Tag Archives: training

confessions of a capitaleña

12 Jun

Exactly one month has passed since I packed away my hammock and bid hasta luego to my neighbors, backyard full of plantain trees, favorite colmado, goats, and other familiarities of the campo lifestyle to move to the capital city of Santo Domingo.  With a metropolitan area of around 3 million people (compared to 4,000 in Pescadería), one could imagine how much of a contrast this next year will be from my last two here in the Dominican Republic.

hugging this munchkin goodbye was no easy feat

Omailin — hugging this munchkin goodbye was no easy feat

Reina (Omailin's grandmom),  who started sharing her rice and beans, advice, washing machine, culture, and home with me from the moment i moved across the street from her family

Reina (Omailin’s grandmom), who started sharing her rice and beans, advice, washing machine, culture, and home with me from the moment i moved across the street from her family

Ultimately, the transition from campo life into office culture has opened my eyes to a number of things (leadership, diversity, and an endless thirst for learning being the hot topics).  I’ll get into more specifics about the context of these events later, but first, understand the source of some of these realizations below:

  1. The Power of Introverts: a TED Talk about the importance of accepting and celebrating introversion.
  2. Quiet Leadership: a book about how to be a more effective leader by helping people think.
  3. Empathy: a short cartoon about the difference between empathy and sympathy.
  4. The Danger of a Single Story: a MUST WATCH TED Talk about stereotypes, diversity, and perspective.
  5. Fast Company Magazine: old magazine, new information about ingenious companies and organizations.
  6. The Guardian: dynamic news source from the UK (introduced to me by my new friend Mike – owner of an authorized Apple repair store down the street from the office who served here in the DR with Peace Corps in the 70’s).
new apartment!

new apartment!

temporary house guest - yes I still have my cat, and NO he did not like Rufus.

temporary house guest – yes I still have my cat, and NO he did not like Rufus.

easy access to tasty ingredients = tasty new weschipes

easy access to tasty ingredients = tasty new weschipes

As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development (CED) sector, I am now based in the main office where I share a work space with the other Sector Volunteer Leaders (health, education, and youth).  I work closely with both the Program Specialist and Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector to provide support to volunteers, to monitor current projects and initiatives, and to develop future sites where business volunteers could continue collaborating with locals to make a positive impact on the economic environment of the Dominican Republic.  As PCVL, I am no longer working on-the-ground alongside members of my community (though I still go back to Pescadería whenever I get the chance), but rather with Peace Corps Volunteers themselves.  From this perspective, I am able to draw on my own experience as a volunteer and a new-found proximity to PC staff to facilitate information between PCVs and the office, be a sounding board, and help to ensure that aspects of volunteers’ service and office politics suit and are understood by all parties involved.

An effective way to do this new role (but really, pretty much any role) is to ‘keep a pulse’ on things.  We learn this as volunteers by going out and getting our hands dirty – living and working alongside community members to achieve goals together.  This sort of gumption creates confianza, is an authentic commitment, and provides perspective.  Does researching a city via your computer count as visiting it?  Knowing it?  No.  It’s a single story.  Until you’ve met the locals, eaten traditional dishes, explored some back roads or alleyways, and most importantly, gotten lost, I’d be hard-pressed to check that city off of my bucket list.  Same applies to successful, sustainable development work.

“Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets”

So, in terms of the PCVL position, one of the best ways to continue collaborating with PCVs and supporting the Peace Corps community and mission is to do just that – taking my hands away from the dust-free keyboard, leaving the comfort of AC, and going out to visit current volunteers at their sites.  My goal within the next year is to visit each of the 30+ PCVs in the CED sector at least once (by the end of June I’ll have visited about half, si dios quiere).  These visits allow me to understand the intricacies of each volunteer’s site (project partners, living situations, projects and activities, etc.) and having this contextualized perspective enhances my ability to provide empathetic support.  Recognizing and appreciating the diversity of both the volunteer community and Dominican countryside has been an enlightening adventure within itself.

The Program Specialist, Alejandra, and I visiting a volunteer in Samana

The Program Specialist, Alejandra, and I visiting a volunteer in Samana

Juan and I - Juan supports an association that grows and processes oregano.

Juan and I – Juan supports an association that grows and processes oregano.

Snapped a picture of this fruit vendor right as he was opening up shop where he sells "frutón" - frozen chuncks of fruit served in a delicious blend of their juices.

Snapped a picture of this fruit vendor in Nagua right as he was opening up shop where he sells “frutón” – frozen chuncks of fruit served in a delicious blend of their juices.

We've got lots of business volunteers working with CACAO

We’ve got lots of business volunteers working with CACAO

Countryside

Countryside

The backyard of one of our CED volunteers.

The backyard of one of our CED volunteers.

Campo lunch on a volunteer visit

Lunch in the campo while visiting a volunteer

Pineapple!

Pineapple!

Visiting Rita, one of our newest CED volunteers.

Visiting Rita, one of our newest CED volunteers.

To better educate ourselves on how we can be proactive and cohesive throughout our service, volunteers representing all PC sectors came together this week for a workshop on diversity.  Motivated to highlight the issue within the Peace Corps community (especially considering the legal and political environment of where we’re serving – read more on the issue here), we spent two days telling stories, recognizing privileges, learning what it means to be an ally, and recognizing the true diversity that exists in the world, even among a group of 30 Americans.  This workshop, like the other sources I mentioned above, has empowered me with an experience and information I will continue to reference throughout both my Peace Corps service and life afterwards.  So here’s to continuing to get my hands dirty – the more stories the better.

PCDR's Diversity Committee

PCDR’s Diversity Committee

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

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!

DSCN8267

DSCN8268

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.

Happy Easter!

31 Mar

Given that the official religion of the Dominican Republic is Catholicism, la Semana Santa is a big deal here. Many people leave the Capital to go visit relatives in the campo, but mine stuck around here seeing as theirs live right down the street. Semana Santa is primarily a mix of the following: masses and religious processions; traffic/drunk driving/drowning accidents (if I haven’t mentioned already, laws are not followed here – but don’t worry, we’re all safe!); fish dishes; family get togethers; ghost-town-like streets because most businesses are closed; song and dance; strolling and/or swimming at the Malecón; and most importantly, habichuelas con dulce. Practically every doña makes her version of these sweet and pureed red beans; mine’s no exception, though she did substitute the traditional habichuelas rojas for habas. My host mom made a huge batch, 7.5lbs of lima beans to be exact, then called everyone to make sure they didn’t forget to stop by and pick some up. It’s similar to Christmastime in the US: you make sweets, or others do while you taste test (caramels, toffee, cookies, spiced nuts, truffles, pizzelles – Weschler favorites I might add), and then package them up to share with your loved ones. Works pretty much the same here, except everyone makes the same dish. Anyway, it’s certainly an interesting concept, but they’re surprisingly tasty, and very filling!

Amigos at the Botanicals

Amigos at the Botanicals

I’ve been told that it rains every Easter weekend; given today’s the first time that it’s rained since we’ve been here, their almanacs are on point. Training ended at noon on Thursday, and granted nothing tooooo exciting has happened this past week (aside from an Iron Chef competition, a Creole lesson, 2 more vaccines, a surprise birthday party for Caitlyn, and a visit to Santo Domingo’s Botanical Gardens), I wanted to touch base before heading off to CBT; also, because I’m not sure when I’ll have Internet next.

Iron Chef, PCDR style

Iron Chef, PCDR style

We’re meeting at the training center at 9 tomorrow morning, then saying goodbye to our Education friends as they leave for the city of Monte Plata; we’re headed to a pueblito outside Yamasá. Though we’ll be fairly close, I’m sad to be separated…BUT it’s exciting to finally start doing more business-specific training. There’s 14 of us in the CED sector, all of us with varying Spanish levels and business experience. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be living with a new host family until the first week in May, when we’ll come back to Pantoja to wrap up training and swear-in to become actual Peace Corps Volunteers.

Until then, some of our training activities will include:

  • Business Skills Case Studies: Community Based Eco-Tourism, Artisans, and Ruta de Cacao (plus field trips!)
  • Complete a Community Diagnostic based on Monitor and Evaluation lessons
  • Trainee presentations regarding various business techniques – Julianna and I have ‘Customer Service’
  • Micro-business interviews
  • Business modules with Somos Mujeres
  • Income generation projects
  • Observation and hands-on learning activities in local school
  • Construye Tus Sueños conference
  • Spanish, Spanish, Spanish
Cervezas after the Botanicals

Cervezas after the Botanicals

We’ll find out our official project site placements, where we’ll be for the 2 years of service, on May 6th. With lots of learning and waiting to do until then, I’m just happy to be getting out of the city for a while. Despite the impressive history and prominent culture of Santo Domingo, the Capital, like any other city, is loud, dirty, and often dangerous. My family here has been more than hospitable; Peace Corps has provided them with extensive training, and they’ve been hosting volunteers since the 1990s. My family has provided me hearty food, protection, consejos, and even Internet. That being said, I’m excited to connect with a family that hasn’t had as much interaction with Americans – it might be more special, or at least more of an exchange, that way.

Aside from the Botanicals, our training center has to be one of the most peaceful places in Santo Domingo...

Aside from the Botanicals, our training center has to be one of the most peaceful places in Santo Domingo…

Welp, I’m off to finish packing. Later tonight, I’ll give my host family some good ole Vermont maple syrup that I brought with me. Here’s to hoping they like it – maybe they’ll even put it in their habichuelas con dulce next year!