Tag Archives: chicas brillantes

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.

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Close of Service?

12 Mar

My two-year mark has come and gone as quickly as mosquitoes flock to a gringo at dusk. Last week we had our Close of Service (COS) conference in the capital, where 517-13-01 (the name of our group who swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers together) celebrated and reflected on the experience we’ve had here on this island.

517-13-01

517-13-01

To say the least, COS was bittersweet. Like almost any other unit that trains, lives, and endures hardship together, 517-13-01 has become a tight-knit group. Although we live far apart in distance, a phone call with a fellow volunteer always seems to elicit sympathy, resolve frustration, and inspire endurance, creativity, and the motivation to continue with what we as a group set out to do. Our COS conference provided us with both closure and opportunities. We listened to the experience and advice of three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to work in the development world, and learned how to translate two years of service into convincing bullets points on a resume. Our Country Director explained how Peace Corps Volunteers can take advantage of non-competitive eligibility status, useful for those of us who wish to continue our careers working for the federal government. I shed tears during several visualization activities, stumped at the thought of how on earth I can say goodbye to two incredible networks I’ve created here in the Dominican Republic – my cohorts and my community. My family.

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

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517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

517-13-01 Trip to Bahía de las Águilas

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After two years, I’ve become aplatana’a. Essentially, native, as the Dominicans say. Though I still don’t understand or agree with certain parts of the culture, the uncertainty or uncomfortableness with other aspects has long since disappeared. No longer having to deal with uncertainty avoidance (a concept I was taught in Intercultural Communication classes and now can apply to real life experience), it’s easier and more comfortable to work and interact in a foreign environment. Loud noises during conversations, cramped guagua rides, non-formal education techniques, machismo tígueres, lethargic concepts of time, and superstitious doña myths have become normal, expected parts in the equation of sustainable development here in the Dominican Republic. Though they still present a challenge, setting out to work in this environment no longer seems as daunting because I’ve got two years of experience under my belt.  Or better yet, bathing suit?  Apron?  Fingernails?

Having just co-coordinated a sub-regional conference for about 30 Chicas Brillantes, I am as busy as ever. Plans for the annual Construye Tus Sueños business competition are due at the end of the month, and I’m working with two young entrepreneurs to complete their plans – one who aims to start a clothing store and another who hopes to improve his already existing operations as a veterinarian. To top it all off, my mom and aunt came to visit! We painted a mural in the local high school with students of the junior class, and crafted artistic expressions of individual beauty with my Chicas Brillantes, who continue to impress and inspire me every day.

Workshop with the junior class - choosing values to put on our Tree of Values mural.

Workshop with the junior class – choosing values to put on our Tree of Values mural.

Learning about values and deciding which ones to put on our mural.

Learning about values and deciding which ones to put on our mural.

Choosing values to put on our mural

Choosing values to put on our mural

Visit from my auntie and mommy!

Visit from my auntie and mommy!

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Tree of Values

Tree of Values

Additionally, I’d like to share that I’ve secured the help from a new project partner. Project partners, or key community contacts, are members from the local community that work in conjunction with volunteers to meet both local needs and Peace Corps’ goals.  Essential to both community integration and the longevity of projects, they are the true volunteers. They are the people who, once the volunteer leaves, ensure the sustainability of a project, and continue to multiply education and opportunities throughout the community. Monica is a young woman from my community, who not only teaches Construye Tus Sueños and Chicas Brillantes with me, but has also become one of my closest friends on the island. A natural-born educator, Monica presents what we’ve planned together with grace and conviction. She imparts the same tools and knowledge that I could as a volunteer, but because she is native to the island, our audience receives it more instinctively. Seeing her impart tools and knowledge that I’ve introduced to her, and the positive effect she’s having on our students, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my service.

Michelle and I - Co-coordinators of the Sub-Regional Chicas Brillantes conference

Michelle and I – Co-coordinators of the Sub-Regional Chicas Brillantes conference

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Professional Panel of women from our Regional .  Rosiris (President of La Cabrita) and Mónica (my new project partner) both participated and represented Pescadería with fuerza!

Professional Panel of women from our Regional . Rosiris (President of La Cabrita) and Mónica (my new project partner) both participated and represented Pescadería with fuerza!

Chicas y Mujeres Brillantes

Chicas y Mujeres Brillantes

Professional Panel

Professional Panel: Yessenia (Educator for World Water Relief), Rosiris (President, La Cabrita), Mónica (Math Teacher, studied abroad in Cuba), Yasmiris (Presidente of Women’s Association and local Tilapia Business), Indhira (Doctor) —- all from the region of Barahona and huge inspirations for our Chicas Brillantes

Mónica and our girls from Pescadería celebrating International Women's day at the conference

Mónica and our girls from Pescadería celebrating International Women’s day at the conference

Rosiris, Mónica, and I - two inspirational women from my community who have contributed to the motivation I have to continue working here in the Dominican Republic.

Rosiris, Mónica, and I – two inspirational women from my community who have contributed to my decision to continue working here in the Dominican Republic.

So for now, I’m staying. Yup!! I’ve signed up to stay another whole year on this island. Starting mid- to late-May, I will be living in the capital and working as the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development sector. I will describe more of my plans and responsibilities as PCVL in a later post, but I figured I owed an announcement now that I’ve been officially cleared to stay on board ☺ 

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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beans and brilliance

5 May

The following post is picture-heavy, depicting two very different but equally significant events.  But before I describe them, here’s your last chance to donate to the construction of our basketball/volleyball court project – gracias!

Donate Here

This first series was taken on April 18th, the Friday of Easter weekend.  Here during Semana Santa or Holy Week, people don’t go to work (or church really for that matter) but rather spend most of their time bathing in plastic pools and eating habichuelas con dulce (literally, sweet beans).  Maybe I’ve been living on this island too long, but I’m actually a big fan of this culinary curiosity.  Doñas cook beans (typically kidney beans but my favorite version is made with black beans) until soft, then they blend them up, adding cinnamon, malagueta, chunks of sweet potato or squash, raisins, and loads of sugar and evaporated milk.  Served hot or cold and typically topped with wafer-like cookies, habichuelas con dulce are the symbol of Semana Santa in the Domincan Republic, sin duda.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

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Dominoes

Dominoes

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

...which they did

…which they did

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Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

The second event is something that over 40 other people and I have been looking forward to since October – the Chicas Brillantes graduation!  All of my Chicas dressed in their best clothes to celebrate their obtained knowledge and completion of the course.  The girls had decorated the church festively, and given that all the participants were able to invite their mothers, there were nearly 100 people in attendance.  I explained to the moms some of the topics we’d covered throughout the course – beauty, self-esteem, nutrition, anatomy, goal-setting, education, gender roles, etc. – and thanked them for motivating/allowing their girls to attend.  We had a guest speaker lead an empowering dinámica about confronting an all-too-common problem here in the DR – violence against women.  The girls performed various skits that stressed the importance of education and respectful behavior, and like most of our reuniones, there was plenty of singing, dancing, and giggling.  43 chicas, ranging from 5 to 17 years old, received a diploma and goody bag for demonstrating an acceptable attendance record, regular participation in meetings, and enhanced skills and knowledge.  We closed the ceremony in the way that any event in this country is expected to finish  – with a bountiful brindis.  Every participant brought food to share, giving way to a spread that even the doñas were impressed with – espaghettis (we made over 15 pounds of it!), empanadas, ham and cheese, bread, coleslaw, soda, and cake.

Rehearsing for their skits

Rehearsing for their skits the day before

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

"Repect" skit

“Repect” skit

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Education skit

Education skit

No Violence Against Women demonstration

No Violence Against Women demonstration

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

My brilliant graduates

My brilliant graduates

Bustle at the brindis

Bustle at the brindis

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

All in all, it was an enjoyably interactive graduation.  The mothers left full, enlightened, and giggly, and the chicas were proud to have put on such a successful and educational event for their moms to experience.  I look forward to continue meeting with the girls, mentoring them on whichever topics contribute to their knowledge, promise, and undeniable brilliance.

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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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!