March 13 2013
Meriem Erizku, BSILR '15
The ILR Travel Grant provided me with the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic and expand on the lessons that I learned through the ILR curriculum. The mission of this service trip was to improve the lives of children from low-income families and provide them with a means of economic support by offering them educational and vocational programs. The community center where we spent most of our time was in desperate need of organization and a rigid curriculum, which is what we focused on. Ultimately, Quisqueya, the umbrella organization that spearheaded the project implemented practices that helped improve a community’s literacy and job training skills in order to make them valuable and competitive agents in the aggressive job market. Also, we helped revitalize the farming and land property that was not used properly by teaching affected families in the community of Puerto Plata the benefits of proper land care by introducing them to the concept of composting. Through instituting these new procedures and integrating them with the daily activities of the families, we immediately saw changes in the choices that the children and families were making and we expect that they will become self-sufficient and economically productive.
While the picturesque scenes of the dramatic topography and the sincere smiles of the Dominican townspeople served as distractions from the major problems confronting the country, establishing these programs and creating a foundation for self-sufficiency proved to be essential and necessary as I quickly learned about the social issues in the country, especially in the attractive resort town of Puerto Plata. Although I tried to suppress the severity of the social problems, a nighttime tour of the city revealed the harsh reality that many families have to resort to in order to sustain their households. This became the moment I definitely understood the importance of the project I was partaking in. As overwhelming as the realization was, I was comforted by the idea that I was helping to obstruct the vicious cycle of exploitation.
My experience during this trip echoed the discussions I had in my Work, Labor, and Capital class, especially on the growing impact that globalization has on the social relations and worldwide connections. For instance, the frequency of volunteerism activities had numbed the children and families’ response to our arrival. While my peers and I were anticipating an excited group, an unenthusiastic crowd greeted us. The children refused to share their names and in some instances they did not want to play any games with us. However, by the second day, the children realized that we were there to do more than observe them and return to our “normal” lives. Our constant presence had finally persuaded the children to respond to us. Our primary goals for this trip were to implement a curriculum that the recreational center and community could access so they could eventually learn and advance their comprehension of the English language. Furthermore, establishing a composting initiative was another important goal, especially since we wanted the community to become self-sufficient.
This experience afforded me the chance to utilize lessons in employee retention and motivation strategies and measure their applicability, as I was taught in my Human Resources class. It was my responsibility to lead parts of the English learning workshops with the help of a translator and to create engaging creative activities for the children to reinforce what they were taught. Not surprisingly, we managed to maintain the enthusiasm and attention of the children and the families for the entire duration of our visit by providing them with an appealing incentive: change. Although this motive was a long-term goal, the small, but gradual changes that they experienced during our eight-day stay displayed to them the significant improvements that awaited them. Even though it is difficult to definitely say that our goals were met, it is safe to assume that progress was made and the community and children were willing to incorporate the practices that we taught them into their daily routines. In essence, this service trip was a rewarding experience that permitted me to take advantage of my ILR education and gain cultural perspective.