Effects of Colonialism and Globalization on Dominican Youth

For my final post just a few days before my departure from Santo Domingo for the U.S., I 12207874_10154588228133849_956829485_n
wanted to talk a little about my observations in relation to colonialism in the Dominican Republic, because it is something that I see as having a significant impact on society here. One of the primary observations I made, particularly during my time working in a school in Caballona, DR, a small town in an area in the western outskirts of Santo Domingo, is the obsession with the idea that white skin, light colored hair and eyes are superior to dark skin, hair and eyes. Nearly all of the ads in the malls, on the billboards, and on TV are filled with skinny, light haired, white skinned individuals, when in reality, a typical Dominican woman has caramel skin, brown eyes and hair, and a voluptuously curvy body frame. In addition, the story books for children, movies, and shows have blonde-haired, blue-eyed princesses. In my opinion, children internalize this type of message portrayed by media, and I saw this first hand as my students drew me pictures of blonde haired princesses with white skin and trees with apples, instead of avocado, orange, lemon, papaya, or cherry trees, which are only a handful of 12243755_10154590636853849_752828108_nthe natural resources that exist here on this beautiful Caribbean island. This is just another example of how globalization and colonization impact developing countries.

In addition, my students would constantly compliment me on my “beautiful” hair, which they constantly called a “blessing”, also my white skin, and light colored eyes. When I would tell them how beautiful they are with their caramel colored skin and curly hair, they would refuse and say no, no it’s ugly, yours is so much better. When I asked them why they never drew princesses with dark skin and hair, they would say the same, and it seemed as if the idea of a princess that isn’t white, European looking was something that had never even crossed their minds. They could not understand why I would even want them to draw me a brown-skinned princess. I not only saw this within my female students ages 11-14, but also with the family I lived with and my neighbors. I had a 9 year old neighbor who insisted on putting makeup and nail polish on me instead of herself, because she said it looks better with my perfect white skin, and although she was a beautiful young girl, she was convinced I was more beautiful simply because of my skin.

12233102_10154588227748849_1322590307_n

I am aware that this type of stereotype, the preference for white skin and light hair exits in the U.S. as well, but the U.S. is also going through a change, where exotic features, dark skin, natural hair, are more desirable than they were in the past. The U.S. also doesn’t have the history of bouncing back and forth under different colonial powers like DR does. In my opinion, the excessive influence of the U.S. on DR definitely has a significant impact on this facet of Dominican society, although globalization cannot be stopped. It is the role of society, and even more so, individual parents and families to build confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem within these young girls, not to teach them that their skin is not beautiful enough because it is not white. Having books and shows that children can relate to culturally are important for identity development and internal feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, which eventually impact external behavior, actions, and emotions.

12207874_10154588228133849_956829485_nDiscussing and thinking about this topic makes me think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author that speaks on culture and feminism. One of her famous TedTalks was about the single story that people can have when thinking about culture and country differences. She tells a story about how she grew up writing stories and making drawings of light skinned people with light hair and eyes, and it was because she grew up in a country formerly colonized by the British, and therefore the stories, TV shows, and advertisements all included people that looked British, never those that looked Nigerian. She grew up only knowing these stories, until she was finally introduced to Chinua Achebe, a famous Nigerian author who told stories that were authentically African. From then on out, she began to develop her interest in writing and storytelling, moving on to write novels about Nigerian history and other stories that tell of her country and the issues her people have been through and continue to go through. This, to me, is why I find it to be important that children growing up in parts of the world such as formerly colonized Dominican Republic need literature about their country, written by people in their country, so that they can realize there is more beauty to the world than white people, that they are beautiful and have worth, just the same as any American or European child. Just as Chimamanda grew up not realizing her own beauty and worth in comparison to a white person, Dominican girls and children likely grow up with the mentality that their worth is below that of someone with white skin.

Share this:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Illiteracy in the Dominican Republic

Alerta Joven Graduation in Batey Lecheria

Alerta Joven Graduation in Batey Lecheria

Yesterday, I went to a graduation for the vocational training program for youth in the community of Batey Lecheria, in the outskirts of Santo Domingo. This is the community where I will soon be living and working every day. This vocational training is funded by USAID, and is part of a project called Alerta Joven, which has a huge presence in a variety of facets in this batey community. USAID requires sign in sheets and information from everyone that attends their events, workshops, talks, and even graduations, therefore, I was manning a table with sign in sheets, one for family and friends, the other for graduates. A young man, who looked to be about my age, possibly younger, came up and asked me 3-4 times if he had to sign in, pointing at each one to be sure. He reluctantly asked me if he really had to sign in, why it was important, stated how long it was (keeping in mind it was only name, age, neighborhood, phone number, and email), and seemed rather flustered that he was required to do it. From years of working at front reception desks and other customer service jobs, my first and automatic assumption was he was simply complaining and being lazy, as this was something I constantly experienced in past jobs, and I’m ashamed of my assumption. I’m also ashamed of my profiling, assuming that a young boy with gelled hair and nice clothes was simply being lazy.

What I came to realize moments later, was that he was illiterate. He wrote his name and asked if that was it, even though there were lines on the sheet telling you what to put in each box. He could not read any of this to get clues, and even took out his ID to write his name. I was in such shock that I had not truly processed it until today, which is when I decided to write this post. I have never met a completely illiterate person in my life, and it really opened my eyes to the importance of projects like this in the Dominican Republic, that focus on education and technical training for youth, building capacity of these high-risk, high-poverty communities. If this is the situation within the boundaries of Santo Domingo, I imagine the illiteracy in rural areas of the country, where poverty rates in some regions are 80%, must be much higher. The Dominican Republic ranked 137 of 139 countries of the global education competitiveness index, while 64% of the 23% of teens who become pregnant each year are illiterate (World Bank, 2014).

Batey Lecheria Graduation

Batey Lecheria Graduation

 

Also, the boy had at least one child, which was another obvious factor in his illiteracy. Teen pregnancy rates are very high in this country, which appear to be mostly due to lack of any form of sexual or reproductive education or even discussion by parents. This is why another focus of Alerta Joven is sexual and reproductive education, workshops, and talks, including HIV testing and family planning. Another possibility for young men such as this boy I met, is the factor of baseball. As the MLB has such an extensive presence in the Dominican Republic, many of young boys leave school at as early as 10 years old to train with “buscones”, who are unlicensed scouts who are make it their mission to search for young baseball talent, while earning a huge portion of the money when a player signs with a team (CSA, 2014). In the last 10 years, of  4,400 young Dominican players that were signed, only 2% made it to the MLB, leaving the remaining 98% of these youth between 15-21 years old were left on the streets with little or no education or skills necessary to seek employment or a means by which to support themselves (Time Magazine, 2010). These sad truths are why my field placement, CSA has had and continues to build projects in the rural areas especially, that allow for baseball training in collaboration with an enriching education that is a requirement for participation in the baseball portion.

All in all, this experience has sparked my motivation in the area of education just in time for me to move to live outside of Batey Lecheria and begin working in the schools alongside teachers and students to begin tracking student progress, targeting those who have dropped out to identify barriers and reasons for drop out, and providing home visits for those especially struggling in the Espacios Para Crecer to identify potential barriers within the home and family. I look forward to sharing my initial experiences once I dip my hands into the life of living and working in a high-poverty community!

Share this:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

Share this:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail