As this is my first post and I have taken in an incredible amount of cultural exchange, Spanish language, and general knowledge, I’m providing a list of the things I’d like to address. First, I would love to share with everyone the innumerable cultural, social, and societal changes and differences I have experienced here in Santo Domingo over the past 4 weeks. For those who are interested, I also want to share the incredible work that I’ve been engaging in as an MSW intern working with Community Service Alliance.
I’ve noticed a few very interesting thing about this country, one of them being the fact that although it is a “developing” country, and I am living in the urban area of Santo Domingo, I have not seen more than 5 homeless individuals begging/sleeping in public areas. This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of homeless individuals, but it is quite a cultural shift for me to not come into contact with anyone begging and sleeping on the street, especially because Buffalo has a fairly significant homeless population, and in addition, I spent most of my summer traveling to other urban areas, such as Chicago and Toronto, where there is also a high density of people living on the streets. What I have also noticed is that everyone is working, always. Now, this can obviously be a negative thing, as I see young boys, who should likely be in school, on the street shining shoes, collecting bus passengers, working at fruit stands on the street, and being delivery boys at the local colmado (like a bodega: a corner store that has necessities, and does deliveries on little motorcycles-they are on every corner in Santo Domingo neighborhoods). Below is the view from my apartment, which is a very common theme throughout the country, half-built buildings that are both an eye sore, and a dangerous place for neighborhoods.
The lack of safety precautions has been quite the cultural change for me, and I continue to notice different things each day. Every sidewalk has broken glass and massive holes, big enough to fit an entire human being, so being alert is a necessity. The garbage sits on the sidewalk until whenever it is that the garbage trucks eventually come around. There are many “laws”, but the
police do not enforce any of them, such as helmets for motorcycle drivers, yet one in every 10 people on a motorcycle is wearing one. Driving is pure chaos, and I’ve unfortunately had an up-close experience of seeing a man lying dead in the street from being hit by a car. The man was extremely mangled and it was an awful sight to see, one that I fear is a daily occurrence in Santo Domingo. It’s upbringing to see the progress attempting to be made in this area though, such as the traffic directors on the main avenues, and the pedestrian bridges that go over the major avenues as well.
Other than my minor rant about safety concerns, the majority of my experiences here have been nothing but positivity, from my daily metro rides to the family that I live with, to my coworkers in the agency. The people are generally very friendly and happy, not turning around to scorn at you when you accidently bump into them, greeting everyone on the train with a smiling “saludos” when entering the metro, and saying Buenos dias to strangers on the street. A lot of the collective behavior of Dominican society strikes me odd sometimes, coming from the individualist nature of the United States, but it is a wonderful experience. Being Italian-American, the loud, overly-close behaviors of Dominicans is not far-off for me, so this adjustment has not been drastic, although noticeable.
In terms of the work that I have been doing as an MSW intern here at CSA, I’ve been involved with a variety of projects, the primary being working with a program called Alerta Joven, funded by USAID, which provides a variety of services from vocational training, sexual and reproductive health, help with obtaining documentation for Haitian-Dominicans, to the program that I’m involved with, Espacios Para Crecer. It is a school program for children struggling within the public school system with behavior and/or learning, and therefore are selected for schools that incorporate the public school system with personal growth activities, including value
development, working with others, confidence and self-worth, and learning to recognize positive qualities, and using those to succeed academically. My primary project has been to get to know this program and to develop an assessment tool to be used by the facilitators in these classrooms as a progress evaluation tool, as USAID has not provided a way to evaluate student success within their program, other than through midterm and end of the year grades. Within the next few weeks, I will be implementing the baseline of my tool in the 6 Espacios Para Crecer that are provided by CSA, with the goal of having the facilitators continue implementing it monthly within their classrooms.
I am looking forward to my continuing projects, such as working within the realm of grant writing with the co-founder, as this is something the agency doesn’t always have time to actively engage with. After my first two months, I will be moving to a different home-stay family so that I can live close to the community that contains the majority of the schools where I am implementing my evaluation tool. I will live outside of this community for a month, doing an undetermined set of tasks, although it is looking to be along the lines of doing home visits with the families that have struggling students, building a system for reengaging youth who have dropped out of school, sexual and reproductive health workshops, and vocational trainings with youth in the batey (a community on/near a sugar plantation that houses the individuals that work during the sugar cane season, also known as “safra”).
And finally, it wouldn’t quite be fair for all of you if I didn’t share at least one picture of the gorgeous beaches here!