Up Close: Sustainable Projects in the Dominican Republic
By Guest Contributor on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) board member Sharon Keld (Morocco 2006-08,
Peace Corps Response Philippines 2009-10, Peace Corps Response Armenia 2011) is currently in the Dominican Republic, serving as the NPCA’s host for the our Next Step Travel trip. While there, she’ll serve as a resource about the NPCA and also provide photos and updates on this trip that takes participants beyond the usual tourist destinations.
One of the great things about this trip is that all of the projects are sustainable — program manager Dave brings all of his groups to work on them, so when we leave after working on one for a day, we know the project will continue. Our program fees go in part to the purchase of materials and supplies. More, the community continues to work as well as materials become available. And often, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) works with the communities Dave works with.
In one of the evening programs, we were introduced to the plight of illegal Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The country got its independence not from Spain but from Haiti in 1844, and Dominicans harbor lingering resentment towards their Hispaniola neighbor. In addition, what holds true in many other parts of the world holds true here – the darker you are, the more that other people look down on you. The Haitians here are illegal and therefore cannot work; their children born here are neither Haitian nor Dominican; they are stateless. A documentary called “The Price of Sugar” was a sobering introduction to just how poor they are.
On Sunday, we went to a Haitian community called Ascension (one of the program graduates created a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hopeforascension), a batey located near a sugar plantation.
For years the plantation wasn’t cut, after the price of sugar collapsed (the U.S. was the largest market for Dominican sugar, but then switched to high-fructose corn syrup). While it wasn’t cut, the Haitians created little subsistence gardens in the fields and ate that food. Now the fields are being used for sugar again, and all of the little gardens were destroyed. Dave and one of the community elders created an organic garden and we spent the day weeding it. In addition, a small group (those with the best Spanish and French and a desire to practice language) worked with a local doctor who came to help the community for the day, helping with intake and handing out medicine.
The next day we visited the site of Scott, a current PCV. He’s working on a biomass stove project, and we had a chance to talk with him about it. His host family cooked us a great lunch, too! PCVs Erin, Julie, Sabine and Stanley joined us for dinner and talked about their sites and their projects.
Through Peace Corps Response and NPCA, I have had a chance to meet Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who served in the ’60s. I ask them what inspired them to join the Peace Corps and they say JFK, and I feel awed. I am too young to have heard his speech, but in thinking of my own path and in meeting the serving PCVs, I’m reminded that all of us were inspired by that spirit and that we still carry it with us.
Both days we had a little ecotourism adventure as well, prior to our daily late-afternoon beach time. On Sunday we went to El Choco Park, a local project for Cabarete. The guide showed us the variety of trees and plants that they have planted and explained their fruit, medicinal or other uses. And then we explored one of the many caves at the site. On Monday we toured the 27 Charcos that Anne Baker wrote about in this blog post. It was an incredible experience! The travel books note that many people consider this the top attraction of the Dominican Republic, and we are inclined to agree! Hiking up and then jumping, sliding, climbing and swimming down a series of waterfalls was one of the more fun experiences we have ever had (and this is a group that has had a lot of fun experiences).
Monday was also New Year’s Eve, and Cabarete Beach was the place that everyone wanted to be. It seemed that the entire 10-million population of the country was on the beach, at the various bars and/or dancing. At midnight there were fireworks over the ocean — what a great way to ring in the new year!
> > See more photos from this Dominican Republic Next Step Travel trip HERE.
Learn how you can join future Next Step Travel programs in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: travel.peacecorpsconnect.org.