Tag Archives: peace corps

celebrate we will

27 Feb

Happy Dominican Independence Day!  Led by national hero Juan Pablo Duarte, the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haitian occupation on the 27th of February in 1844.  Given its historic importance, February is also the month of Carnival.  I haven’t seen fireworks yet, but this little country sure knows how to party and Dominicans seem to always be looking for an occasion to celebrate – Christmas, Kings Day, Independence Day/Carnival, and not too far away is Semana Santa!  Hopefully next year I’ll be able to write a more descriptive and first-hand account of the locura that is Carnival.

Lots has happened since my last semi-chaotic and long post so I’ll do my best to keep this short and highlight the important (and positive!) stuff:

Chicas Brillantes Conference:

  • Invited 3 girls that participate in my Chicas Brillantes group to a regional 3-day conference in San Cristobal (How did I choose which girls to bring?  It was tough, but I based my decision on their ages, participation and attendance at meetings, maturity, and who I thought would best use and share the information they would learn at the conference back in Pescadería)
  • Over 80 girls and volunteers participated in dynamic and educational activities concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, nutrition, women’s health, self-esteem, team work, inner and outer beauty, sports, and so on
  • Many charlas were led by graduates of the Chicas Brillantes program – a group of adolescent girls known as the Comité.  This was SO important for the girls to see because a) they could look to them as role-models and b) it promotes and ensures the sustainability of this initiative
  • The girls got to meet many other girls from other communities around the country who are also participating in the program.  For my girls, they made at least 20 new friends that live within a 30-minute radius.  We’re getting together this weekend to plan how to incorporate what we learned into our meetings, and also which events we can plan to raise money for our group and/or activities with our new friends
  • A panel of professional Dominican and Dominican-American women came to talk to the girls –natural hair promoter (and fellow blogger: http://www.missrizos.com/2/post/2014/02/las-chicas-brillantes.html), architect, social worker, journalist, muralist (and fellow blogger: http://innovativeinitiativesblog.com/about/), and even the DR representative for Miss Universe 2013.  They shared their life stories, gave advice about how to plan and reach professional and personal goals, and promoted natural hair styles (a semi-controversial topic here because many women chemically treat their hair so it’s straighter and therefore ‘more beautiful’)
Mujeres Brillantes - our awesome panel of role-models

Mujeres Brillantes – our awesome panel of role-models

Girls practicing correct condom use

Girls practicing correct condom use

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR's Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

Two of the girls I brought to the conference (Grisele and Odalina) with DR’s Miss Universe 2013, Yaritza Reyes

volunteers with the panel

volunteers with the panel

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Last day of the Chicas Brillantes conference

Translating for Builders Beyond Borders:

  • Joined up with other PCVs to help out our friend Jim, fellow volunteer AND Vermonter, at his site near Alta Mira in the province of Puerto Plata
  • High school group came from Connecticut through the program Builders Beyond Borders to start construction of a local clinic
  • We helped with translating and some construction work, but also shared a lot about our Peace Corps experience and Dominican culture with the students and chaperones
  • BBB invited us volunteers to join them on a field trip to 27 Charcos!  Located on the Damajagua River and literally meaning 27 ‘puddles’ or waterfalls, it’s a beautiful and adventurous attraction for both locals and tourists alike.  Depending on the water levels/time of year, you basically hike down the river, jumping off or sliding down natural rock formations on your way (wearing helmets and lifejackets of course).  This adventure had been on my bucket list, and was certainly one of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving in country (it will be one year March 6th!).  We only were able to do 12 of the 27 falls/slides, so I’d be more than willing to accompany someone who wants to come and visit 🙂  Fun fact: Joe Kennedy III was a PCV in the Dominican Republic, and helping 27 Charcos develop a guide association was one of his assignments as a volunteer.  More info about 27 Charcos here: http://www.27charcos.com/index.php
  • Realized how resilient and not-awkward Dominican youth is
  • Gained some insight about how this court project is going to be – how I should organize accommodations, construction materials, plan activities, etc.
Fellow PCVs - Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Fellow PCVs – Stanley, me, Laura, and Jim

Speaking of which…The Court:

  • So after a few semi-heated meetings, we are going to build the court in the Pley
  • We will have the mayor’s support – has committed to leveling and filling the entire area; will build streets around the pley so that the people that live there are no longer trapped by mud when it rains
  • Today we measured the entire area and marked the court’s official location – PHEW
  • Working on creating a Facebook Page to share the progress of the court and to fundraise – will have a working link where YOU will be able to donate to this project soon 🙂
future location of court!

future location of court!

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

some of my guys bidding a hopeful farewell to one of their old basketball hoops

That’s “all” for now – off to celebrate!

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Thankful.

9 Dec

Not too much has happened since my last update.  Oh wait, I VISITED HOME!!!!  10 days sure did fly by, especially because 2 of them were spent traveling, but catching up with so many friends and family was priceless.  Some highlights include:

–       Speaking at Woodstock Union High School to various students and teachers about Peace Corps, culture in the Dominican Republic, and my life as a PCV in the DR so far – very rewarding, and I was thrilled to share my experience with so many eager listeners.  Thanks guys 🙂

–       Sharing all the Dominican goodies I’d brought home with my family.  Before I left, my neighbors and I made pan de yuca and pan de maíz, both of which I fit in my suitcase; they totaled about 20 lbs.  I also brought various dulces home – banana, coconut/pineapple with raisins, and tomato (yes, you can make tomato dessert, and it was actually the favorite of the three!).  Lastly, I brought home three big bags of tasty sweetened cacao seeds made by a women’s association where my friend Sam is living and working.

–       Seeing my family and friends after so long, but particularly my niece and 2 nephews.  It had been almost a year since I’d seen them, and they’re growing up so beautifully!

–       Thanksgiving dinner.  Who doesn’t love it?  Plus it had been 9 months since my last bite of turkey.

–       My dad got married!  Congrats Tom and Mary – love you both very much.

–       Visiting Oak Knoll farm in Windsor, VT.  This place has over 800 goats (!!) and they produce milk and yogurt.  I took advantage of living so close by and took a tour of the farm.  I plan to share pictures and what I learned with members of La Cabrita

Oak Knoll's Goat Yogurt

Oak Knoll’s Goat Yogurt

I got back to site on Tuesday, realizing that I’m thankful for an infinite number of things.  Visiting home was such a blur of mixed emotions.  Culture shock.  Hugging family and friends that I hadn’t seen in way too long.  Freezing my butt off.  Being able to plug in my electronics whenever I wanted because I didn’t have to worry about there not being luz.  Speaking in English.  Nature.  Mescaline lettuce, and not having to soak it in bleach before eating it.  Trash cans.  Realizing how great my high school education was.  Drinking pure Vermont water from the tap.  Wearing a seatbelt.  Having all my friends telling me that I look pretty because I’m so tan.  Coming back to the DR and having everyone tell me that I’m prettier because I’m whiter.  Culture shock.

burgers are good and I missed them.

burgers are good and I missed them.

But I’m thankful for it all, and I decided that I’m really happy with what I’m doing.  Not every day is comfortable or uncomplicated, but that would take the adventure out of this whole experience.  Overall, life here is pretty dang good, and I’m thankful for so many things every day…How easy it is to clean cement floors.  How badass I feel while riding a motorcycle, even if I’m always the passenger.  My health and safety.  The kids’ eagerness to learn, play, and give hugs.  Fresh fruit, and the infinite number of tasty juice combos one can create.  Saludar-ing.  The determinedness of the members of La Cabrita.  Having my neighbors bring me lunch every single day and not expecting anything in return.  My mosquito net.  Recognizing how much less water I use by taking bucket showers.  The crunch of perfect tostones.  The fact that no one does anything when it rains.  Bachata.  How accomplished I feel after finishing my laundry.  The stars on a luz-less night.

Catching up with friends and family :)

Catching up with friends and family 🙂

One thing that I don’t express enough though is how thankful I am for all the other volunteers.  It’s one thing to go home and “explain” to people what your life is like.  That’s even what I’m trying to do by writing this blog.  But no matter how many details you give, gestures you make, or pictures you share, you just can’t do it justice.  Life here is too different.  Good and bad different.  So that’s why I’m thankful for other volunteers.  They’re living here too.  We all have different sites, but we share similar frustrations and break-throughs, failures and triumphs, goals and dreams, and digestion problems.  And from Day 1 we’ve been able to talk about it all.  And I mean everything – I’ll spare you the details 🙂

Jackson, my nephew, and I

My nephew, Jackson, and I

So here’s a list of some fellow PCV-DR bloggers, most of who arrived with me in March (more than nine months ago!)  All of them are doing great and very different things, and are those who make this whole experience that much better.  Thanks guys!

http://theadventuringtype.blogspot.com/

http://lewisjw7.wordpress.com/

http://skinneypeacecorps.wordpress.com/   – who I bought the cacao seeds from!

http://pazitivelyloca.blogspot.com

http://caitkeegtravels.wordpress.com/

http://serpasjohn.wordpress.com/

http://Landylamb.wordpress.com

http://susandr.blogspot.com/

Really important P.S. – Two weeks from today I receive my first stateside visitors!!!  Can’t wait to see you Mom and Carrie, and to show you what life here is really like 🙂

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom's arrival!

Mio and I decorating for Christmas while anxiously awaiting Carrie and Mom’s arrival!

Avoca(I)do

11 Nov

Seeing as I’m a Community Economic Development volunteer, it makes sense to support local business.  That means I should buy an avocado from every vendor that passes my house, right?  Right.  Where else in life will I be able to purchase 7 avocadoes for 30 pesos (about $.70)?  I justify the amount of pesos I spend on avocados because a) they’re freaking delicious and pair so nicely with almost any savory food and b) because avocado season is very sadly coming to an end.  Good news though is that I’m starting to really understand how to identify an average avocado from a fabulous avocado, so I’ll be fully prepped for when next year’s harvest comes around.  They say that your avocado is ripe and has a good amount of ‘meat’ on it if the pit inside moves around when you shake the avocado.  We learn new things everyday on the job.

In other news, I got married!  Twice actually, to my neighborhood friends Juana (7) and Raimon (9).  It was a starry and luz-less night, and all my neighbors were in attendance for the ceremony.  Definitely an entertaining way to pass the time when there’s no electricity, and certainly an unforgettable memory.

Happy newly weds - Juana and I

Happy newly weds – Juana and I

On a more serious note, about two months ago some of the members of La Cabrita and I submitted an application for funding to the Dominican branch of the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM-DR).  The project we completed was very detailed – 40 pages of all sorts of information about the organization, as well as a proposed project regarding the commercialization of the association and the products they make.  We applied for nearly RD$200,000 to advertise in the region via radio and guagua (a truck that would drive around various towns blasting the announcement – actually a very effective way to promote here).  Among other things, the money would also be used to develop a website, print over 3000 brochures, plan 4 promotional/sampling events, post signs around the community to direct visitors to La Cabrita, and provide each member with a polo shirt and hat to wear to organizational or promotional activities.  We chose to focus the campaign in the region of Barahona because while the goal of La Cabrita is to eventually distribute their cheese and yogurt on a national level, their level of production is simply not big enough to satisfy such a large market.

There were almost 15 groups that applied for funding, and though AMCHAM had the funds to back all of the projects’ budgets, not all were approved.  But ours was!  The approval of this project will not only increase the sales and recognition of La Cabrita, but it also boosts the confidence of the group members; it demonstrates that they have a realistic and progressive vision, and the capacity to develop a detailed project plan and budget.  More on the AMCHAM project to come, but we hope to start executing the first steps by the New Year.

Laguna Oviedo

Laguna Oviedo

Four times a year all the volunteers in a particular region get together for what’s called a Mini-VAC.  We discuss Peace Corps policies, share what we’re doing in site, and address any concerns or suggestions we have to improve our experience in country.  I’m in Region 1 (the southern-most provinces, also known as the best region), and for our last meeting of the year we split up.  Some went to Lago Enriquillo (a huge salt lake that is officially the lowest point of the Caribbean – I will make it there one day), and the rest of us went to Laguna Oviedo.

Flamingoes

Flamingoes

The lagoon is good-sized, salty, and at this time of year, a stopping point for flamingoes during their migration south for the winter.  There are a number of species of flora and fauna that are found only in the area of the lagoon; rhinoceros iguanas inhabit two small islands.  For those that are wondering, iguanas do have teeth.  My friend found this out while trying to hand feed one.

Rhinoceros Iguana

Rhinoceros Iguana

We submitted our budgets for Courts for Kids – one regarding the construction of the court and another that included the costs for a group of 20 to stay in Pescadería for 7 days.  At this point it looks like the construction of a 28 meter x 15 meter court will cost us RD$580,445.20 (US$13,869.30).  Courts for Kids provides $5000 (RD$212,500) towards construction costs/materials.  Between land preparation, labor, and various materials, my community will be supplying over RD$329,000 (US$7741).  That means that we have about RD$47000 (US$1100) to raise.  Still trying to figure out the best way to go about the grant process, or if it’s still a viable option, but in the mean time we’re exploring all of our fundraising opportunities.

My Chicas Brillantes group - each girl made a mask to practice artistic expression and to understand the importance of uniqueness

My Chicas Brillantes group – each girl made a mask to practice artistic expression and to understand the importance of uniqueness

Which reminds me.  People here love fundraising, particularly raffles.  Every senior class in the high school here is required to raise money for their graduation in June.  Aside from raffles, favorite methods of fundraising include selling beer in tents during patronales, peones (blocking the road with a rope until the passing vehicles give you money) and giras (low-cost field trips with a large group of people).  A couple weekends ago I joined the senior class on a trip to the Marias de Neyba, a crystalline, fresh-water pool located about an hour north of Pescadería.  Not sure how much money they actually raised after driving 4 busloads of people so far (it cost RD$150/person to go), but we all had fun nonetheless.

Marias de Neyba

Marias de Neyba

Back to the raffles.  There’s at least one doña that passes by my house everyday raffling sets of plates or cookware in a large tub.  There’s normally a list of numbers 1-100, and you pay 5 pesos to pick one number – any number that hasn’t yet been chosen.  She’ll take your name down, and if the number you chose gets picked, you win the contents of the tub AND the tub.  Pretty sweet deal, especially because you can never have too many buckets here.

The way my neighbors are raffling off their pig is another option.  Because they paid RD$5000 for the pig, they need to sell a lot more numbers and at a higher price.  They put numbers 1-500 in a bag and charge RD$50 for you to pick one at random.  They keep track of all the numbers that have been picked and by whom (mainly so people can’t accuse them of fraud), and once all the numbers have been sold, they put all the numbers in a bag and pick one out.  The lucky winner will get the handsome fellow in the picture below, who will most likely be used to make longaniza (a traditional pork sausage spiced with lime and garlic that’s especially popular at Christmas time), and my neighbors will have earned RD$20,000.

Porky Prize

Porky Prize

And if the people here love raffles, they’re smitten with gambling.  Every day there’s a new banca in town, a tiny but noticeably colorful stand equipped with a computer where people enter to ‘play numbers’.  Dominicans are intent on justifying which numbers they bet on – they’ll find their luck in dreams, clouds, random shapes, the time, etc. and then use what numbers they saw in their next gamble.  Many people often place small sums on two numbers (Pale), and sometimes break even.  Most lose, and just end up spending ridiculous amounts of money (think 10 pesos/day * 30 days/month * 12 months/year).  Very few win the big bucks, but four months ago one of my neighbors did win RD$153,000.

I’m not planning on betting in the banca any time soon, though I am participating in my neighbor’s pig raffle (wish me luck, they pick the winner December 15th!), but I am counting down the days until I come home.  That’s right, I’m headed back to the US for a 10-day vacation!  In less than two weeks I’ll be mosquito-free, taking too many hot showers to escape the Vermont cold, and stuffing my face with any vegetable in sight.

Flamingo-ing at Laguna Oviedo

Flamingo-ing at Laguna Oviedo

a “day” in the life

17 Sep

Although it might sound contradictory, living on my own has allowed me to experience Dominican culture on an even deeper level.  How many people can say that they’ve watched a cockfight in their own backyard?  I have (unfortunately).  In addition to my Peace Corps duties, and aside from having children, I share all the responsibilities of a typical doña – cooking, sweeping, mopping, doing laundry, etc.  Being in charge of my own space has earned me some street cred too  – “Ah the americana knows how to clean” or “oh she can actually cook!”  In fact, my neighbor Pepelo who owns the colmado across the street is officially addicted to my coleslaw.

my friend Onario fishing

my friend Onario fishing

By no means do I have a ‘typical day’ or a 9-5 work schedule (Peace Corps is essentially a 24/7 job), but here’s a general idea of how how my day’s split up – also, the schedule of these activities can change depending on whether or not there’s luz or agua:

5:15 – wake up to walk with a group of ladies (unfortunately too hot and too many catcalls to do it any other time of day)

6:45 – come back and start oficios – sweep outside (yes it’s expected that you sweep outside), clean bathroom, sweep and mop inside, water plants, etc.  I wash my clothes 1/week in my neighbor’s washing machine depending on when I have time/when there’s luz

8:00 – cook breakfast (coffee, eggs, boiled yucca, fruit, or peanut butter), eat, and wash dishes.  Lots of people pass by every morning selling food too – corn bread, sweet potato bread, milk, avocados, chicharrones, cassava bread, bananas, cabbage, tomatoes, ice cream – so I’ll buy from them if I need ingredients for lunch/dinner or don’t feel like cooking

12:00 – cook lunch (rice, chicken, salads, or whatever my neighbors bring me), eat, and wash dishes.  Now that I have a fridge, I’ll be able to cook more and save leftovers

1:00 – nap (only and if only there’s luz so I can plug in my fan, otherwise it’s way to hot to sleep)

7:00 – eat dinner (leftovers, avocado, bread, fruit, or peanut butter/banana sandwich) and compartir/pasear with neighbors

10:00 – sleep

in the meantime…

  • Mondays @ 3 – English class for kids
  • Tuesdays @ 4 – Women’s group meeting
  • Wednesdays @ 10 – English class for jovenes/adults
  • Lots of people watching, sitting, chatting outside my house
  • Nail painting
  • Work/meetings with La Cabrita
  • Helping kids with homework
  • Making espaghettis with friends
  • Trips to Barahona – grocery shopping, buying supplies for work/house, meeting up with other volunteers, using the Internet
  • Meetings with jovenes/sports group
  • Walking around to visit friends/host family
  • and I’m about to start Chicas Brillantes (youth iniciative where I’ll meeting weekly with a group of girls to talk about gender roles, self esteem, healthy living, etc.)
making espaghettis with some of my chicas

making espaghettis with some of my chicas

Like I said, this is just an idea of some typical activities; no two days are the same.  Some days I have very little work to do, others I’ll spend the whole day away from my house.  It also depends on the ever-changing schedule of electricity and water.  Power outages are more common than not.   The luz often goes out around 5am and will return anytime between 11 and 2.  It will then last for a few hours, shut off, and come back on again around 8.  Other days the electricity will last all day, and others it won’t come at all.  A good amount of families have generators, but I’ve learned how to get a long just fine with my headlamp.

inauguration of the World Water Relief purified system at the school

inauguration of the World Water Relief purified system at the school

Although it’s technically rainy season here, the south is pretty much a desert.  There’s a slow-running spigot right outside my house that has water for about 3 hours every day.  I still don’t have a tinaco on top of my house to store water, so I use two large buckets, one for the bathroom (bathing, flushing toilet, cleaning) and the other for the kitchen (washing dishes and cooking), that I try to keep full at all times because who knows how long it will be until the water comes again.  It’s been two days now since I’ve been able to fill them so I’m definitely learning how to budget my resources.  I buy drinking water at the colmado across the street (RD$30 for 5 gallons).

photoshoot while walking through my neighbor's conuco

photoshoot while walking through my neighbor’s conuco

Things I love about Dominican culture:

  • Hospitality – never have I met a more generous group of people; they will offer you the shirt off their back and the food off their fork.
  • Dance – these people know how to move, and it’s intimidatingly beautiful to watch
  • Fruit – unlimited, and fresh from the tree
  • Solidarity
  • Family – everyone is related, and everyone looks out for each other; kids under the age of 7 are already master babysitters
  • Patience – there is a lot of waiting that goes on in the country, plus it’s friggin’ hot here
  • Faith – caution to the wind, and God willing, things will go as planned
  • Simple pleasures and entertainment

Things I could do without:

  • Gossip – secrets and rumors spread like wildfire; the first to know ‘new’ information wins
  • Nosiness – people will ask you about anything and everything, especially if it has to do with money
  • Child and animal abuse – throwing rocks at your kid does not solve the problem
  • Noise levels – you need to make an effort to find a place to hear yourself think.  Often I think people are fighting but in reality they’re just having a passionate conversation
  • Laziness/dependence on outside assistance – sitting around and playing cards does not get a community center built
  • Trash – people throw it everywhere, or burn it
  • Mosquitos – not cultural, but this country would certainly be a lot better without them
fishing with Onario and Caesar

fishing with Onario and Caesar

3-Month Mark

12 Aug

The first stage of my Peace Corps service is complete!  Tuesday through Friday we had our 3-month In-Service Training (IST), where all of the Community Economic Development volunteers presented their community and organizational diagnostics alongside their project partners.  It was awesome to see where my friends are living, and to learn about some of the projects they plan to execute during their service.  All of our assignments are very different, but in many ways similar; I’m excited to learn from and collaborate with my fellow PCVs – an awesome support system of some pretty creative, adventurous, and intellectual people!

As promised, here’s a very brief synopsis of how and what I’ve learned about Pescadería since my arrival in May  (the essay I handed in to Peace Corps was over 20 pages written in Spanish!):

  • To get involved in my community and to obtain information, I completed written and oral interviews, did lots of observing, and participated in various community activities: visited four out of the five churches, went to the beach with a church group, celebrated Mother’s Day and Patronales, went to baseball and softball games, learned how to play cards, Dominican bingo, and dominoes, bought used clothing at weekly ‘market’, cooked espaghettis with various groups of friends, helped in the alphabetization class, started my own English class, got my nails and hair did, and joined a group of doñas that walk every morning.
  • In Pescadería there are over 4600 inhabitants and 530 houses.   The majority of people live in houses made of cement blocks, or otherwise wood or a plaster-like material; floors are generally concrete.  Many people have bathrooms inside the house, but few actually have running water; others use either individual or collective latrines.  People cook using gas stoves or charcoal pits/stands; trash is normally picked up by a garbage truck, but also burned and/or thrown in the river.
  • Main sources of income are agriculture, dairy farming, fishing, and motoconcho (motorcycle “taxis”).  Incomes range from below RD$5000 to RD$60000 monthly ($125-$1500).  Main crops are plantains, yucca, bananas, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro.
  • Pescadería has paved streets and electricity for about 8 hours/day.  There’s a school up to 8th grade and a high school (currently held in the elementary school while a new one is being built), primary care clinic, national police station, and a gym.  There’s also 15 colmados, three butchers, an informal eatery, three furniture makers, three carpenters, one auto and four motorcycle repair shops, three beauty salons, four barbershops, five seamstresses, a place to make copies, three bars, one discoteca, a place that sells electric appliances, and a pigeon in a palm tree.  All other services/errands that one can’t do in Pescadería can be done in Barahona about 20 minutes away – hospital, post office, telephone services, Internet center, library, university, supermarket, pharmacy, hardware store, etc.

Primary projects – how I plan to help my community, CED style:

  • Start a women’s group or association – there isn’t one in Pescadería, and the doñas need to be heard!  Once started, they’d have a place to discuss community needs and development, plan social activities and services, start a savings group, and simply have fun.  As a business volunteer, I’ll also be able to offer the Somos Mujeres initiative to the women that are interested in learning how to generate income, start a business, and/or manage their finances.
  • Teach Construye Tus Sueños – entrepreneurial skills for youth.  Seeing as there are various types of businesses that Pescadería is lacking (bakery, clothing store, pharmacy, deli, fruit/veggie market, cheap eatery, hardware store, etc.) and lots of educated and motivated but jobless youth, there are plenty of opportunities to create a successful business.
  • Support FUNDEPE – local development association that is essentially the umbrella organization for La Cabrita.  They have brought numerous NGOs including UNDP, AMCHAM, AECID and Oxfam International to Pescadería, and currently operate a rotating fund to provide loans to community members.

Secondary projects – out of Community Economic Development framework, but just as important:

  • Help build a basketball/volleyball court – lots of sports teams and kids but no place to play!  Applying to the program Courts for Kids that sends a group from the US to help build and offers $5000 towards construction materials.
  • Chicas Brillantes – literally “brilliant girls” this Youth initiative strives to promote and enhance self-esteem, teamwork, inner beauty, and respect among groups of adolescent girls.
  • Find space to build/create community center – this is gonna be a tough one…
  • Strengthen the school library – unfortunately the mayor is no longer paying the two people that were helping supervise the library, so it’s currently not in use.  There are plenty of educational resources that could be used to transform the space into a functional library and learning center.
  • Paint a World Map Mural!
  • Plan a Field Day for kids
  • Plan activities for Earth Day and International Women’s Day
  • Better the trash service, or at least find activities to do with recycled material – there are women here that make flowers and art from trash, plant fiber, and recycled goods.  I’d also love to start a garden behind my future house, and line the perimeter with glass bottles.

…and that’s just with the community!  Here’s how I hope to help La Cabrita:

  • Complete a priority matrix – we did a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), but because the project has so many different areas, we need to prioritize activities.  Divide and conquer.
  • Go over project plan – although La Cabrita is over two years old, they just started making cheese and yogurt three months ago, and they seemed to have rushed into the process without a formal plan.  It’s important that where their project is headed is in line with their original mission, vision, and objectives.  Seeing as they eventually want to build more structures to be able to accommodate more goats, it’ll be useful to draw a map of the whole project too.
  • Capacity building – they’ve received various courses, but a few more couldn’t hurt.  I hope to give charlas regarding organizational structure, publicity and marketing, accounting, customer service, and planning skills, but there are plenty of other options too – product, inventory, market/demand, quality control, credit, fixed and variable costs, control systems, sales, resource management, price and profit margin, and competition.  The more business skills the better, and their profitability and business know-how will increase.
  • Improve control systems – currently all of the records that La Cabrita keeps are done by hand.  In the hopes of buying a computer, I’ll teach them computer skills and help the members develop a more effective way to keep track of milking, cheese and yogurt production, inventory, bloodlines, medical records, sales, expenditures, and so on.  A computerized system will also allow La Cabrita to more easily monitor and evaluate their progress.
  • Complete cost analysis – this people work their butts off.  We want to make sure they’re making money!
  • Develop marketing and publicity – consuming goat cheese and yogurt is not part of Dominican culture, or not yet anyway.  First, I hope to help La Cabrita find a stable market where they can sell their tasty products – hotels, fairs, supermarkets, etc; and second, to enhance their delivery, publicity, customer service, and product value.  We plan to open a professional email account, improve their current brochures, and create a web page.
  • Plan a community activity to visit the project – improve and increase community support, sales, knowledge, and nutrition.

Plenty of opportunities to keep me busy, but nothing will be possible or sustainable without the support of my community.  Through the diagnostic, I’ve made lots of friends and have learned priceless information about my community, La Cabrita, and myself.  Can’t wait to get started!

plagiarism, shmagiarism

19 Jun

Oooooh the hypocrisy of calling me fat and then shoving food in my face, or getting offended that I didn’t try your version of fried plátanos.  Unlike us in the United States, Dominicans do not take offense to getting called fat – it’s often taken as a compliment because it means that you get enough to eat.  You might not even be fat; maybe you just put on a few pounds, or are simply bloated.  But from what I can tell, there is no perfect medium – you’re either fat or skinny.  Here, if you’re skinny, you’re said to have AIDS…

Furthermore, Dominicans are all about nicknames, especially when they have to do with your personal appearance.  For example, there’s a cute little old man that lives down the street from me who’s called Senón.  In English, this would probably translate to ‘man boobs’.  Nicknames like these, though they may seem harsh, are not meant to hurt any feelings.  They simply call it like it is, which I guess I can appreciate, especially now that my skin is getting thicker in both the literal and figurative sense.

In other news, I survived my first English class!  On Monday, over 50 niños ages 7 to 14 showed up at the school to witness the americana in action.  Here, classroom behavior, teaching methods, and the education system in general are quite poor.  There are normally way too many kids crammed into one classroom.  Teachers expect the children to learn, retain, and understand the given material by copying it directly from the board.  Classroom and teaching materials are scarce.  Many people become teachers not for their love of the subject or for interacting with kids, but rather because they’re guaranteed a job.  When I decided to start this class, I promised myself that my teaching methods would not reflect what the kids might be used to.  I’m striving to create a fun, dynamic, and interesting class, not only so they can learn English, but also so that they have an alternative outlet for their energy and free time.  Over all, it went really well, though I think they were disappointed that I didn’t teach them the entire English language in their first class.  This afternoon I have my jóvenes class – let’s hope it goes just as well!

Having seen how poor the education system is here, I’ve realized how thankful I am for the schooling I’ve had the opportunity to receive.  Context: La Cabrita is currently enrolled in a class taught by an organization called INFOTEP, in which they’re writing manuscripts regarding supervision, delegation, responsibility, and how these relate to their association.  Sounds like it could be useful, right?  But how does one go about writing a 20+ paper when you’ve hardly been taught writing skills, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, or even spelling?  Well, you copy it all from the Internet of course!  Each member found various books or web pages, and copied the material word-for-word by hand so that they could then type it up and put it into their own paper.  Given that the members of La Cabrita don’t really own computers (they use the Internet on their phones), or know how to operate Word very efficiently, I took the liberty of typing up their papers for them.  My moral gears were grinding throughout this entire process; but, seeing how plagiarism laws don’t even exist here, for them, it was the obvious way of going about writing a paper.  Ultimately, the fact the INFOTEP assigned this workload was silly – they could have easily demonstrated their knowledge of the material in a different manner, because with this method, they learned nothing except how to copy and paste, and that Americans can type fast.

In short, I’m thankful for all the annotated bibliographies I was forced to write; for the writing workshops that seemed painful at the time; for the computer literacy classes that we started in elementary school; for libraries; for the principles that encourage and laws that protect an individual’s intellectual property; for educated, dedicated, and motivated teachers; and most importantly, for parents who make sure their kids go to school, do their homework, give 100%, and never stop learning.

Mango, floss, repeat

22 May

It’s been one week since Swear-In.  Still working on a decent Internet situation, as I’m currently using my host mom’s banda ancha device, but it’s better than nothing!  These first few days as a real, live PCV have been interesting to say the least – all sorts of awkwardness, entertainment, and excitement; calming but overwhelming; lots of walking, eating, and compartiring.  Campo life is simple and slow.  People start stirring around 5 or 6 (I’ve been going out walking or running around then because the sun is up by 6:30!), and the town seems to be in full swing by 8 or 9.  At least three herds of cattle walk by my porch every morning; it’s a pleasant sight to witness while enjoying my homemade and sinfully rich hot chocolate.  There’s a noticeable lull from 12-2 while everyone’s eating lunch (biggest meal of the day) and taking their pabita.  When the second tanda of school gets out around 5, all of Pescadería seems to be in the street, listening to music, eating mangoes, playing marbles or dominoes, revving motorcycles, or gossiping on their stoops.  Dinner’s normally around 7, and I hit the hay around 9.  Sounds grandma-ish, but it’s tiring to think in another language all day long!

For the first three months of our service, we’re in the “Diagnostic Phase”.  We’re supposed to walk around our communities, introduce ourselves, let people know what we’re doing here, understand how life works, what businesses exist, what could be improved in the community, etc.  It gives people the opportunity to adjust to have a foreigner living amongst them, and for us to become familiar with our new home of two years.  Peace Corps compares our diagnostic with a visit to the doctor – if you were sick, you wouldn’t expect your doctor to just give you medicine without knowing what you had.  It’s an aspect of Peace Corps that I really admire; they expect their volunteers to both integrate into and collaborate with their community.  Without either, a volunteer’s work will be both unsuccessful and unsustainable.  Eventually, I’ll have to conduct interviews, draw maps, and use other tools to create a formal presentation regarding my diagnostic, but for now I’m expected to just walk around, chat, and drink coffee.  It gets awkward at times, but hey, I’ll take it.

I’ve been meeting at least 3 people a day, which is very encouraging, but also challenging to remember so many names and faces!  Most of my new friends are either over the age of 40 or under the age of 15.  Whatever, friends are friends.  I get lots of stares, and even more questions.  Some of my favorites include: “What year is it where you live?”, “Are you friends with Barack Obama?”, “How many kids do you have?”, “Do you wash your hair?”, “What part of the Capital (aka New York) do you live?” and “What do the elephants do when it’s wintertime?”.

Overall, I like my community.  It’s tough being the town spectacle, but it sure is good character building.  I’m practicing my cat-like reflexes on the mosquitoes – it’s just about rainy season so they’re EVERYWHERE (if Dominicans are being bit, you know they’re bad).  I’m gifted at least three mangoes day and though it’ll never be a graceful sight, my mango-eating process is getting a little less sloppy every day.  I’m practicing phenomenal personal hygiene a) because flossing is necessary after eating mangoes and b) because I’m expected to bañarme at least twice a day.  Like I mentioned, time is NOT of the essence here, so patience comes in handy, as does positive energy.  Dominicans saludar to everyone walking by, so I’m working on saying hola as many times as possible – it’s gotta be over 100 times daily.  I like it though, and I wish we recognized the importance of greeting people you walk by more in the States.  I’m gaining confianza with my goat group by starting to help them with daily chores and activities.  I’ll eventually have to do an organizational diagnostic for La Cabrita in addition to the one for the community, but for now I’m just taking it slow and easy – cogiendo lo suave.    Today I’m going with the ladies to sell cheese and yogurt, which I kind of helped make the other day!   Hoping to have a meeting with the president of the Foundation soon so I can understand what specifically they want me to work on with La Cabrita.  From what I can see, finding a niche market to sell their products too should be a top priority.

That’s about it for now, hoping to start an English class soon!  One for niños and one for adults, might have to offer one for jovenes too.  Just bought lots of paper and crayons to make signs, and to color with my new friends 🙂  Will fill you once those get started…

Off to sell queso y yogurt!

517-13-01

16 May

WE DID IT!  33 individuals of group 517-13-01 are officially Peace Corps Volunteers 🙂

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

We’ve all been waiting a long time for Swear-In (application, interviews, nomination, medical stuff, invitation, LOTS more medical stuff, travel arrangements, get in country – for someone in my group, this process took them two years!).  Training was not easy, but having 32 awesome new friends did make it more enjoyable.  Thinking about it, yesterday was probably the most important day of my life thus far.

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

As one of my friends put it, “receiving my invitation to the Peace Corps was like getting a key to my future.”  Already, in just the few months we’ve been here, we’ve met so many incredible, knowledgeable, experienced, different, and fun individuals, all of whom I look forward to working with in the future; we’ve been introduced to various NGOs, business ideas and practices, and personal and professional resources; we’re learning how to live and work in a culture very different than what we’re used to; we’re growing…and today’s just the first day of our service!  There will be plenty of ups and downs along the way, but in reality, I’m looking forward to it all.  Can’t even imagine where (or who!) I’ll be two years from now.

DSCN3138

Lauren, Ivette, Kaley, Maegan, me, and Caitlin

The ceremony was short but sweet.  We took lots of pictures before and after, and gorged ourselves on cake.  I’m proud of myself for this huge accomplishment, but a whole two years of work still awaits.  More importantly, I want to thank all of my friends and family, in all parts of the world, for your support.  When taking the oath, I couldn’t help but think of all of the love, advice, and well-wishes I’ve received; I dedicate my oath to you!  I would most certainly not be here if it weren’t for my family and friends.

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

Tonight, we’re celebrating our accomplishments 🙂  Tomorrow, we all head off to our individual sites to begin on the 3-month diagnostic phase of service.  Wish us luck!  Hope you keep reading my blog to learn more about the adventures that await…

Neighbors!  Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

Neighbors! Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

P.S. They’ve given us a mailbox key at the Peace Corps Office located in the Capital.  If you’re interested, feel free to send me a letter!  They recommend NOT sending items through FedEx or DHL, as those packages are more likely to get searched/charged when going through customs, so just use regular mail.  If you’re going to send a package, use a padded envelope as opposed to a box.  It might take weeks to get here, but it’ll be that more fun to open 🙂

Katherine Weschler, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
APDO 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

so official!

¡hasta nunca!

5 May

Helloooooo world!  Currently writing to you from my bed in Santo Domingo.  Yup, we’re back in the big, bad capital.  We left Peralvillo yesterday morning around 9:30; I was a complete mess – can’t believe that 5 weeks of CBT went by so quickly!  I couldn’t have asked for a better host family experience.  They were welcoming, entertaining, comforting, generous, fun, and interesting to talk to; they treated me like a queen, taught me how to dance, opened their home to me and my fellow trainees, helped improve my Spanish, and shared Dominican cooking tips.  Blood-related or not, we are most certainly family 🙂  Because we had so much confianza, jokes, teasing, and/or sarcasm were not uncommon.  For example, when I’d have to leave the house for training, instead of saying hasta luego or adios or nos vemos ahorrita, I opted for hasta nunca (bye forever).  By the end of CBT, all of my neighbors were saying it too!  I explained to them that even though I say ‘bye forever’, I’ve always come back.  So, when I bid them hasta nunca when I left yesterday morning, I made a promise to both myself and to them that I’d return.

I believe I mentioned in a previous blog post that we were going to attend the Construye Tus Sueños Regional Conference this weekend.  CTS is a CED initiative that motivates entrepreneurship in and teaches business skills to youth.  Kraft Foods, producer of Green & Black Chocolate, took particular interest in Construye because their product is made entirely from 100% organic cacao that is grown right here in the Dominican Republic.  They realized that it was important to invest in the communities their cacao was grown in by making them more viable places for youth to stay and work.  As opposed to leaving to find work in the city, Construye motivates youth to open a small business in their own hometown.  Given all of this, CTS is the only Peace Corps initiative worldwide that is funded by a private or public business – Kraft has offered to fund Construye for at least the next three years.  Pretty cool stuff.  Unfortunately, not everything went as planned, and the conference was postponed until further notice.  BUT, seeing as Peace Corps demands flexibility, we held our own mini conference on Friday in Peralvillo, which turned out to be a great success!

Friday was a busy day.  In addition to the CTS workshop, the director of the Community Economic Development Sector, Michael, came to visit us.  A large part of his job includes site development – finding and deciding where each of us will live and work for our two years of service.  He explained that the most important aspect of both his job and ours is collaboration.  In order for a community to receive a Peace Corps volunteer for example, a group or organization must solicit one (PC doesn’t just drop a volunteer in a random community).  Once in site, we’ll have 2 project partners that help us to integrate and to lead various projects.  Which brings me to TOMORROW, when we find out our site placements!  I have no idea what to expect, just that that’s where I’ll be living and working for the next two years.  Quite exciting, and nerve-wracking…

Last but not least, here’s some photos that I took during my CBT experience in Peralvillo: PCDR – CBT Training.  Wonderful place, even better people 🙂

Hasta nunca!

 

Link

¿cómo me baño?

26 Apr

I mentioned a while back that running water here is a rarity.  Check out my friend Kaley´s blog below to learn how to master a bucket shower!

¿cómo me baño?