Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

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…

HCD, CBT, and CTS

12 Apr

As I mentioned in my last post, passing the two-year milestone has been both salty and sweet. Good friendships – formed while navigating a foreign culture and work environment on unforgettable bus rides – will now have to be stretched over international waters. All but two other members of my swear-in group are continuing their studies, travels, and adventures elsewhere.

John, Andy, Samantha, and I

John, Andy, Samantha, and I

Andy and I - such good friends that we happened to wear the same outfit.  #tigueres

Andy and I – such good friends that we happened to wear the same outfit. #tigueres

But this transition has been mostly sweet, especially because of Semana Santa! The official religion of the Dominican Republic is in fact Catholicism, but most religious holidays are celebrated outside of the church – wherever there happens to be music, food, and family. Though consumerism is not as prominent as say during Navidad, people buy plenty of new clothes and big plastic pools to celebrate Easter. If you’re not swimming in a pool in the middle of the street with a bunch of your neighbors, you’re not having a very Good Friday. No one here ‘gives up’ anything for Lent, but rather binges on a traditional dish called habichuelas con dulce. Beans (usually kidney but sometimes black or lima) are cooked with coconut water until soft. They are blended in a licuadora (though I like it how my doña leaves some whole), and then put back on the stove with cinnamon, chunks of sweet potato, a touch of salt, and sugar. After having boiled for un ratico, Carnation milk and raisons are added. For a final touch, habichuelas con dulce are served with a few wafer-life cookies on top. Though I find this concoction rather delicious, I can’t decide if HCD are a clever use of a typically savory food staple or maybe just that my food standards have dropped over these last 24 months…and to refresh your memory on how I spent Semana Santa last year, click here.

Good Friday

Good Friday

Chicas chillin'

Chicas chillin’

HCD

HCD

I will be moving from Pescadería to the capital sometime in May to start working in the Peace Corps office. As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development sector, I will serve as a liaison between the office and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. Some of my responsibilities include assisting the Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector in site development for future volunteers, providing technical support to my peers, and helping in the coordination of several In-Service Trainings and conferences. Though I will be working in the office, there will still be a fair amount of travel, especially because I plan to provide continued support to my people, groups, and projects in Pescadería.

the birthday party my Chicas Brillantes planned for me - how could I leave them?!

the birthday party my Chicas Brillantes planned for me – how could I leave them?!

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at home.

at home.

To help prepare for this new role, I’ve been helping with the Community-Based Training for the new group of Community Economic Development trainees that arrived in March. I’m living with the same host family that I lived with in Peralvillo two years ago during my own CBT – a sincere and straightforward reminder of how generous, cohesive, and tranquilo most Dominicans are. I work alongside the Technical Trainer, a host country national who offers culturally aware feedback and advice to the trainees during CBT. Community Based Training lasts for five weeks, and allows trainees to deepen their cultural understanding of the DR by living with host families while also practicing newly acquired information related to business development by working directly with youth/community groups; it is designed to give trainees the basic information and tools necessary for 2 years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the CED sector.

Habichuelas con dulce with my host family in Peralvillo

Habichuelas con dulce with my host family in Peralvillo

my host sister, Mayelin, and I

my host sister, Mayelin, and I

My participation in the training sessions is beneficial for two reasons. First, my own experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer is supplemental but crucial information for the trainees to be exposed to – while the Technical Trainer offers a cultural perspective, I help relate the material to a volunteer’s experience. Whatever information or practice I feel might have lacked in my own training, I emphasize it in theirs to help make sure they are as prepared as they can be for service (which for them will start on May 13th). Furthermore, I’ve now gotten to know the people who I will be supporting for the next 12 months, which will allow me to tailor future advice or technical support to their personalities, learning styles, and experience. Overall, CBT has been productive and positive – the group is a set of talented individuals who all seem eager to apply their skills and knowledge to help make a difference – and I look forward to continue working with both the people of the CED sector and their community counterparts towards increased economic opportunities within the Dominican Republic.

CBT: tour with the trainees at Hermanos Guillen to see and understand how a local business operates

CBT: tour with the trainees at Hermanos Guillen to see and understand how a local business operates

Pottery at Hermanos Guillen

Pottery at Hermanos Guillen

Trainees sculpting clay at Hermanos Guillen

Trainees sculpting clay at Hermanos Guillen

In this same vein, the National Conference for Construye Tus Sueños is at the end of the month. CTS is an entrepreneurial course designed to help youth develop the skills and knowledge needed to start their own businesses. Once they’ve completed the course, students are encouraged to create written plans regarding their business ideas. These plans not only allow the students to apply the course material to a practical concept, but also give the students a tool to present to financial institutions and/or guide the execution of his/her business.   At the national competition, students present their plans and compete to win the money needed to start/expand their businesses (usually capped at RD$50,000). I’ve been facilitating Construye Tus Sueños with the help of my project partner, Mónica, to two young people from Pescadería. Both of our students wrote plans for their own businesses – Chamila hopes to start a clothing store where she can sell both commercial and original clothing designs; Jonathan has already started his own veterinary practice but since CTS has realized the potential of his business and therefore aims to expand his target market and product variety as well as strengthen his marketing campaign and accounting practices.

Chamila wearing one of her original designs

Chamila wearing one of her original designs

Jonathan and his veterinary business

Jonathan and his veterinary business

Of all of the written plans that were turned in to compete in the National Conference, both Chamila’s and Jonathan’s plans were accepted into the Top 15 who will compete for prize money! While not at Community Based Training, Mónica and I will consult with both of them to create an oral presentation that effectively communicates their business concept and also demonstrates their passions and entrepreneurial spirits.

CED PCVs

CED PCVs

CED PCVs

CED PCVs

Wishing all of my fellow PCVs from 517-13-01 the best of luck.  con los pies en la tierra, y los ojos en la luna //// eres dueño/a de todo lo que puedes imaginar.