3 Lessons From Volunteering in the Dominican Republic
While volunteering with Yspaniola, a nonprofit that provides educational programming for the marginalized Batey Libertad community in the Dominican Republic, I was constantly overwhelmed by the intense need for better access to education, dignified work, and healthcare.
My 12 months of service with the organization’s Learning Center, which provides Spanish literacy classes to over 160 youth, were full of changes and challenges, all of which taught me invaluable lessons. Here are my top three:
1) Technology is a privilege.
The introduction of technology, by way of eight laptops, to the Center was an eye-opening experience. Coming from a country and work culture where computer literacy is required for most jobs, I hadn’t expected to encounter so many problems with the implementation of Google Drive and the request for typed reports and lesson plans.
The experience made me more aware of my assumptions and privilege about computer-technology access. I’ve had computer classes since middle school and grew up with one in my home, but many of the teachers at the Center had little to no experience with such technology.
To alleviate the tech-upgrade problems, we provided ongoing training and workshops for teachers to learn Google Drive for communication and collaboration.
2) Providing agency and ownership to locals is crucial.
We promoted one of our veteran local teachers to be the co-director of the Center. He helps manage logistics, while I focus more on curriculum development and teacher training. Local staff welcomed this change as it gave them more ownership and increased efficiency at the Center.
In addition to this change, we achieved our goal of designing a community-focused curriculum. To help spearhead this and support local teachers in the design, I led monthly workshops to discuss aspects of unit planning, reading culture in the classroom, and collaborative planning. These workshops provided much needed professional development to teachers as well as a space for them to learn more about achieving greater agency in their classrooms.
3) For some people, leaving their community is untenable.
In the Dominican Republic, more than 200,000 people live in bateys, which are marginalized communities with limited access to clean water, electricity, sanitation, education, and healthcare. The majority of Batey Libertad residents are of Haitian descent and have been effectively marginalized by the Dominican government. Obtaining proper legal documentation is difficult. Some undocumented citizens don’t feel comfortable traveling outside of Batey Libertad to access public resources for fear of deportation or other repercussions. There are days my students tell me that the only meal they’ve had in the past 24 hours was the one served by Yspaniola’s food program.
Witnessing all of these issues makes the need here much more urgent and we’re doing everything we can at the Learning Center to fill in the gaps and help the community in whatever way possible. We work tirelessly to ensure that the future of the Batey Libertad includes access to the world around them.
As I’m hoping to enter the field of international education, I’ve chosen to stay on with Yspaniola for a second year to serve as Director of Outreach and Education Programs. Within this capacity, I’ll oversee international volunteers and interns, support coordination and logistics for service learning and summer camp programs, improve our outreach strategy, and support the changing needs of our Learning Center staff and students.
I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities afforded to me as a Christianson Grantee! With support from the InterExchange Foundation, I’ve grown personally and professionally while getting to know a new culture that I’ve grown to love.
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