Tag Archives: peace corps

manGo with God

16 Jun

And just like that, it was over. I was on my way home to Vermont; my 40 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer were complete.

Overcome with a confusing combination of exhaustion, relief, sadness, and disbelief and surrounded once again by swooning valleys, rolling hills, and luscious greenery, I gazed at the outstretched highway and struggled to process the reality.

How many mangoes might I have eaten throughout my service? Will I remember how to dance bachata like a campesina? Might La Cabrita eventually turn a profit? What kind of person will Omailin be when he grows up? How many of my Chicas Brillantes will avoid an adolescent pregnancy and instead graduate university to become young professionals? When will I be back to visit?

Memories from the last 3 years overwhelmed me – receiving our site placements, relearning how to be myself in a foreign country, inaugurating the court, hosting visitors, my Chicas Brillantes, the sounds of my neighborhood, how wounded I was when things weren’t working out with La Cabrita, watching Omailin grow up, all of the road trips I took with Alejandra and Michael, my two students winning Construye Tus Sueños, this last year in the capital, passing through the metal detector in airport security with my cat Mio in my arms and trying to be brave for him. I couldn’t help but smile, and prayed that these moments and the love I that have for the Dominican Republic would never escape me.

My last visit to Pescadería was comforting and bittersweet. Three years ago, the people there became my family, adopting me into their lives without blinking an eye. Since first arriving, babies have become toddlers, teenagers are now moms, and La Cabrita has slowly developed into a functioning enterprise. I had a teary conversation with Mari, one of my Chicas Brillantes and the first friend I’d made in site. She thanked me for helping her to realize that she didn’t want to grow up to be like her mother (an illiterate single mother of 5), but that she instead wanted to study, work, find a loving companion, and then consider having kids. I melted. Two busloads of us took a trip to one of my favorite places in country, Las Marias de Neiba, to celebrate all of the hard work we’d accomplished as a community. We splashed, laughed, and recounted each detail of the court-building process. Later that night, we jammed into a cozy, campo house to watch the NBA Finals.  I had a long conversation with Rosi, the president of La Cabrita, to discuss their setbacks, growth, and plans for the future. We plucked mangoes off the ground, the trees overburden with fruit from recent rains, and passed the days in front of Pepelo’s colmado as the nectar navigated around our grins.

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One of my favorite views in country – the entrance to Pescadería

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Southern plantains

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Visiting the mural my mom, aunt, and I painted at the local high school!

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Girls at Las Marías

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Mari and I

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Reni and I

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Carlos, Pepelo, and friends

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Taking Omailin for his first swim!

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NBA Finals

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Neighborhood happenings

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Reina and I collecting mangoes

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Omailin and his papayas

 

I did my best to savor these last moments – each view, smell, taste, conversation, and hug – as much as possible.  I departed from Pescadería in peace, and though I was unsure when I’d be back, I ensured myself that I would be.  Si Dios quiere…

 

 

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Southern coast, Los Patos beach

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Showing Carlos what the southern coast is all about!

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Los Patos

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Amanda (current PVC in Pescadería) and I on the way back to the capital after my last visit, stopping to get coconuts along the way!

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Another pit stop – mango festival in Baní

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Farewell party with one of my favorite ladies, Natalie – the Yin to my Yang

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Carlos’s brother and I out for one last time in the Colonial Zone

 

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Late-night eats at Barra Payan, a renown Dominican establishment that’s open 24/7 and known for its traditional sandwiches and delicious, fresh juices

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Couldn’t leave the island without one last trip to the colmado for empanadas and Presidente beer

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Julie and my last day at the office!  We first met on the plane 40 months ago, and were the last ones to leave from our group.

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Last dinner at my favorite restaurant – lion fish ceviche, grilled octopus, and a goat cheeseburger!

In terms of immediate future plans, I’m most looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and basking in the joys of Vermont summertime; to rejuvenating parts of me that were quieted during my service, especially while living within the sprawl of Santo Domingo. But nevertheless, another adventure is not far off, as I will join my mom in Africa for one month of travel around Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Namibia. She also finishes her Peace Corps service this month, and we are rewarding ourselves with a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter Close of Service endeavor.

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence.  I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love.  I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.” – Leo Tolstoy; a quote from one of my very first blog posts.

In conclusion, this has been an incredible experience, one that will take time to truly register and recognize its impact on my soul, beliefs, expectations, and future plans. These last three years have filled me with an indescribable amount of memories, gratitude, curiosity, and faith.  Time has flown and my heart is full.  People near and far have been both supportive and welcoming, encouraging me to seize the opportunities at hand to create friendships, affect change, and continue learning – I hope you’re able to do the same for yourselves. Thank you for being a part of this adventure.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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Peace, love, thanks, and mangoes. 

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…

visit revelations

8 Mar

Happy International Women’s Day! Though I didn’t do anything in particular to celebrate this special day, these last few weeks suffice.

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Silpa, Julie, me, and Natalie – the Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders for health, education, business, and youth sectors.  Admirable co-workers and superb friends.

To put it briefly, I have a full heart and busy mind. Since returning from a much needed and appreciated month-long visit in the States, I have continued on with the “visit” trend. Work visits with potential groups aka partnering organizations in future site placements for the new group of CED volunteers that just arrived on March 2nd. Visits with host families to prepare them in receiving a new, foreign family member. A quick visit back to the States to celebrate the marriage of one of my best friends, my college roommate of three years. Playing host while three different people left their comfort zones to explore my world here in Santo Domingo and beyond. Reconnecting with two of my best friends from my swear-in group who have since moved on from Peace Corps and are leading successful lives as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  Visiting the volunteer currently living in Pescadería and finally enjoying our community together in person.

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Alejandra and I out in the border province of Elias Piña for site development.

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Pineapples and cabins at the eco-lodge in Rio Limpio, Elias Piña

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Traffic jam in Rio Limpio

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Stacey, former PCV, showing me the ropes of Elias Piña

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Beans in Elias Piña

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Greenhouses in Elias Piña

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Bee hives in Dajabón

 

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Peanut operation in Dajabón

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Work perks!  Marmalade, honey, peanuts, and peanut butter gifted to me by groups interested in collaborating with a business volunteer.

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Lovely house I spotted while in Barahona on site development

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La Ciénaga, Barahona

Though all of these visits have had a different vibe and purpose, I have nevertheless enjoyed each and every one of them. These intercambios have not only helped me to reconnect with old friends, but have brought to light certain aspects of my service here on the island that I might otherwise not have recognized.  Gracias a todos for all of our shared conversations and experience.

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Julie, Courtney, and I at Julie and Chris’s wedding #itsementabe

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Reni, my sister from Pescadería, finally came to visit me in the capital!

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Amanda, the current PCV in my old site, and I.

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Reunited with two of my favorites, Samantha and Kaley, who both served with me here in the Dominican Republic.

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Kayaking on Laguna Limón out in the east of the country with a fellow Clemson Tiger in the background!

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Montaña Redonda in Miches

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Playa Limón, part of the Kayak Tour

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Playa Esmerelda, Miches

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Chris, Carlos, and I at the end of our adventure in Miches

 

The culmination of these visits has led to me celebrating THREE WHOLE YEARS of life here in the Dominican Republic. Plenty of ups and downs, plenty to look forward to, so much to be thankful for.

I end this post with some food for thought, revelations from recent visits, goals for the future, and a just a couple more photos documenting this lovely life I’m so lucky to live.

  • Everyday Leadership
  • Preguntar es aprender. On a recent guagua ride, a young man sitting in between two boisterous tigueres and a friendly doña was noticeably anxious. He had missed his bus stop due to the fact that he didn’t quite know how to arrive to where he was going. The two tigueres were unimpressed, scoffing at his lack of street smarts.       As he dismounted the guagua however, frantic to retrace his steps and reach his destination, the doña empathetically encouraged him to simply ask next time, that nobody knows everything.
  • But even if you aren’t learning anything, confidence can help you play it off like it knows what you’re talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S0FDjFBj8o
  • Spoil your taste buds with healthy juice combos! Recent favorites include anything with kale (can’t even taste it, just makes the juice green and more nutritious). Pictured below: mango, kale, cucumber, basil, and honey.

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  • The Art of Getting Things Done. Everyone has their own way of feeling productive, but now that it’s such a busy time of year, a few practices are helping me to survive – smart to-do lists, stepping away from my desk (during lunch and at least every hour), and leaving myself a solid 45 minutes to prepare myself in the morning.

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  • Have a vision, do a bubble map. Though I at first procrastinated this “assignment” from my dad during my time in the States, I now appreciate why he encouraged me to do it. Be it past times, career paths, or fields of study, what are you interested in?       What draws you? What are you good at? What do you have experience in? How are these topics related? Does it have anything to do with what you’re involved in at the moment? How might this image change over time? Having a vision not only helps you focus, but more easily allows you to focus your thoughts when communicating your goals to others.
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My personal bubble map.  Most of my interests – empowerment, food, small business, policy, and education – are rooted in service, an overarching passion of mine.

  • Journal.
  • Travel ≠ Vacation. Vacation ≠ Travel. “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
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Reunited with two of my favorite troublemakers.

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Omailin, Jenna (Go Tigers!), and I in Pescadería

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Amanda organized a trash clean-up at the court.  Very successful event, thanks to Jenna for being such a good sport.  Notice that our court now has lights installed!?

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Omailin and I

 

Peace, love, and mango season!

 

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.

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 ☺ 

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.”

blocks, crocs, and doñas

31 May

I want to thank all of those who responded to my desperate pleas for donations towards our basketball/volleyball court because we’ve raised $400 dollars over our fundraising goal! In addition to what the town mayor is offering towards the project, we have about US$6000 to work with. Our Courts for Kids group is scheduled to arrive in Pescadería June 8th. They will sleep in the local school, and will have their daily meals prepared by two gung-ho doñas. We plan to work June 9th through June 12th, mixing and pouring cement alongside the multitudes of jovenes that will very soon benefit from the court’s completion – who are also in charge of planning various cultural activities for our visitors. If all goes as plans and we finish the court, we’ll head Friday to celebrate at San Rafael beach and then inaugurate the court the morning of the 14th. The group will then go to the capital on the 15th, stay the night at another local beach, and head home to the States on the 16th.

the team on one of our first days of hard labor

the local team on one of our first days of hard labor

materials arrive and cement is mixed

materials arrive and cement is mixed

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the court with the base dug and rebar set

the court with the base dug and rebar set

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Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

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Regino

Regino

Genesis

Genesis

taking five

taking five

blocks being laid!

blocks being laid!

The excitement and energy of the local athletes is motivating– I can’t tell if they are more anxious to meet our visitors or to play on the court. Before the group comes we need to have the base finished, columns built, and ground leveled. This way, we’ll have four days to pour the cement, put on the backboards, and hopefully get the court painted. I’m relieved to say that we’re making good progress.  From the pictures above you can see that we’ve got the base built – just have to pour the cement for the columns and then level, compact, add, and re-compact the sub-grade.

La unión hace la fuerza

Unity makes strength

the team after a long day of work

the team after a long day of work

During my shrinking amount of free time, I joined up with a group of PCVs and went to Lago Enriquillo – a confident check off my growing bucket list to complete while on the island.  Lago Enriquillo is salt-water lake located close to the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti.  As the largest body of water on the island, it is also known as the lowest point in the Caribbean.  Due to its unique habitat, the lake is home to a number of species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world, drawing both national and international tourists to experience birding and boat tours.

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake :)

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake 🙂

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Baby crocs!

Baby crocs!

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Mama croc keepin' a look out

Mama croc keepin’ a look out

Interestingly, Enriquillo’s water level is growing (there are multiple theories why, but it has still yet to be solved), meaning that overtime the lake’s salt concentration is decreasing.  This occurrence is both good and bad.  Because the water is not as concentrated, more species are able to survive in the lake.  However, the rising level of the water is encroaching on locals’ farm lands, and the last of three islands located within the lake (nesting grounds for flamingoes and home to a unique species of iguana) is in danger of being submerged.

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

Local fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

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Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Me with the 'guanas

Me with the ‘guanas

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

Another recent accomplishment was our Somos Mujeres Regional Conference. Spearheaded by a fellow business PCV, about 10 other volunteers and I planned and organized a conference dedicated to women’s empowerment. The two-day event emphasized two Peace Corps sectors – health and business. Over 20 women from the southern region of the country attended the conference, where we covered topics including the importance of savings, how to set goals, what it means to be an entrepreneur, healthy home and business practices, and how to discuss sensitive topics like condom use and HIV/AIDS with your children.

Getting to know one another :)

Getting to know one another 🙂

 

Savings activity

Savings activity

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

One of my favorite parts of the conference was when two health volunteers explained how germs are spread, then taught the group how to make hand sanitizer. The women not only understood the importance of safe hygiene practices within a home and business, but also left the conference with a potential income generation activity.

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

 

Germ cycle

Germ cycle

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Though I had intended for my project partner and two women from La Cabrita to join me as well, my friend Silvana and I represented Pescadería appropriately.  Plus, no matter if you have participants from your own community or not, attending conferences are always motivating and reinvigorating.  Dominicans are selfless, energetic, and resilient people.  They are masters of conversation; on the other hand they find it not the least awkward to sit in prolonged silence.  They are not embarrassed by silly ice-breakers, and know how make the most out of something small or simple.  Silvana and I plan to share our motivation and knowledge gained from the conference with a group of local women who are attending a weekly course in which they are learning skills they can potentially use to generate income (i.e. how to make a wide assortment of household cleaning products).

Silvana and I :)

Silvana and I 🙂

Somos Mujeres graduates

Somos Mujeres graduates

And lastly, a belated mother’s day to all my doñas out there! Here mothers are honored on the third Sunday of May, and to celebrate the women of my neighborhood threw a party. Just about all the attendees received a letter and at least one beer from their husbands – they even gave one to me!  They had a gift exchange, and as per usual, a tasty Dominican brindis.  Oh there was a doña booty-shaking competition too, but that should go without saying.

Neighborhood Mothers' Day Celebration

Neighborhood Mothers’ Day Celebration

 

Reina, my most reliable Dominican mom :)

Reina, one of my many Dominican moms 🙂

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

table of gifts for the ladies!

table of gifts for the ladies!

My neighbor Delly receiving her husband's card

My neighbor Delly receiving her card (and beers!) from her husband

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party crashers

party crashers

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what's a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

what’s a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

Without a fuss or question, the women (and men too! – those that don’t hit on me anyway) of Pescadería have taken me in as one of their own daughters.  This whole Peace Corps thing wouldn’t be the same glorious adventure or experience without the doñas’ cushy hugs, brutal honesty, or dirty humor.  And while striving to remain humble, I continue to be thankful for it all, down to the last grain of their customarily bountiful rice offerings.

I was even honored at the Mothers' Day Celebration!

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.

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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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