days to pour the cement, put on the backboards, and hopefully get the court painted. I’m relieved to say that we’re making good progress.  From the pictures above you can see that we’ve got the base built – just have to pour the cement for the columns and then level, compact, add, and re-compact the sub-grade.

La unión hace la fuerza

Unity makes strength

the team after a long day of work

the team after a long day of work

During my shrinking amount of free time, I joined up with a group of PCVs and went to Lago Enriquillo – a confident check off my growing bucket list to complete while on the island.  Lago Enriquillo is salt-water lake located close to the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti.  As the largest body of water on the island, it is also known as the lowest point in the Caribbean.  Due to its unique habitat, the lake is home to a number of species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world, drawing both national and international tourists to experience birding and boat tours.

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake :)

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake 🙂

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Baby crocs!

Baby crocs!

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Mama croc keepin' a look out

Mama croc keepin’ a look out

Interestingly, Enriquillo’s water level is growing (there are multiple theories why, but it has still yet to be solved), meaning that overtime the lake’s salt concentration is decreasing.  This occurrence is both good and bad.  Because the water is not as concentrated, more species are able to survive in the lake.  However, the rising level of the water is encroaching on locals’ farm lands, and the last of three islands located within the lake (nesting grounds for flamingoes and home to a unique species of iguana) is in danger of being submerged.

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

Local fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

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Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Me with the 'guanas

Me with the ‘guanas

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

Another recent accomplishment was our Somos Mujeres Regional Conference. Spearheaded by a fellow business PCV, about 10 other volunteers and I planned and organized a conference dedicated to women’s empowerment. The two-day event emphasized two Peace Corps sectors – health and business. Over 20 women from the southern region of the country attended the conference, where we covered topics including the importance of savings, how to set goals, what it means to be an entrepreneur, healthy home and business practices, and how to discuss sensitive topics like condom use and HIV/AIDS with your children.

Getting to know one another :)

Getting to know one another 🙂

 

Savings activity

Savings activity

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

One of my favorite parts of the conference was when two health volunteers explained how germs are spread, then taught the group how to make hand sanitizer. The women not only understood the importance of safe hygiene practices within a home and business, but also left the conference with a potential income generation activity.

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

 

Germ cycle

Germ cycle

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Though I had intended for my project partner and two women from La Cabrita to join me as well, my friend Silvana and I represented Pescadería appropriately.  Plus, no matter if you have participants from your own community or not, attending conferences are always motivating and reinvigorating.  Dominicans are selfless, energetic, and resilient people.  They are masters of conversation; on the other hand they find it not the least awkward to sit in prolonged silence.  They are not embarrassed by silly ice-breakers, and know how make the most out of something small or simple.  Silvana and I plan to share our motivation and knowledge gained from the conference with a group of local women who are attending a weekly course in which they are learning skills they can potentially use to generate income (i.e. how to make a wide assortment of household cleaning products).

Silvana and I :)

Silvana and I 🙂

Somos Mujeres graduates

Somos Mujeres graduates

And lastly, a belated mother’s day to all my doñas out there! Here mothers are honored on the third Sunday of May, and to celebrate the women of my neighborhood threw a party. Just about all the attendees received a letter and at least one beer from their husbands – they even gave one to me!  They had a gift exchange, and as per usual, a tasty Dominican brindis.  Oh there was a doña booty-shaking competition too, but that should go without saying.

Neighborhood Mothers' Day Celebration

Neighborhood Mothers’ Day Celebration

 

Reina, my most reliable Dominican mom :)

Reina, one of my many Dominican moms 🙂

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

table of gifts for the ladies!

table of gifts for the ladies!

My neighbor Delly receiving her husband's card

My neighbor Delly receiving her card (and beers!) from her husband

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party crashers

party crashers

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what's a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

what’s a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

Without a fuss or question, the women (and men too! – those that don’t hit on me anyway) of Pescadería have taken me in as one of their own daughters.  This whole Peace Corps thing wouldn’t be the same glorious adventure or experience without the doñas’ cushy hugs, brutal honesty, or dirty humor.  And while striving to remain humble, I continue to be thankful for it all, down to the last grain of their customarily bountiful rice offerings.

I was even honored at the Mothers' Day Celebration!

winner winner chicken dinner

14 Apr

I’ve spent the last few weeks doing a lot of reflecting, even more so than normal. This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve finally put up my hammock, which has become one of my favorite places on earth.

view from my hammock

i’m not the only one that likes it 🙂

But there’s more substantial reasoning behind it too. I’ve been in my site for almost one whole year now. In the midst of filling out grant information to receive Courts for Kids funding, completing twice-a-year mandatory Peace Corps’ monitoring and evaluation forms, and witnessing current PCVs tie up loose ends in the office while closing out their service, it’d be unnatural not to pause and think about how I’m spending my time here.

My Dominican dad, Pepelo, with his plátanos

My Dominican dad, Pepelo, with his plátanos

Omailin with his plátanos

Omailin with his plátanos

Duck you lookin' at?

Duck you lookin’ at?

Omailin ready for take off

Omailin getting ready for take off

Reni and I

Reni and I

So what do I think? Well, I am learning lot, and am seeing that my presence is actually making an impact. But before I get into, let me remind you what my job is. My mission as a Peace Corps Volunteer is three-fold:

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Facilitating courses/workshops/trainings, attending conferences, empowering community members and leaders, and providing personal and professional support are ways I fulfill Goal 1. Goal 2 and Goal 3 are harder to measure, but are equally if not more important; they motivate us to use friendship and cultural exchange to establish mutual understanding and peace. Yesterday I made French toast and shared it with my neighbors while explaining to them what maple syrup is. That is an example of Goal 2. And lastly, a big thanks to YOU – yes, those of you that read and follow my blog help me to realize Goal 3.

Third Goal: this is where I wash my clothes

Third Goal: this is where I wash my clothes

Third Goal: typical Dominican-style feast when you have lots of people to feed - Esphaghettis and tostones

Third Goal: typical Dominican-style feast when you have lots of people to feed – Esphaghettis and tostones

My sister Reni :)

My sister Reni 🙂

buen provecho!

buen provecho!

While striving to accomplish these three goals, I have learned to become more appreciative, patient, creative, and assertive. I’ve developed many friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise. I go to bed tired but wake up energized, hungry to experience another day ‘on the job’. I have not lost sight of my humor, and am both thankful and proud that I can be myself in my community. Bottom line is that I’m happy I have another year left. I have many things I still plan to accomplish or to continue enjoying:

  • May 4th I will graduate over 40 girls from the Chicas Brillantes group. We have raised over RD$1600 as a group, the majority of which came from raffling off a chicken dinner. We have established a directiva that is in charge of managing funds, keeping track of attendance, announcing and organizing activities, and keeping the group active once I leave. I am so impressed by their maturity and dedication to the initiative, as I know they are not only prepared but also excited to multiply the information they’ve learned in the course within the community.

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the Presidenta of our Chicas Brillantes group leading a charla about the ABCs of Prevention

  • THE COURT. Yes you can still donate, and we need your help!  Courts for Kids arrives June 8th, so by June 15th we should have a fully functioning basketball/volleyball court, si dios quiere.  Learn more about the project by clicking here.  Donate to the project by clicking here.  The mayor brought 5 of us that are working on the court project here to visit a PCV in a nearby community who is also building a court through Courts for Kids – pictures below.

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Joel, Geudy, Regino, the Mayor, Rocky, and me

Rocky, Regino, and Joel in the back of the truck on the way back to Pescadería

Rocky, Regino, and Joel in the back of the truck on the way back to Pescadería

  • Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams). Currently mentoring 4 youth from my community who are interested in starting a business. I’m teaching them the skills required to elaborate a detailed business plan (marketing, financial literacy, mission/vision statements, cost analysis, etc.). We are participating in the regional Construye Tus Sueños conference at the end of the month.
  • Attending a Somos Mujeres (We are Women) conference in May with 4 women from my community where we will discuss entrepreneurial skills, the importance of saving money, various health topics, and do a whole lot of dancing, singing, and dinámicas. Gotta love doñas.
  • Believe it or not, I’m still teaching English. I’ve got three loyal students who have mastered the present tense. Baby steps.
  • Attending meetings, offering advice, and playing with baby goats at La Cabrita. They just purchased a beautiful, new tractor, which we all took out for a spin around town.
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members of La Cabrita with their new tractor

view of La Cabrita from the tractor ride

view of La Cabrita from the tractor ride

the main street of Pescadería didn't know what it was in for

the main street of Pescadería didn’t know what it was in for

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  • Brigada Verde (Green Brigade). I plan to start this initiative when classes finish in June (and when I no longer have to worry about the court!). I’ll hold co-ed meetings where we learn about a vast array of environmental topics. I hope to organize various community activities with the participants of this group – paint trash cans, murals (here’s where you come in Auntie Mary!), community trash pick up, gardening, etc.       To generate interest in the initiative, two other volunteers and I have solicited grant money to organize an eco-hike along the coast of Barahona. If accepted we will each bring 6 members from our respective communities, facilitating the creation of a network based off of environmental stewardship and cultural sensitivity.
  • Reading and studying. This is where the hammock comes in handy. I’m currently enrolled in an online course called The Age of Sustainable Development, taught by Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. We’re learning about the pillars of sustainable development – social inclusion and cohesion, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and good governance – and the importance of acknowledging and understanding the relationships between all four.       I’ve become very invested in this field of study, especially because I’m learning about it while living in an impoverished country, where I’ve been able to recognize parts of the discussion in my daily life. Even beginning to look at graduate school options!
Community field trip to the Catholic basílica in Higüey

Community field trip to the Catholic basílica in Higüey

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can you guess which ones were the tourist busses?

can you guess which ones were the tourist busses?

trinkets and souvenirs

trinkets and souvenirs

so many beautiful candles

so many beautiful candles

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Anyway, those are the highlights as of now. Regardless of the day, be it slow and nostalgic or fast-paced and fruitful, goals are being met, bonds formed, stories shared, music danced, pictures taken, and lives impacted. Thank you for joining me on this journey – I hope you choose to keep learning and growing along with me!

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cause(s) to celebrate

9 Mar

On March 6, 2013 I boarded a plan headed to the Dominican Republic with 32 strangers.  A year later, those people are now some of my closest friends; they are the best people to call when I have to rant about a crazy doña or lonely meeting because they most likely encountered a similar situation last week; their company makes home feel not so far away, a beach more idyllic, a guagua ride less painful, and a Presidente beer better-tasting.  Can’t believe a whole year has gone by; I look forward to spending the next 15 months surviving and exploring this beautifully crazy country alongside great friends and fellow volunteers.

Peralvillo

Morning run during CBT in Peralvillo

4th of July Celebration in Samaná

4th of July Celebration in Samaná

New Years in Cabarete

New Years in Cabarete

Laura and I in Alta Mira translating for Builders Beyond Borders in February

Laura and I in Alta Mira translating for Builders Beyond Borders in February

Celebrating Dominican Independence Day, February 27th

Celebrating Dominican Independence Day, February 27th

And let me tell you folks, this first week of my second year in country is off to a busy start.  Most noticeably, we started breaking ground in the pley!  Despite being voted the most corrupt mayor of the region, our síndico has been surprisingly active and helpful.  He’s hired an engineer to measure the area of the court in the pley and to mark off a road he plans to build around it.  He found a greda to clear and level the land, then brought in 11 dump trucks full of rocks to begin filling the area.  We’ll need plenty more to get the land to an adequate level where it’s safe from flooding, but we’re off to a great start.  It gave me butterflies seeing so many community members coming out to help, talking excitedly and envisioning amongst themselves what the pley will look like in just a couple months.  We still have a good amount of money to raise, especially because they’ll eventually want bleachers, lights, and fencing put up around the court, but we’ve got a plan, gumption, and community support to finish what we’ve started.

The pley!  Leveled and ready for rock filling

The pley! Leveled and ready for rock filling

On-lookers

On-lookers

Street full of dump trucks

Street full of dump trucks

Stuck truck

Stuck truck

High school student- athletes

High school student- athletes

Remember to visit our fundraising website to contribute to our project: http://www.razoo.com/story/Help-Build-A-Basketball-Volleyball-Court-In-Pescader-A-Dr

Rocky - community basketball/volleyball coach, and one of my go-to guys

Rocky – community basketball/volleyball coach, and one of my go-to guys

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  It was also one of the most rewardingly chaotic days I’ve had in site.  Why?  Because I invited all of my Chicas to celebrate the occasion at my house.  Over 40 girls showed up in some of their best clothes, some of who’d been waiting outside my house since 7:30 that morning.  Some had organized to make spaghetti to share, while others contributed soda, ice, candy, cheese and crackers, cake, napkins, balloons, and disposable plates.  I reminded them that they didn’t have to bring anything, that I’d be providing materials and such, but I was touched that they all wanted to offer something to help make the day special.

camped out and waiting for the celebration to start

camped out and waiting for the celebration to start

And special it was.  There were four activities the girls got to do – they were split into groups and had about 25 minutes to be at each station.

–       Write a letter to an important woman in your life

–       Paint a rock with a word or phrase that is important to you i.e. family, love, faith, etc.

–       Make paper butterflies

–       Play games

Over all, the whole event went pretty smoothly, with more giggles and cheers than spills and tears.  Good friend and fellow volunteer Laura even came to visit my site and help out!  What really made the afternoon special though was watching one of the girls that I had brought to the Chicas Brillantes conference leading dinámicas, getting the girls’ attention, and being my right-hand girl – all self-initiated.  It was awesome to see her exercising ideas and knowledge that she had picked up at the conference.

Side note: another one of the girls that had come with me to the Chicas Brillantes conference expressed interest in facilitating some of the future charlas we’d be discussing.  I was ecstatic, and immediately agreed.  Not only is this what Peace Corps is striving for – capacitating local leaders that will be able to sustain the information in the community once the volunteer leaves – but it’s also very effective; the girls retain much more information when they are receiving it from their peers.  So, in addition to the weekly Chicas meetings, we are meeting each Sunday with just the older girls so they can impart information, practice giving presentations, discuss and understand topics in more detail, and learn from one another.  Today’s first meeting went very successfully 🙂

Anyway, after everyone got to visit each of the four stations, we feasted on espaghetti, deviled eggs, and ants on a log (it was pretty funny to watch some of their reactions to eating the latter two, which they had never seen or heard of before).  The girls left full, giggly, and empowered, and are already looking forward to planning an activity for next year.

40+ girls ready to celebrate International Women's Day

40+ girls ready to celebrate International Women’s Day

Crafting

Crafting

Rock painting

Rock painting

Letter writing

Letter writing

Finished stones

Finished stones

kati gettin' crafty

kati gettin’ crafty

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A Court Story

2 Mar

Now that we have the whole land thing figured out (for today anyway), we’re working on finalizing our budget, planning a timeline for construction, organizing accommodations for when the group comes, and FUNDRAISING.  As I’ve mentioned, Courts for Kids provides each project with US$5000 towards construction materials specifically for the court.  Though the court itself is the most important, these athletes are envisioning a bigger picture – bleachers, lights, and the whole sha-bang.  Though it seems grandiose, it makes sense to think this way because our hope is that the court be used year-round, day or night, and not for just sporting activities, but also for community, religious, or educational events that would require seating and lighting for a large audience.

To share all the goings-on related to this project, I’ve created two websites:

  • A Facebook Page – This will be the official page of this project.  In addition to this blog, I’ll use this page to share where we’re at in the process of construction, fundraising, and so on, along with photos of the project and the people involved
  • A Fundraising Page – here you’ll be able to learn about our fundraising goals and personally contribute to this cause

Thanks in advance for your support and motivation.  We are excited to turn this initiative into a reality, to get you involved, and to make a positive, lasting impact in Pescadería.

celebrate we will

27 Feb

Happy Dominican Independence Day!  Led by national hero Juan Pablo Duarte, the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haitian occupation on the 27th of February in 1844.  Given its historic importance, February is also the month of Carnival.  I haven’t seen fireworks yet, but this little country sure knows how to party and Dominicans seem to always be looking for an occasion to celebrate – Christmas, Kings Day, Independence Day/Carnival, and not too far away is Semana Santa!  Hopefully next year I’ll be able to write a more descriptive and first-hand account of the locura that is Carnival.

Lots has happened since my last semi-chaotic and long post so I’ll do my best to keep this short and highlight the important (and positive!) stuff:

Chicas Brillantes Conference:

  • Invited 3 girls that participate in my Chicas Brillantes group to a regional 3-day conference in San Cristobal (How did I choose which girls to bring?  It was tough, but I based my decision on their ages, participation and attendance at meetings, maturity, and who I thought would best use and share the information they would learn at the conference back in Pescadería)
  • Over 80 girls and volunteers participated in dynamic and educational activities concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, nutrition, women’s health, self-esteem, team work, inner and outer beauty, sports, and so on
  • Many charlas were led by graduates of the Chicas Brillantes program – a group of adolescent girls known as the Comité.  This was SO important for the girls to see because a) they could look to them as role-models and b) it promotes and ensures the sustainability of this initiative
  • The girls got to meet many other girls from other communities around the country who are also participating in the program.  For my girls, they made at least 20 new friends that live within a 30-minute radius.  We’re getting together this weekend to plan how to incorporate what we learned into our meetings, and also which events we can plan to raise money for our group and/or activities with our new friends
  • A panel of professional Dominican and Dominican-American women came to talk to the girls –natural hair promoter (and fellow blogger: http://www.missrizos.com/2/post/2014/02/las-chicas-brillantes.html), architect, social worker, journalist, muralist (and fellow blogger: http://innovativeinitiativesblog.com/about/), and even the DR representative for Miss Universe 2013.  They shared their life stories, gave advice about how to plan and reach professional and personal goals, and promoted natural hair styles (a semi-controversial topic here because many women chemically treat their hair so it’s straighter and therefore ‘more beautiful’)
Mujeres Brillantes - our awesome panel of role-models

Mujeres Brillantes – our awesome panel of role-models

Girls practicing correct condom use

Girls practicing correct condom use

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR's Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR’s Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

volunteers with the panel

volunteers with the panel

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Translating for Builders Beyond Borders:

  • Joined up with other PCVs to help out our friend Jim, fellow volunteer AND Vermonter, at his site near Alta Mira in the province of Puerto Plata
  • High school group came from Connecticut through the program Builders Beyond Borders to start construction of a local clinic
  • We helped with translating and some construction work, but also shared a lot about our Peace Corps experience and Dominican culture with the students and chaperones
  • BBB invited us volunteers to join them on a field trip to 27 Charcos!  Located on the Damajagua River and literally meaning 27 ‘puddles’ or waterfalls, it’s a beautiful and adventurous attraction for both locals and tourists alike.  Depending on the water levels/time of year, you basically hike down the river, jumping off or sliding down natural rock formations on your way (wearing helmets and lifejackets of course).  This adventure had been on my bucket list, and was certainly one of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving in country (it will be one year March 6th!).  We only were able to do 12 of the 27 falls/slides, so I’d be more than willing to accompany someone who wants to come and visit 🙂  Fun fact: Joe Kennedy III was a PCV in the Dominican Republic, and helping 27 Charcos develop a guide association was one of his assignments as a volunteer.  More info about 27 Charcos here: http://www.27charcos.com/index.php
  • Realized how resilient and not-awkward Dominican youth is
  • Gained some insight about how this court project is going to be – how I should organize accommodations, construction materials, plan activities, etc.
Fellow PCVs - Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Fellow PCVs – Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Speaking of which…The Court:

  • So after a few semi-heated meetings, we are going to build the court in the Pley
  • We will have the mayor’s support – has committed to leveling and filling the entire area; will build streets around the pley so that the people that live there are no longer trapped by mud when it rains
  • Today we measured the entire area and marked the court’s official location – PHEW
  • Working on creating a Facebook Page to share the progress of the court and to fundraise – will have a working link where YOU will be able to donate to this project soon 🙂
future location of court!

future location of court!

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

That’s “all” for now – off to celebrate!

stones.

12 Feb

Peace Corps is all about the little wins.  That’s how I started my last post.  And I’m finding that the longer I’m in service, the truer this holds.  Without capitalizing on the positive moments, no matter how small or insignificant they may be, two life-changing years of Peace Corps service could easily become a disheartening nightmare.

I continue to stress and embrace the philosophy of realistic-optimism because I’m currently experiencing two frustrating conflicts.  It’s the parts of my day that put a smile on my face – usually lasting no longer than a couple of minutes, and pretty insignificant in terms of what goals I’m accomplishing as a Peace Corps Volunteer – that keep me from getting too deflated, encourage me to stay motivated, and remind me that regardless of the outcome, this is the ultimate learning experience.

Disclaimer: Like it says at the bottom of my blog, these are my ideas and feelings, and mine only.  Also, this post is longer than others (and without too many pictures) because there is a lot of interconnected information that needs to be shared so I can at least try and convey what is going on.  Also because I just had a very large cup of coffee.

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Conflict #1: La Cabrita

Some of you may still be wondering how I managed to end up in Pescadería in the first place, or what I’m actually doing here (sometimes I find myself asking the same question).  Truth is, the Fundación Central Barahona (to make things simple it’s the ‘do-good branch’ of a multi-million dollar Guatemalan sugar company) solicited Peace Corps volunteers to help with various projects they are supporting in the region of Barahona, La Cabrita being one of them.  That’s how I got here.  FCB applied for a Peace Corps Volunteer to be placed in Pescadería to assist the members of La Cabrita, a community project that FCB has helped finance and develop, strengthen their organization, develop business skills, and improve their performance as a business. 

Long story short, FCB and La Cabrita are not on good terms, and actually have not been since even before I arrived to Pescadería in May.  Most of it all stems from lack of confianza (Spanish for trust or confidence, and a key aspect of Dominican culture).  Without being too specific, FCB has said things or acted in ways that the socios do not agree with, so now they feel that FCB or the people that work there cannot be trusted.

The vision of La Cabrita is to become a nation-wide supplier of high-quality goat cheese and yogurt that not only provides the citizens of Pescadería with a nutritional product, but also stimulates economic growth within the community. Unfortunately, the members feel that FCB has ulterior motives for the organization – that the socios are ‘slaves’ to FCB’s grand plan to capture all their profits and take over their project.  If I’m being honest, the idea seems pretty grandiose, but, I have also not been a fan of more than one decision FCB has made in regards to La Cabrita.

So, what does this have to do with me?  To put it short, the members feel threatened when I communicate with the Foundation.  Over time they’ve given me a lot of confianza – at one point knew all their Facebook and email passwords, and had access to documents they were using to applying for various funding projects (including the government loan I mentioned for RD$11,000,000).  All of this information they had provided me with could have made it easy for FCB to meddle with their plans, if they had the intentions La Cabrita believed they did.  After two (and from my point of view, meaningless) interactions with FCB, the members of La Cabrita have decided to put their guards up.  I am not invited to meetings that they consider to be “internal”, and I know very little about what projects they are currently executing.  Why?  Because they’re afraid that I will leak it to the FCB who will use the information against them.  Would I purposefully tell the Foundation information that I think could jeopardize the progress of La Cabrita?  I don’t think I should even have to answer that, but that’s how I have their perspective understood.

How does this make me feel?  Well, frustrated, and kind of sad to be honest.  I’ve given up a life that I was comfortable with to eat every fruit under the sun, to sweat more than I ever could’ve imagined possible, and to make a difference in a group that was provided with the opportunity to take advantage of the skills I have to offer.  I’m sad because I’ve befriended these people, and there has been very little discussion about what I actually did to make them feel like they have to protect themselves from me – and I feel that friends owe that conversation to each other.  I’m frustrated because, without trying to be too selfish, I don’t feel that I’m accomplishing what I expected to, and they’re not taking advantage of a useful resource.

So what am I going to do to fix this?  I think it’s pretty obvious that we have to have a conversation to reach an understanding.  Simple idea, just difficult to coordinate.  I need to recognize why they’ve lost confianza, and what I can do to try to earn at least some of it back; they need to realize that I am in fact not in cohorts with FCB, and that I am here only to help them with what they want to accomplish.  If it’s gotten to a point where for some reason they don’t want my efforts anymore, yes, I will be disappointed.  Bottom line is though, I am here to support people that are looking to be supported; interestingly enough, most volunteers don’t end up working on the original projects they were solicited for in the first place.  I hope that’s not the case with me, because I know that La Cabrita has all the potential in the world to succeed; I believe that I can help them reach at least some of their goals, and they do understand that I’ve done such for them so far.

“Looking-on-the-bright-side” Intermission: My neighbor, Reina, just brought me a ‘tester’ of her new income-generation project – homemade coconut/banana ice cream – and I give it two sticky-thumbs up.

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I can still go to the farm whenever I want, I’m just not invited to some of their meetings, so when I do go I bring my camera and take pictures of all the baby goats!

Conflict #2: La Cancha

Because my efforts with La Cabrita have been on the back burner for a couple months now, I’ve been focusing on other projects to stay involved in the community and still affect positive change.  One of these projects is to construct a basketball court – something that the youth in Pescadería have not had access to in their own community for over 10 years.  As I’ve mentioned, we formed a Youth/Sports group in Pescadería to apply for Courts for Kids, a US organization that brings American youth to other countries to help communities there build basketball courts.  They also provide the community project with US$5000 to purchase construction materials.  In October, Courts for Kids approved Pescadería as one of 7 communities in the DR to build a court, and we’re expecting a group from the States to arrive here June 8th to help finish the construction by June 14th.

So what’s the conflict you ask?  Well, it’s difficult to build a court, or any type of structure for that matter, when you can’t nail down a piece of land to build it on.  Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned but can’t stress enough, politics control (and often ruin) EVERYTHING here.  So, at the moment we have two options:

The “pley” – old baseball field

  • Low-lying area and semi-susceptible to flooding, meaning that if we built a court there the houses around it could fill with water when it rains
  • Surrounded by cow and pig farmers who don’t own the land, but would probably have to be relocated to begin construction = smelly animal poop + disgruntled farmers
  • Pretty central location
  • Rumored plans to use part of the space to build a funeral home – oddly positioned next to a basketball court?
  • PLD (current government/mayor in power) is in complete agreement with this space; mayor has “promised” his support to prepare land by March (sidebar: our mayor was voted as the most corrupt mayor of the southern region)

“Arriba” – next to where they’re currently building the new high school

  • This land was originally donated to the community by former PRD president to build a technical school, but project was never realized
  • Current mayor and the president of the local political party (PLD) “obtained” title to the land and are currently reaping economic benefits from plantains they have planted there – so no, the mayor is not in favor or this site
  • Land to build high school here was originally obtained from mayor because the members of the community held a strike – don’t want that to happen on my account
  • Good walk from the center of town (security of court?), but is the first thing you’d see when entering the community
  • People would regard this space as the “community growing forward”
  • Land is flat, not susceptible to flooding, and would need very little prep work
  • Mayor has said that if we fight to have the court here that he will not contribute to the project financially – what a guy

Basically what it comes down to is, like I’ve said, politics.  The US has plenty of problems to worry about, but political corruption like that seen here is thankfully not one of them.  It’s the PLD (who wants the court built in the old baseball field) versus the PRD (who wants to use the mayor’s land for a community project like originally promised).  And I’m stuck in the middle with an approved project that, regardless of political party, will benefit the community.  I could cancel the project  – not only would Pescadería remain without a court, but Courts for Kids would be very unhappy – but I’m still convinced, though it might not be pretty, that one way or another this can be resolved.

There are two main issues to this court conflict – time, and obviously, location.  Time, in the sense that we have no later than April to start prepping the land so that by the time the group comes, the base and forms of the court are ready.  Time, in the sense that if we do want to go against the mayor and fight for the land that paperwork here can take ages.  Time, in the sense that we still have to raise over RD$300,000 to finance the rest of the construction.

In terms of location, most of my friends and key/responsible community contacts (coincidentally PRDs) believe that the rightful location of the court is where the mayor currently has his crop of plantains.  This is something to take into consideration – have the mayor on our side or listen to the people that truly fight for what their community needs and that have, since the beginning, taken me under their wing (including the people of La Cabrita).

As for the youth/sports group I’m working with, these kids are superstars.  Unlike other parts of the country, the youth in Pescadería are still very safe and sane.  Many are studying or working, and most have found ways to stay out of trouble; despite the fact that there is no official court, playing sports is one of ways they do that.  There are five or six guys (ages 18-27) in particular that have been with me every step of the way, always stopping by my house to share information or to ask what we need to do next.  I try to tell them often as possible that I recognize that because they are the front-runners of this project they are taking a risk, but that I appreciate their dedication and that when this is finished their community will consider them heroes. We have a proposed budget, are working on fundraising (because regardless of the location we’ll need money), and are making the connections necessary to ultimately determine the location of the court.  This is stressful, and not exactly what I signed up for, but helping these kids get justice could be one of the most rewarding parts of my service (once it gets done anyway).

ANYWAY.  I apologize for any ranting or rambling you might have just read, but this is important and this is what is happening.  I am trying to not lose sleep over either of these issues because I know it will all turn out the way it’s supposed to in the long run, but I won’t say that dealing with either situation has been a walk on the beach.  But as easy as it is to feel dejected or deflated when conflicts like these come up, the “little wins” that I keep mentioning are what we as volunteers learn to live for; the photos that I share and/or scroll through when I’m having a bad day; the moments I plan to think of when recalling my service in the Peace Corps.

Omailin helping me water my guandule (pea) garden

Omailin helping me water the guandules (pigeon pea plants) behind my house

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And as my wisest, best, and most honest and loyal source of comfort and advice told me  (can you tell I’m talking about you, Mom?) when I was stressing about these issues: “Kate these are all just stepping-stones on a path.  They are not unimportant, just stones.”