Tag Archives: host family

baffled and blanketed

22 Apr

Well folks, it’s official. I’ve finally booked my plane ticket back to the United States. I knew this time would eventually draw near, but despite all of the epiphanies I’ve experienced while living in a foreign country, this might be the most difficult thing I’ve had to wrap my head around yet. Less than two months until I am officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

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Don’t worry – Mio/Neal got his plane ticket too!

I was struck with a similar wave of disbelief around this same time last year, when my original 27-month commitment as a Volunteer drew to a close and all of the people I had originally come into country with packed up their lives here to continue on elsewhere. The countdown clock essentially restarted once I decided to stick around for an additional 13 months. Needless to say, time has flown by and it is now my turn to do what my peers were brave enough to do last year.

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Group trip to Las Galeras, Samaná for Easter!  The last time I had been there was almost 3 years ago when we celebrated 4th of July with the group I entered the country with.

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Playa Rincón – my new favorite beach!

For the past several months we have been in the thick of “site development” – identifying, investigating, and visiting communities and groups around the country that have expressed interest in collaborating with Peace Corps. The process is tedious but stimulating. Not only do we explore all corners of the country, but we also meet motivated people who are doing what they can with the limited amount of resources they have to make their community a better place. Site development involves multiple meetings, orientations, security checks, rounds of paperwork, and the coordination of at least 9 different Peace Corps employees/Volunteer Leaders plus that of the respective community counterparts. The placement of a Community Economic Development Volunteer suggests that there is enough motivation and existing infrastructure (among other factors) within a community to build off of; the ultimate goal of the partnership is increase economic activity, improve business skills and practices among locals, and provide an intimate intercultural exchange between the Volunteer and members of the community.

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My boss, Michael, and I out on the road.  We never go too long without a cup of coffee.

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After work activities – watching Michael’s band play (he’s in the background on the far left)!

One of the main roles I’ve played in this process is visiting and prepping the host families. The group that the Volunteer is partnered with is in charge of identifying which family is both willing and able to host a Volunteer for at least his/her first four months at site (families do receive a monthly stipend for their service). Though challenging for those of us who are used to an American-sized personal bubble, staying with a host family is both the most authentic and effective way to become integrated into a community and develop language skills.

Some families have heard of Peace Corps or have met Volunteers before and seem to be somewhat familiar with American customs; most are anxious to receive feedback about how to welcome a foreigner into their home. Though my level of Spanish and knack for Dominicanisms typically make this orientation go smoothly (though I have been mistaken as the Volunteer that is coming to serve in the community), I try to chock each visit full with tips while reminding them that the person who is coming to live with them has been in the DR for less than three months – a fresh slate compared to my three years: “Not all Americans have blonde hair and blue eyes.” “Wanting privacy does not mean that they are mad at you, but rather that they’d like some time alone.” “If you eat rocks for breakfast, they will also try to eat rocks for breakfast – don’t make them anything special. They are just another member of your family.”

Though the orientation lasts only one night, it puts the families at ease and helps to clear up what could potentially be a serious misunderstanding. Not to mention, I get to enjoy the cooking and company of a loving doña – aspects that lack from my service here in Santo Domingo. I don’t think that I will ever forget Quisqueya, a future host mom in Montecristi, asking me upon arrival if had to go #1 or #2 to make sure that she had provided me with enough toilet paper and water to flush the toilet. Or snuggling in bed with Ana from Dajabón, who I’d met just hours before, while we watched a poorly dubbed version of Nanny McPhee and sipped sweet coffee on a quiet, campo night. All of the Dominican families that I stayed with during these visits were gracious hosts who reminded me what it is that I love so much about this culture – warmth, camaraderie, conversation, faith, and leisure.

Perhaps it has been these visits and the fond memories they’ve evoked that are making this transition so frightening. When experiencing an unfamiliar place or culture for the first time, the very quirks that make it “it” are often the most difficult to adjust to. Noise, food, past times, landscapes, structures, relationships, and histories – the threads of a culture’s fabric; a blanket that comforts an opportune soul. What some Volunteers spend their entire services adjusting to is now home to me; I am wrapped up in the craziness of this culture so comfortably snug, or as the Dominicans say, aplatana’a. Thinking about departing this island of doñas, guaguas, and guineos after accomplishing such integration and appreciation for it is almost painful.

In the meantime, I have quite a few other things to distract me from truly processing, accepting, and preparing for June 15th. Namely, coordinating the National Conference for Construye Tus Sueños, which takes place next week. Here’s a video of last year’s conference to remind you how much I love this initiative that is dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in youth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAlPujF05fc

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

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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.