Tag Archives: business

toils and triumphs of “los tres cafeteros”

15 May

Immigration processes have been a mess here since the nationalization issues between the Dominican Republic and Haiti came to a head over a year ago. Though we are guaranteed residency as Peace Corps Volunteers, we have not been able to renew our green cards since the beginning of 2015 (they expire after 6 months). Despite not having my Dominican residence card, immigration issues occupied the least of my thoughts as I passed through security and arrived at my airport gate. I was on my way to the States for one more brief visit before touching back on the homeland for good as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

It was May 5th and I was headed back to Annapolis, Maryland for my grandpa’s memorial service at the Naval Academy. My shoulders were light since my workload had lightened up immensely just days before, so nothing else was on my mind except the excitement of reuniting with family and the opportunity to finally try Maryland crab.

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Reunited with two of my former Clemson Lacrosse teammates

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Grandpa’s memorial

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Most of the workload that I refer to is the National Conference of Construye Tus Sueños, one of the largest projects we undertake annually as the Community Economic Development sector. Over 45 Dominican Youth and 20 Peace Corps Volunteers and Dominican facilitators participated in the three-day event that took place the 27th-29th of April and focused on entrepreneurship, micro-finance, and professional development. 15 contestants presented their respective business plans to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning one of the three prizes of RD$50,000 to start their businesses. This was the fourth CTS conference that I have attended, but it was the first one that I coordinated.

The conference consisted of two guest speakers, four professional development workshops, two rounds of presentations critiqued by 12 judges, a panel of previous contestants, and a micro-finance fair involving five financial institutions. Given all of the moving parts, the conference concluded without any regrettable hiccups and the youth left informed and motivated. The youth responded positively to the presented advice and activities and the three winners were well-deserving individuals who now have a greater opportunity to generate economic activity within their communities.

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What’s a conference without ice-breakers!?

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“El Artístico” Jose Ignacio Reyes Morales, one of our guest speakers, is internationally known for his ironwork and efforts to inspire artistry and entrepreneurship in youth.

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Day 2 of the conference consisted of two rounds of presentations during which youth explained their business plans to panels of judges

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Michael, Alejandra, and I with some of the judges from Round 1

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Participants and judges at the end of Round 1

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Prepping the judges for Round 2, where 7 participants competed for 3 RD$50,000 prizes

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Round 2

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Jonathan (teal shirt on right), was one of my students who won the competition last year.  He and three other previous contestants came to share their experiences and advice with the participants of this year’s conference.

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Alejandra, Michael, and I with Jonathan, Raylin, Rosa, and Damaso.  All competed in previous CTS competitions, have since started their own businesses, and are exemplary young leaders within their communities.

Experiencing the event as it unfolded from the perspective of coordinator rather than participant was stressful but enlightening. The participants portrayed such bravery, fighting for their dreams while representing their communities’ desires to progress and prosper; the resilience, creativity, and readiness of the people that I am able to collaborate with on a daily basis has always fueled the best feelings and moments of my service here. I thank the Community Economic Development team in particular for their support and guidance – without Michael or Alejandra, I could not be celebrating the event’s success. Having recently secured a new strategic partnership with a local bank, Construye Tus Sueños continues to strengthen its influence on young entrepreneurs who are looking to improve the economic wellbeing of their families through the creation of micro-businesses in marginalized communities throughout the Dominican Republic. I couldn’t be happier to have experienced the ins, outs, and impact of this initiative.

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Michael and Alejandra with the Peace Corps Volunteers who are involved with CTS. 

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Los tres cafeteros” – the best team I’ve had the chance to work with.

Just three days after the conference finished, the CED team informed all of the new trainees where they would be living for the next two years – their site placements. To read about how I felt when I received mine, take a trip down memory lane by clicking here. Matching a Volunteer to a community is a tedious process that takes over 6 months of work. It was through this procedure that I have been able to travel this country, reconnect with my favorite aspects of this culture, solidify the working relationships I have with Michael and Alejandra, and analyze communities’ needs to develop problem-solving skills. Having a say in essentially two years of someone’s life is a powerful feeling; seeing the trainees become bright-eyed when we told them their assignment brought me both nostalgia and peace. All 16 trainees visited their sites and have now sworn-in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, prepared as they can be to begin two years of service in their respective communities.

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Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders with the United States Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, James “Wally” Brewster, before the Swear-In Ceremony.

With the two most trying elements of my extension finally completed, I was set to board the plane and enjoy a long weekend with my family celebrating my own accomplishments as well as the life and legacy of my grandfather. To my dismay, the flight from Santo Domingo to Ft. Lauderdale was inevitably delayed for over four hours. It finally dawned on the employees at the counter to pass out meal vouchers to the impatient passengers who immediately perked up at the offering and seemed to forget about the inconvenience. No longer than 5 minutes after half of the passengers had scattered around the airport to look for free lunch did the attendants decide to stop handing out vouchers and instead announce that they were ready to board the plane. I sat dumbfounded as a group of people protested that they had not yet received their vouchers and that the plane couldn’t leave yet because there were still people eating. Anxious to board and hoping that I wouldn’t miss my connecting flight to Baltimore, I stood in line behind the people that were in fact ready to fly while contemplating the curiousness of cultural priorities I had just witnessed.

Once in Ft. Lauderdale, I realized that my connecting flight was also delayed. Feeling both relieved that I had made my flight and impatient to see my family, I sat down at a bar to enjoy a State-side IPA.   I began chatting to a young man that had decided to celebrate his birthday by flying himself to Colombia for the weekend. Another man joined us, who happened to be from Colombia. Despite how long my day had become at this point, our conversation was effortless and a good reminder to continue accepting (and therefore creating) serendipitous experiences. In the end, the Colombian gentleman footed the bill and I made it to Baltimore with a barriga llena, corazón contenta.

This anecdote, while trivial compared to so many other experiences I’ve had here, encapsulates how much the Dominican Republic has taught me about faith, expectations, and human connection. I couldn’t be closer to the team that I work with – Michael, Alejandra, and I refer to ourselves as the “tres cafeteros” (the three coffee-drinking musketeers) – and it’s intimidating to think that we only have one month left to collaborate on these efforts that we’re all so dedicated to.  Certain aspects of this culture and vein of work continue to surprise, amuse, delight, and touch me; I wish there were a way to bottle it all up – the warmth, faith, camaraderie, and spunk Dominicans have taught me – and drink down when stressful moments overwhelm the peaceful ones. Here’s to satiating these last few weeks with everything this country has to offer those willing to accept, appreciate, and embody it.

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Michael and I with the winners of the CTS conference and their PCV facilitators

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Sometimes this is the easiest way to process change…

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(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.”

practice makes progress

6 May

The month of April simply disappeared before my green, gringa eyes. On the 12th of May I’ll be moving to the capital city of Santo Domingo, where I’ll be serving and working in the main office as the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader of the Community Economic Development Sector. I’ve already put a deposit down on a well-lit, spacious apartment that is conveniently situated across the street from a delicious juice/sandwich shop. Located less than a 20-minute walk away from both the Peace Corps office and the Colonial Zone, I will be hoping to host a slew of visitors this coming year 🙂

To help prepare for this leadership role, I involved myself in the majority of training sessions for the new business group that arrived in March. Though the new CED trainees finished Community Based Training on the 29th of April (and are on their way to their new sites as I write!), I left the pueblo of Peralvillo and my wonderful host family once again to return to site and help my Construye Tus Sueños students prepare for the national conference/competition that would start the same day.

As always, the Construye Tus Sueños National Conference is held in Santo Domingo, a central location for participants of the nation-wide initiative. The event consists of various charlas on topics related to professional development (networking, elevator speech, presentation skills, and savings), reputable guest speakers, a micro-finance fair, and of course, the competition itself. It’s a powerful experience – watching youth (often whom have never left their communities) meet and interact with others who share dreams to take initiative and make a difference.

El Artístico - José Ignacio Morales from La Romana, D.R.; internationally-known artisit and fabulous source of inspiration

El Artístico – José Ignacio Morales from La Romana, D.R.; internationally-known artisit and fabulous source of inspiration

Judges of the final round with Turner (current PCVL) and Michael (the Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector)

Judges of the final round with Turner (current PCVL) and Michael (the Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector)

15 written business plans were chosen to compete – to present their business plans to a panel of judges, where they are expected to prove their knowledge of the written plan while also demonstrating entrepreneurship, professionalism, and poise in person. After the first presentations are finished, six are then chosen to move on to the final round where they present their plan to yet another panel of judges. Based on the scores of their final presentation, three participants are deemed winners – recipients of a sum of prize money based on the budget detailed in their plans (the amount of money needed to start/strengthen their business, typically around $RD50,000).

Jonathan, Chamila, Bella, and I at the National Conference

Jonathan, Chamila, Bella, and I at the National Conference

To help us prepare for the competition, we recruited a top-notch consultant – my dad! 🙂 Though Tom was here for only a few days, we packed in a visit to the goat project, a trip down the southern coast, a meeting with my Chicas Brillantes, a neighborhood block party, several Presidente beers and bowls of dad’s chili, and a celebratory dinner for my Construye Tus Sueños students for having finished the course and made it into the competition.  At first, my students were apprehensive to even turn a plan, doubtful that theirs could warrant a place within the Top 15.  However, we discussed that there wouldn’t even be a chance of them winning if they didn’t do themselves some justice and start writing out their ideas.

Dad with my students - Mónica (co-facilitator), Bella, Chamila, and Jonathan

Dad with my students – Mónica (co-facilitator), Bella, Chamila, and Jonathan

Mónica, Chamila, and Jonathan

Mónica, Chamila, and Jonathan

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Fatherly Sandwesch – Pepelo, me, and Dad

Zip-lining!

Zip-lining!

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Day off at Casa Bonita 🙂

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Dad and I

All in all, Dad’s visit or the national conference/competition couldn’t have treated us any better.  I brought three students with me to Santo Domingo, two of which were competing in the Top 15 (an existing agri-veterinary shop and a clothing line/store).  Ultimately, Jonathan and Chamila’s knowledge of their business plans and passion for what they each hope to achieve was evident. Their thorough, confident, and professional presentations secured them in a place within the Top 6.  More impressively, they each then placed in the Top 3, and will each receive nearly RD$50,000 towards their entrepreneurial endeavors. Needless to say, I’m so proud of what my students have accomplished, as they have now been recognized on a nation-wide level for their spirit, courage, and talent.  Furthermore, I’m grateful that I’ll be here in the Dominican Republic for another year to accompany these two young entrepreneurs while managing their new funds and growing businesses to thus continue pa’lante.  

Jonathan and I when he won

Jonathan and I when he won

Jonathan (agri-veterinary shop), Chamila (clothing line/store), and Raylin (surf/eco-tourism business) ----- all from the southern region of Barahona!

Jonathan (agri-veterinary shop), Chamila (clothing line/store), and Raylin (surf/eco-tourism business) —– all from the southern region of Barahona!

the winners with their facilitators (who happen to both be from Vermont!)

the winners with their facilitators (who happen to both be from Vermont!)

Chamila getting interviewed

Chamila getting interviewed

Michael, Jim, Raylin, Chamila, Jonathan, myself, and Turner

Michael, Jim, Raylin, Chamila, Jonathan, myself, and Turner

the whole gang!

the whole gang!

Despite the joy that this milestone accomplishment has brought me, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. While at this very same conference, I had to say goodbye to some of the most influential, creative, and talented people I’ve ever met – my government-issued friends – now that our 27-month commitment as Peace Corps Volunteers is coming to an end. Though some still have yet to leave, a good part of 517-13-01 has now left the Dominican Republic to continue traveling, pursue careers in graduate school, teaching, government, or non-profit work, or simply savor Mom’s home cooking and enjoyable summer weather (it’s been in the 90s here, and we haven’t even gotten to the hottest months yet…). I wish all of my favorite Returned Peace Corps Volunteers the best of luck and send big doña abrazos your way.

Turner (current PCVL of CED sector), Andrew Lobo, Samantha Kinney, Andy Lamb, Amanda Cunningham, John Lewis, and Jim Fitch -- CED volunteers who, except Jim, are headed back to the States.

Turner (current PCVL of CED sector), Andrew Lobo, Samantha Kinney, Andy Lamb, Amanda Cunningham, John Lewis, and Jim Fitch — CED volunteers who, except Jim, are headed back to the States.

CED PCVs from 517-13-01

CED PCVs from 517-13-01

To try and distract myself from this seemingly bittersweet time in my service, my Chicas Brillantes and I effectively planned their graduation from the course for this past Monday. 13 girls ages 11 to 18 graduated from the course in the company of my project partner Mónica, two multipliers from my previous go-around with Chicas, and around 20 other invited guests (community leaders and/or family members of the graduates). The girls planned two dramas to demonstrate the importance and effects of a healthy upbringing (education, no violence, open communication, self-esteem etc.), and Mónica and I discussed methods of effective communication. This group of young women has displayed an immense amount of interest and maturity for the various themes mentioned throughout the course (anatomy, self-esteem, beauty, education, etc.), and it is their gumption and marked growth that helps affirm my decision to stay.

Drama put on by some of the Chicas Brillantes

Drama put on by some of the Chicas Brillantes

A Chica muy Brillante singing a song

A Chica muy Brillante singing a song

Graduates!

Graduates!

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Mónica and I

Mónica and I

These two events, especially our sweep at Construye Tus Sueños, are tangible highlights of my service that are visible to the communities of Pescadería and Peace Corps, and are a positive affirmation that progress has indeed been made within these two years of sweat, tries, and tears.  They were not reached without difficulties or frustration, and they were certainly not accomplished alone; they are a metaphorical high five for persevering and collaborating, and a solid source of motivation to continue on this path of development work, project planning, and teaching.

I am looking forward to my transition into another chapter in the Dominican Republic: capital life – a change of pace, scenery, and experiences. Not to mention more reliable electricity and water services 🙂 However, considering the success and interest in most of the projects we’ve developed as a community, I do plan to continue working in Pescadería as well.  More specifically, La Cabrita must start making payments on their RD$8,000,000 loan in January, and it’s important that they have a sturdy business plan in place to ensure effective operations, a sustainable income, and timely payments. Additionally, now that two groups of Chicas Brillantes have graduated, I want to follow through with the girls capable of multiplying the course, ensuring that other girls in the community to have access to such information and experiences. This being said, I’m holding a meeting on Saturday to explore the possibility of soliciting another Peace Corps Volunteer from the youth sector who could continue promoting and developing healthy life skills and styles alongside the people of Pescadería.  This community has taught me too much about myself, development, and solidarity to leave them without some options.  Many thanks to all of you, near and far, who have accompanied me on this journey up until this point – here’s 13 more months of learning, sharing, and being.

if you want to be happy, then be.

if you want to be happy, then be.

Just when the caterpillar thought life her was over, she began to fly.

balancing business

4 Dec

One of the many perks of being as a Peace Corps Volunteer on a tropical island is that there are other PCVs serving on it with you.  They’ll invite you to partake in cool things like volleyball tournaments and kayak tours.

Visiting a neighboring volunteer's site during a volleyball exchange/tournament

Visiting a neighboring volunteer’s site during a volleyball exchange/tournament

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More than 4 different communities attended the activity where young teenage girls learned about healthy relationships, team building, and fundraising among other topics

8 girls participated from Pescadería :)

8 girls participated from Pescadería 🙂

Kayak Limón is located close to the city of Miches in El Seibo, a province in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. While the east boasts sought-after beaches and all-inclusive hotels fit for Hollywood’s A-list, it is also home to hundreds of sugarcane-cutting communities of stateless citizens, a surplus of passion fruit, and off-the-beaten-path eco-tourism projects.

The view on the drive to Los Guineos

The view on the drive to Los Guineos – that’s the peninsula of Samaná in the distance

Host family

Host family

view from the host home

view from the host home

Kayak Limón operates out of Los Guineos (The Bananas), taking visitors out in kayaks to explore Laguna Limón and to understand the various ecosystems that compose it. To enhance the tourist’s exposure to Dominican culture by steering away from the all-inclusive experience, Kayak Limón plans to host visitors while they pass through the area for the tour. We met with two women to discuss hospitality and food preparation so that when overnight guests do begin to arrive, various homes are equipped to share Dominican culture with foreigners in an authentic, sanitary, and profitable manner.

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Laguna Limón

Laguna Limón

Kayak tour at Laguna Limón

Kayak tour at Laguna Limón with Emily and Sam 🙂

Mangroves and bird nests

Mangroves and bird nests

Playa Limón

Playa Limón – another destination on the Kayak Limón tour

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Our trusty tour guide Danny and fellow PCV Samuel

 

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Sam, Emily, and I

Sam, Emily, and I

Fishermen fishing in the estuary between the beach and lagoon

Fishermen fishing in the estuary between the beach and lagoon

Reassured of the genuineness and generosity of Dominicans, I headed back to my own site, motivated to continue capacitating others in ways I knew how to. While many jóvenes are aspiring to ser profesionales (be professionals), there is typically little support from either the school or household in terms of the skills or preparation required to get them there. Keeping in mind my duty as a Business volunteer, I developed a workshop that focused on professional development for young adults that could strengthen their self-esteem, enhance their financial management, and increase their opportunities look for and/or obtain jobs. The workshop lasted for four Sundays and was implemented in the following format:

  1. What do we count on as of now?
    1. SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
    2. Resumé Building: what is a Curriculum Vitae, what is it used for, and how do we create one
  2. Professionalism with Invited Speaker
    1. What is professionalism? *** Here, many people consider a ‘professional’ to be someone who has a university diploma, so we stressed that one’s professionalism is a) based on both internal and external attributes and b) is a combination of your abilities, knowledge, and expertise i.e. that a person might have a degree but might not be a legitimate professional ***
    2. How to prepare for an Interview
    3. Role Plays of various Professionalism scenarios
  3. Goals and Savings
    1. What is a goal? What are the criteria to establish one? (realistic, specific, important, measurable, action)
    2. What is savings? Why is saving important? What are the benefits of saving in a bank as opposed to your own home?
    3. How can we use savings to achieve our goals?
  4. Networking (was supposed to have another speaker come but he cancelled last minute)
    1. What is networking?
    2. Elevator Speeches
    3. How your Professionalism affects Networking

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Skits on how or how not to be professional

Skits on how or how not to be professional

This course took a significant amount of planning, but it turned out to be one of the most successful projects I’ve coordinated while in site, especially because it supports my goals and role as a Community Economic Development volunteer. 46 jóvenes ages 15 to 30 graduated from the course. Having sought support from a local bank, three graduates were also offered the opportunity to start a savings account with the minimum deposit already provided for them. I’m hoping to develop the curriculum into a formal lesson plan or manual so that other volunteers can use it to meet the needs of a population with such potential but not enough resources.

professional graduates :)

professional graduates 🙂

While working with the youth in Pescadería has provided me with some of the most surprising and rewarding moments of my service, there are many factors that make it one of the more difficult parts as well. I’ve stressed how worthwhile it has been to integrate myself into this community. I go out dancing, make spaghetti with my girlfriends, offer Internet and homework help, and have even learned to make comebacks at the guys when they hit on me. I’m integrated, and life is good. When I’m in a position of authority however, like in this workshop we just finished, the gears change and both parties still seem to be unfamiliar with each other’s expectations. In the end, it really comes down to culture and not age, but the youth are typically the ones that like to find out how far they can stretch the boundaries.

In the professionalism workshop, I explained at the beginning that the participants would be expected to attend the course, participate, and complete all homework assignments, and those that do so would graduate. When the course finished, multiple people were disgruntled when I told them that they wouldn’t be receiving a diploma. The fact was that while she found a way to turn in all of the assignments, she only showed up for only one Sunday. Another student, who happens to be one of my best guy friends here, attended and participated in all four workshops, but didn’t turn in any homework.

It is in these situations where I’m both reassured and puzzled by the mission of Peace Corps:

  • 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
Neighborhood birthday party

Neighborhood birthday party

Neighborhood birthday party

Neighborhood birthday party

Essentially two thirds of our work is for us – to make friends and share culture – and it’s a frustratingly real concept that many people don’t like to admit. The other third is the meat – capacity building –, which for me anyway seems to emulate the best and worst parts of service. The issue that I’ve been trying to explain above is essentially the act of balancing these three goals – doing my job in a place where I’m still coping with differences in culture and expectations, and where others will always be questioning and/or learning about mine.  As a foreign facilitator, it is not acceptable that a student, having known the expectations of the course, graduates without having completed the homework or with insufficient attendance. But here, in his/her own culture, it may acceptable, and unfortunately it often is. On another occasion, I saw teachers sit around the school while their students held a nearly violent strike because they didn’t like what was being served for lunch. Am I wrong to get frustrated at the fact that they are held to another standard based on differing cultural values or expectations? Is it fair to them that I hold them to what my culture has taught me is wrong and right?  How can one manage the task of forming both friendships and productive working relationships where there exists such differences?

The professionalism workshop example is fairly black and white, but it still lends itself to the difficulty of finding a productive or satisfying balance between cultural expectations, integration, and effective development – and doing so without creating too much of a fuss.  I’d also like to point out that while it is sometimes discouraging to clash cultures with even your closest of friends, I understand that is all part of the experience.  I still go out dancing, we still make spaghetti, I share my Internet, and make comebacks at the tígueres; I also share my own culture and experience to open opportunities and expand knowledge for those that have shared their culture with me here.  Whether it is touring lagoons with a mangrove connoisseur or explaining to youth that Facebook is typically not considered a professional way to network, I’ll continue to seek for such balance; it’s complexity is intriguing, and it’s mastery is the key to unlocking change and understanding.

preppin' to tear down this 4-year-old 'meeting room' at La Cabrita to build another one!

preppin’ to tear down this 4-year-old ‘meeting room’ at La Cabrita to build another one!

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“There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.”

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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¡hasta nunca!

5 May

Helloooooo world!  Currently writing to you from my bed in Santo Domingo.  Yup, we’re back in the big, bad capital.  We left Peralvillo yesterday morning around 9:30; I was a complete mess – can’t believe that 5 weeks of CBT went by so quickly!  I couldn’t have asked for a better host family experience.  They were welcoming, entertaining, comforting, generous, fun, and interesting to talk to; they treated me like a queen, taught me how to dance, opened their home to me and my fellow trainees, helped improve my Spanish, and shared Dominican cooking tips.  Blood-related or not, we are most certainly family 🙂  Because we had so much confianza, jokes, teasing, and/or sarcasm were not uncommon.  For example, when I’d have to leave the house for training, instead of saying hasta luego or adios or nos vemos ahorrita, I opted for hasta nunca (bye forever).  By the end of CBT, all of my neighbors were saying it too!  I explained to them that even though I say ‘bye forever’, I’ve always come back.  So, when I bid them hasta nunca when I left yesterday morning, I made a promise to both myself and to them that I’d return.

I believe I mentioned in a previous blog post that we were going to attend the Construye Tus Sueños Regional Conference this weekend.  CTS is a CED initiative that motivates entrepreneurship in 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 hometown.  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.  Pretty cool stuff.  Unfortunately, not everything went as planned, and the conference was postponed until further notice.  BUT, seeing as Peace Corps demands flexibility, we held our own mini conference on Friday in Peralvillo, which turned out to be a great success!

Friday was a busy day.  In addition to the CTS workshop, the director of the Community Economic Development Sector, Michael, came to visit us.  A large part of his job includes site development – finding and deciding where each of us will live and work for our two years of service.  He explained that the most important aspect of both his job and ours is collaboration.  In order for a community to receive a Peace Corps volunteer for example, a group or organization must solicit one (PC doesn’t just drop a volunteer in a random community).  Once in site, we’ll have 2 project partners that help us to integrate and to lead various projects.  Which brings me to TOMORROW, when we find out our site placements!  I have no idea what to expect, just that that’s where I’ll be living and working for the next two years.  Quite exciting, and nerve-wracking…

Last but not least, here’s some photos that I took during my CBT experience in Peralvillo: PCDR – CBT Training.  Wonderful place, even better people 🙂

Hasta nunca!

 

loca for locrio

21 Apr

Hello world!  Sickness-free, though I´m now suffering from a massive food coma.  My host sister and I just finished cooking a traditional dish called locrio – tasty, easy, and very filling.  It´s rice cooked and mixed with your choice of meat and veggies, we made ours with pork chop.  Here´s a basic recipe:

  1. Mash garlic and salt together in mortar with pestle
  2. Saute in a good-sized pot with your choice of meat and a bit of oil
  3. Throw in diced tomato, cilantro (leaves and stems), tomatoes, onion, two boullion cubes, water, tomato paste, and corn (any veggies you want really) – make sure to taste the sauce before you add the rice so it doesn´t come out too bland, you´ll probably need to add more salt
  4. Add 2 cups water for every 1 cup of rice you want to cook
  5. Cover, stirring every once and a while, until rice is cooked through

And that´s it!  Like most of the food we eat here, the slower and longer it cooks, the tastier it gets 🙂  You can also make it more of a soup simply by adding more water when you start cooking the rice.

This past week we finished conducting our business interviews.  I chose to interview my host dad, who has an agricultural business, as well as a neighbor who sells homemade popsicles out of her house (a difficult task given that the luz comes and goes as she pleases).  My dad grows cacao, plátano, grapefruit, cherries, herbs, and coconut, and also raises pigs, chickens, and bees.  However, he only sells cacao, plantains, honey, and pork.  The rest is used for family consumption.  Both were very interesting to talk to; I was able to work on my interviewing skills, which I´ll have to put to use during my diagnostic phase of service, while learning about business practices in the Dominican Republic.  Our trainers provided us with a lengthy list of questions regarding various topics including organizational structure, accounting, technology, and income.  Some were definitely easier to ask than others, especially because very few people here keep any records what so ever.  Unfortunately, many people consider income to be the same as profit, which led me to believe that my neighbor´s ice cream may in fact be more of an expensive hobby than a money-making business.

On Wednesday, we were reunited with our beloved friends from the Education sector.  Unfortunately, it was for the purpose of listening to lengthy and semi-depressing medical lectures.  BUT they did leave us about 2 hours of free time at the end of the day to swim at the location´s pond-like pool.  Many of them already know a good amount of information regarding their individual site-placements, where as we have yet to be told anything.  Regardless, our visit with them seemed too brief, but we´ll see them again in just over two weeks for the last bit of training before our site-reveal and swearing-in ceremony.

Thursday, we held another charla from the second module of the Somos Mujeres initiative.  This week, we made Suavitel, a detergent.  The ladies were very happy to be able to take something home, especially since it smelled so lovely.  Four of us helped Sasha lead two dinámicas (icebreakers – more on these later), Telephone and Peso Caliente.

Friday we took our second CBT evaluation.  Also, a current volunteer came to visit our Spanish class.  Because we´re the advanced class, she wants us to help out with a few activities at the Construye Tus Sueños conference in two weeks!  All of us trainees will participate in the conference with kids that graduated from the course, then our class will help current volunteers lead various sessions.  I´ll write more on this after I´ve attended the conference, but essentially, Construye Tus Sueños is an entrepreneurial course for kids.  Can´t wait to learn more about it, and to see the kids (and us!) in action.

Later that night, we all went down to the river to build a bonfire.  Given my Girl Scout background, I was in charge of building the fire!  High-pressure job, but with a rewarding outcome.  We stayed there for a few hours – drinking Brugal, munching on caña, watching fireflies, avoiding mosquitos, and enjoying spending time together outside of our official training classes.  Only thing missing was s´mores…

And last but not least, click here for a taste of bachata, served with a side of Usher.  I´m off to the Bomba!

happy birthday mindles!

14 Apr

We´ve been in the DR for almost a month and a half now, and this weekend is the first time I´ve been sick.  I´m not dying, but having a fever on a 90 degree day is just as fun as it sounds.  Though I hadn´t tried it in the States, the Mio I brought with me sure has made the rehydrations salts taste a bit more bearable.  Here,  Vicks Vapor Rub is a cure-all.  Have a bug bite?  Headache?  Stomachache?  Sore throat?  Just rub some ´mentol´ on where you happen to be hurting and you´ll feel better.  My host mom has been very helpful in trying to make me comfortable, but nothing´s the same as being cared for by your own mommy 🙂  HAPPY BIRTHDAY – love and miss you tons.

The past week we presented our group community diagnostic project in Spanish.  It went really smoothly, and it was a great way to get to familiarize ourselves with various aspects of Peralvillo, and also tools that we´ll need once in-site.  On Thursday, we invited our doñas and other ladies from the neighborhood to the training center for a charla on Somos Mujeres.  The Somos Mujeres (We Are Women) is an iniciative specific to the CED sector, started by PCVs, that focuses on financial management, income generation, and entrepreneurship for women.  Two volunteers conducted a very well-received presentation on how to manage a libro diario (record of incoming and outgoing money), and how to make Mistolin (a household cleaning product that the women will be able to make at home then sell to generate income).  On Friday, another trainee and I gave a presentation on customer service and quality control, and how they differ between the US and the DR.  All trainees have to give one of these presentations, primarily to inform other trainees, but also to practice a 4MAT lesson plan (motivation, information, practice, application), which we´ll use when we´re in-site and giving charlas by ourselves to members of our future community.

We´ve been going pretty non-stop since we´ve been here, but we´ve still found time for fun stuff.  To start, I had my first dance lesson!  Two other girls that live close by, Lauren and Samantha, came over to my house last Tuesday.  We drank vino de cacao while various neighbors and family members taught us basic steps of la bachata and el merengue.  There´s also another dance called la chapa, or more literally, the butt shake, maybe?  For this dance, my oldest teacher was a 14-year-old.  I did my best, but my body is just not able to move in this particular way.  Youtube it.  Anyway, it was quite the neighborhood spectacle, but we got a lot of ´cred for putting ourselves out there and demonstrating that we were interested in the local culture.

We´ve been playing lots of estop, known in the US as Scattegories.  Sometimes we play in Spanish class, lately I´ve been playing with some of the neighborhood kids.  We played quite a bit while we were living in the city, along with Scrabble, Bananagrams, and Taboo.  A previous training group had designed cards for the Taboo game in Spanish, so we thought it´d be a cool idea to leave something for future trainees.  We´re making Apples to Apples!  But in Spanish, and DR specific, so we´ve dubbed it Mangos a Mangos.  We´re in the process of making ´noun´cards and ´adjective´ cards, and hopefully we finish soon so we can test run it.

Been painting my nails a lot lately, it´s a good way to bond with my sister and pass the evenings.  It´s pretty convenient too because, as it turns out, I have a cotton tree in my backyard!  What doesn´t grow here?

That´s pretty much it as of now.  Hoping to find WiFi soon to be able to post photos, or maybe even a video of my new, stellar dance moves, but might have to wait till I get back to the city.  Certainly enjoying life here more than the capital, but there are parts of living in a small town that are inevitable, like chisme.  Rumors here spread like wildfire.  Everyone knows that the americanos are here, so any bit of information is taken and run away with.  I tried to explain to my family the quote ´take everything with a grain of salt´, but it didn´t translate very smoothly.  We walk to and from the community center at least twice a day, and we´re always a spectacle.  They can´t quite figure out what to do with us – Sam describes it as if they can´t figure out if we´re famous people or wild animals, maybe both.  Oh well, life in the campo…

Happy Easter!

31 Mar

Given that the official religion of the Dominican Republic is Catholicism, la Semana Santa is a big deal here. Many people leave the Capital to go visit relatives in the campo, but mine stuck around here seeing as theirs live right down the street. Semana Santa is primarily a mix of the following: masses and religious processions; traffic/drunk driving/drowning accidents (if I haven’t mentioned already, laws are not followed here – but don’t worry, we’re all safe!); fish dishes; family get togethers; ghost-town-like streets because most businesses are closed; song and dance; strolling and/or swimming at the Malecón; and most importantly, habichuelas con dulce. Practically every doña makes her version of these sweet and pureed red beans; mine’s no exception, though she did substitute the traditional habichuelas rojas for habas. My host mom made a huge batch, 7.5lbs of lima beans to be exact, then called everyone to make sure they didn’t forget to stop by and pick some up. It’s similar to Christmastime in the US: you make sweets, or others do while you taste test (caramels, toffee, cookies, spiced nuts, truffles, pizzelles – Weschler favorites I might add), and then package them up to share with your loved ones. Works pretty much the same here, except everyone makes the same dish. Anyway, it’s certainly an interesting concept, but they’re surprisingly tasty, and very filling!

Amigos at the Botanicals

Amigos at the Botanicals

I’ve been told that it rains every Easter weekend; given today’s the first time that it’s rained since we’ve been here, their almanacs are on point. Training ended at noon on Thursday, and granted nothing tooooo exciting has happened this past week (aside from an Iron Chef competition, a Creole lesson, 2 more vaccines, a surprise birthday party for Caitlyn, and a visit to Santo Domingo’s Botanical Gardens), I wanted to touch base before heading off to CBT; also, because I’m not sure when I’ll have Internet next.

Iron Chef, PCDR style

Iron Chef, PCDR style

We’re meeting at the training center at 9 tomorrow morning, then saying goodbye to our Education friends as they leave for the city of Monte Plata; we’re headed to a pueblito outside Yamasá. Though we’ll be fairly close, I’m sad to be separated…BUT it’s exciting to finally start doing more business-specific training. There’s 14 of us in the CED sector, all of us with varying Spanish levels and business experience. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be living with a new host family until the first week in May, when we’ll come back to Pantoja to wrap up training and swear-in to become actual Peace Corps Volunteers.

Until then, some of our training activities will include:

  • Business Skills Case Studies: Community Based Eco-Tourism, Artisans, and Ruta de Cacao (plus field trips!)
  • Complete a Community Diagnostic based on Monitor and Evaluation lessons
  • Trainee presentations regarding various business techniques – Julianna and I have ‘Customer Service’
  • Micro-business interviews
  • Business modules with Somos Mujeres
  • Income generation projects
  • Observation and hands-on learning activities in local school
  • Construye Tus Sueños conference
  • Spanish, Spanish, Spanish
Cervezas after the Botanicals

Cervezas after the Botanicals

We’ll find out our official project site placements, where we’ll be for the 2 years of service, on May 6th. With lots of learning and waiting to do until then, I’m just happy to be getting out of the city for a while. Despite the impressive history and prominent culture of Santo Domingo, the Capital, like any other city, is loud, dirty, and often dangerous. My family here has been more than hospitable; Peace Corps has provided them with extensive training, and they’ve been hosting volunteers since the 1990s. My family has provided me hearty food, protection, consejos, and even Internet. That being said, I’m excited to connect with a family that hasn’t had as much interaction with Americans – it might be more special, or at least more of an exchange, that way.

Aside from the Botanicals, our training center has to be one of the most peaceful places in Santo Domingo...

Aside from the Botanicals, our training center has to be one of the most peaceful places in Santo Domingo…

Welp, I’m off to finish packing. Later tonight, I’ll give my host family some good ole Vermont maple syrup that I brought with me. Here’s to hoping they like it – maybe they’ll even put it in their habichuelas con dulce next year!