Post 1! Bienvenidos a la Republica Dominicana!

12007092_10154460985528849_1158820302_nAs 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.

My neighborhood

My neighborhood

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.

Espacios Para Crecer Training

Espacios Para Crecer Training

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

My current and future project

My project-Alerta Joven

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”).

Batey housing-"barroncones"

Batey housing-“barroncones”

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!

Boca Chica Beach

Boca Chica beach in Santo Domingo

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6 thoughts on “Post 1! Bienvenidos a la Republica Dominicana!

  1. Pat Shelly

    Great introduction to your internship abroad! It sounds like you are adjusting to urban living in Santo Domingo (random holes in the ground, chaotic traffic, and I’m sorry to read about the tragic death you witnessed). I hope your self-care regimen includes regular visits to the beaches! The work with Alerta Juveno will be interesting – have you started this work now? How do you assist in gaining documentation for Haitian-Dominicans? Has there been continued efforts to expel Haitian descendants from the country? Have you heard any discussion about this?
    Here is an article that caught my eye – http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34290981 – on “The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces”- and thought you might like to read about this group of boys in a small Dominican town.
    I look forward to reading your future posts. Congratulations on a wonderful first post!
    Pat

    1. smzammie Post author

      Hi Pat, Thanks for reading! I have started working with Alerta Joven, but only through my development of the evaluation tool to be used in the EPC classrooms. I haven’t yet begun my other work there which is going to be a wide range of activities, including identifying barriers and causes for the high number of dropouts and low retention in the schools in the community, helping with sexual and reproductive health workshops and talks, aiding in the planning and disbursement of employment and job skills workshops, working in the EPC classrooms with teachers to identify high need children that may require home visits to identify home and family barriers to educational success. Thanks for the article, I’m going to read now 🙂 I personally have not assisted in obtaining documentation for Haitian-Dominicans, but my agency does do this work through the Alerta Joven project, and I’m happy to say they helped 64 youth obtain documentation last year (this process is expensive, tedious, and very difficult, so 64 is an exciting number when you look at the impact it will have on their lives!).

  2. Katie Crosby

    Hello Sarah,

    I work for UB and came across your blog through the SSW listserv. I look forward to hearing more about what you’re doing in the DR! I do have a question, how come there are so many half-finished construction projects? The one in your photo looks like it has been untouched for some time.

    Thanks and best of luck!

    1. Sarah Z.

      Hi Katie- Thanks so much for reading 🙂 These massive, unfinished buildings are on nearly every block, and the best answer I’ve gotten after asking many friends and professionals here is that whoever begins building them runs out of money halfway through the project, and then simply gives up. Seems like a logical enough response I suppose, but still unfortunate.

  3. Laura Lewis

    Thanks for sharing, Sarah, and for being so forthright about your own assumptions.

    We know in social work that it is through this kind of self-reflection that learning occurs. It takes a great degree of self awareness; a strength of yours to be sure.

    The word “barrier” comes up a lot in your post…no wonder social work has an important role to play!

    All my best to you,
    Laura

  4. Nancy Smyth

    Thanks for such a rich description of what you have observed and experienced so far. The work you’ll be doing sounds exciting and important (and challenging!).

    Like Katie Crosby, I’m intrigued by all those half-built buildings, both from a prevention perspective-what social policies are needed to keep this from happening?–and a mitigation perspective: what can be done now? Is there a way to repurpose them? I wonder if our urban planning colleagues would have some ideas about these issues. The next time I see Bob Shibley, the Dean of our Architecture and Planning School, I will need to ask him…

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