The first stage of my Peace Corps service is complete! Tuesday through Friday we had our 3-month In-Service Training (IST), where all of the Community Economic Development volunteers presented their community and organizational diagnostics alongside their project partners. It was awesome to see where my friends are living, and to learn about some of the projects they plan to execute during their service. All of our assignments are very different, but in many ways similar; I’m excited to learn from and collaborate with my fellow PCVs – an awesome support system of some pretty creative, adventurous, and intellectual people!
As promised, here’s a very brief synopsis of how and what I’ve learned about Pescadería since my arrival in May (the essay I handed in to Peace Corps was over 20 pages written in Spanish!):
- To get involved in my community and to obtain information, I completed written and oral interviews, did lots of observing, and participated in various community activities: visited four out of the five churches, went to the beach with a church group, celebrated Mother’s Day and Patronales, went to baseball and softball games, learned how to play cards, Dominican bingo, and dominoes, bought used clothing at weekly ‘market’, cooked espaghettis with various groups of friends, helped in the alphabetization class, started my own English class, got my nails and hair did, and joined a group of doñas that walk every morning.
- In Pescadería there are over 4600 inhabitants and 530 houses. The majority of people live in houses made of cement blocks, or otherwise wood or a plaster-like material; floors are generally concrete. Many people have bathrooms inside the house, but few actually have running water; others use either individual or collective latrines. People cook using gas stoves or charcoal pits/stands; trash is normally picked up by a garbage truck, but also burned and/or thrown in the river.
- Main sources of income are agriculture, dairy farming, fishing, and motoconcho (motorcycle “taxis”). Incomes range from below RD$5000 to RD$60000 monthly ($125-$1500). Main crops are plantains, yucca, bananas, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro.
- Pescadería has paved streets and electricity for about 8 hours/day. There’s a school up to 8th grade and a high school (currently held in the elementary school while a new one is being built), primary care clinic, national police station, and a gym. There’s also 15 colmados, three butchers, an informal eatery, three furniture makers, three carpenters, one auto and four motorcycle repair shops, three beauty salons, four barbershops, five seamstresses, a place to make copies, three bars, one discoteca, a place that sells electric appliances, and a pigeon in a palm tree. All other services/errands that one can’t do in Pescadería can be done in Barahona about 20 minutes away – hospital, post office, telephone services, Internet center, library, university, supermarket, pharmacy, hardware store, etc.
Primary projects – how I plan to help my community, CED style:
- Start a women’s group or association – there isn’t one in Pescadería, and the doñas need to be heard! Once started, they’d have a place to discuss community needs and development, plan social activities and services, start a savings group, and simply have fun. As a business volunteer, I’ll also be able to offer the Somos Mujeres initiative to the women that are interested in learning how to generate income, start a business, and/or manage their finances.
- Teach Construye Tus Sueños – entrepreneurial skills for youth. Seeing as there are various types of businesses that Pescadería is lacking (bakery, clothing store, pharmacy, deli, fruit/veggie market, cheap eatery, hardware store, etc.) and lots of educated and motivated but jobless youth, there are plenty of opportunities to create a successful business.
- Support FUNDEPE – local development association that is essentially the umbrella organization for La Cabrita. They have brought numerous NGOs including UNDP, AMCHAM, AECID and Oxfam International to Pescadería, and currently operate a rotating fund to provide loans to community members.
Secondary projects – out of Community Economic Development framework, but just as important:
- Help build a basketball/volleyball court – lots of sports teams and kids but no place to play! Applying to the program Courts for Kids that sends a group from the US to help build and offers $5000 towards construction materials.
- Chicas Brillantes – literally “brilliant girls” this Youth initiative strives to promote and enhance self-esteem, teamwork, inner beauty, and respect among groups of adolescent girls.
- Find space to build/create community center – this is gonna be a tough one…
- Strengthen the school library – unfortunately the mayor is no longer paying the two people that were helping supervise the library, so it’s currently not in use. There are plenty of educational resources that could be used to transform the space into a functional library and learning center.
- Paint a World Map Mural!
- Plan a Field Day for kids
- Plan activities for Earth Day and International Women’s Day
- Better the trash service, or at least find activities to do with recycled material – there are women here that make flowers and art from trash, plant fiber, and recycled goods. I’d also love to start a garden behind my future house, and line the perimeter with glass bottles.
…and that’s just with the community! Here’s how I hope to help La Cabrita:
- Complete a priority matrix – we did a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), but because the project has so many different areas, we need to prioritize activities. Divide and conquer.
- Go over project plan – although La Cabrita is over two years old, they just started making cheese and yogurt three months ago, and they seemed to have rushed into the process without a formal plan. It’s important that where their project is headed is in line with their original mission, vision, and objectives. Seeing as they eventually want to build more structures to be able to accommodate more goats, it’ll be useful to draw a map of the whole project too.
- Capacity building – they’ve received various courses, but a few more couldn’t hurt. I hope to give charlas regarding organizational structure, publicity and marketing, accounting, customer service, and planning skills, but there are plenty of other options too – product, inventory, market/demand, quality control, credit, fixed and variable costs, control systems, sales, resource management, price and profit margin, and competition. The more business skills the better, and their profitability and business know-how will increase.
- Improve control systems – currently all of the records that La Cabrita keeps are done by hand. In the hopes of buying a computer, I’ll teach them computer skills and help the members develop a more effective way to keep track of milking, cheese and yogurt production, inventory, bloodlines, medical records, sales, expenditures, and so on. A computerized system will also allow La Cabrita to more easily monitor and evaluate their progress.
- Complete cost analysis – this people work their butts off. We want to make sure they’re making money!
- Develop marketing and publicity – consuming goat cheese and yogurt is not part of Dominican culture, or not yet anyway. First, I hope to help La Cabrita find a stable market where they can sell their tasty products – hotels, fairs, supermarkets, etc; and second, to enhance their delivery, publicity, customer service, and product value. We plan to open a professional email account, improve their current brochures, and create a web page.
- Plan a community activity to visit the project – improve and increase community support, sales, knowledge, and nutrition.
Plenty of opportunities to keep me busy, but nothing will be possible or sustainable without the support of my community. Through the diagnostic, I’ve made lots of friends and have learned priceless information about my community, La Cabrita, and myself. Can’t wait to get started!