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4 posts from September 2012


The Dilemma of Education in the Dominican Republic


I was very anxious and excited when I went to Oné Respe for my first day of community work. Oné Respe is a community-based education organization in Santiago, Dominican Republic that fights against racism and other prejudices and hosts three community schools, two of which are located in Santiago. I will be working at their school in the community of Los Perez every afternoon for the practicum part of the CIEE-SL program. What I found at the school was difficult to see. Due to over-enrollment at Los, there were 38 kindergarten students and only one teacher. As an elementary education major, I know that a class of 10 five year olds can be a lot for one teacher to handle, never mind almost 40! In a summer camp in Massachusetts, where I worked with 5-6 year olds, we would say we had had a ‘big group’ any time there were 15 children. I wondered how it was possible for one teacher to do an effective job under such difficult circumstances. Classroom management has to be a struggle, and makes it almost impossible to give much individual attention to each student. I have seen how critical individual student interaction with the teacher is in practicums I have done in elementary classrooms in the US. The strength and dedication of the teachers was clear, but how can these kids receive the attention that they need to learn? If it is a struggle to get individualized attention now, what will happen when they reach older, more academically challenging grades?

The quality of education has been and continues to be an unresolved problem in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is ranked 140 out of 142 countries in Latin America, making the country close to the worst in education. Under a law created in 1997, the Dominican government must spend at least 4% of their GDP on education, but the DR has never even appropriated 2% (Four Percent). As a result, schools often do not have the proper funding to give adequate resources and time to their students. In fact, most students only have a half day of school. The schools at Oné Respe serve younger students in the morning and then older students at night, or vice versa. The lack of resources and time for learning is an unfortunate reality in schools. Can this change?

The new president Danilo Medina believes he will make the change. He says he will put 4% into the budget for education and have every child in school for 8 hours a day (Danilo Medina). These are some big promises, but will he actually do this? Despite protests for this goal, nothing has happened in the past (Campana). Since most of the administration and cabinet members remain the same, it may be very difficult to make this big change. Will the government of the Dominican Republic finally put the education of its children first?

During the Service Learning program site visits in Santo Domingo, we went to USAid and other organizations to learn about the different paradigms of development and what organizations are doing to support development in the Dominican Republic. USAid is a US government program that gives funds and creates programs in the Dominican Republic to help promote development here. In their work with the government, the representative mentioned that they tried to promote ‘transparency’ within the government. The DR is listed in the Transparency Index on corruption as 129 out of 182 countries (New President). There is very little information available about where any of the government funds are actually going. Without this transparency, it is easy for corruption to take place without the public noticing. I wonder if this government corruption is the reason it has been so difficult to put money into the educational development of its people. Only time can tell if the Dominican will achieve the 4% of the GDP. With genuine support from the government, the Dominican Republic can begin to truly develop its people and create a better future for its people.

Jackie Creed

Stonehill College

The Demand of Money

The CIEE-SL group with Maritza Vargas (union leader), at the AltaGracia factory.

As an economic juggernaut, many would think that United States businesses would have a near perfect model on how to run a business. This model would include benefits not only for the CEOs, but also everyone below them on the corporate ladder.  Yet, in some cases, the employees are not treated fairly and are paid wages that cannot support the average human being. It seems that CEOs care more about how their decisions affect their bonuses than how these decisions affect their employees’ lives. For example, the average Fortune 500 CEO is paid 380 times as much as the average worker (Think Progress).

I found it a relief that in the Dominican Republic, a country considered a developing country in the minds of many Americans, there is a company taking a stand for its workers. As a group, we were able to take a tour of AltaGracia, the first and only living wage clothing factory in the Dominican Republic.

During this tour, we were able to see the workers, many of whom were talking and joking with each other. It was not how I had pictured the way companies were being run in developing countries. I imagined sweatshop working conditions: long hours, abusive bosses, and no breaks.  Another thing I found interesting was the difference in how much they paid their employees compared to the minimum wage. In the Dominican Republic, the minimum wage in American dollars is $0.84/hour. The workers at AltaGracia are being paid the living wage of $2.83/hour  (WRC Living Wage Analysis for the Dominican Republic). The living wage allows workers to afford items such as rent, groceries, health care, clothes, and send their children to college. By paying their workers a living wage, they are also enhancing the lives of the worker’s family and community.

This idea can easily be adapted in the United States so that both CEOs and employees benefit. By giving the employees a living wage, the company is increasing the probability its employees will be able to survive and, be able to buy whatever the company is selling. This may lead to more profits for the company and the CEO. This idea has been put into place before when Henry Ford doubled the pay of his employees in 1914 (Henry Ford). Henry Ford cared about how his worker’s were living. In my opinion today’s CEOs are more concerned with money and would not put in place a plan that might make them even a penny less. Another reason against this plan in the US is consumer demand. Consumers want to find the best quality item at the cheapest price. When the product is cheaper, the amount of profit is lower leading companies to hire cheaper labor and use cheaper material. Consumers can start the process of caring for workers in two ways. First, they can spend a little bit more money on products or only buy products from companies that demonstrate that they use good practices. Secondly, consumers can find companies who are not living up to the corporate social responsibility and stop buying their products.

It was inspiring to see an American company, in a developing country, have the right mentality. Why aren’t more companies in America following in suit? Instead of companies wondering how they can get on the Forbes 500, they should be wondering what kind of a lasting imprint they could have on their employees and the communities they serve.

Pelumi Ogunlana

University of Missouri


Check out the AltaGracia website: AltaGracia Project

Race and Identity in the Dominican Republic: A Complex Topic

One piece of advice that really resonated with me from the first day of orientation was “put yourself out there.” We were also told to step outside of our comfort zone when interacting with Dominicans in Spanish and to carry ourselves confidently.  Having only been in the Dominican Republic for less than twenty-four hours, I was very conscious of my every move and legitimately terrified to show my true colors to the program staff, my classmates, and the Dominican population. What will they think about me? Am I different than what they are used to? What do I think about them? First impressions are nearly impossible to prepare for because you simply can’t know what to expect. Have you ever thought about what your appearance says to others? In our Poverty and Development class, we have been discussing how Dominicans identify themselves and all of the factors that play into their self-identity, placing a strong emphasis on the history of the DR.

It is important to get a better understanding of how people identify themselves and their reasons why. The racial diversity of the Dominican Republic was largely influenced by the colonization of the island in 1492 by Christopher Columbus.  After the colonization of the Island and the mixture of European and African blood with indigenous Taíno blood, the new mulatto, the Spanish word for mixed race, soon became the dominant race of the Dominican Republic, making it a melting pot of light to dark skin tones. Walking around Santiago, the city I currently live in, I can clearly see the diverse mix of races and backgrounds of the Dominican community. Dominican’s have different body types, facial structures, eye colors, hair colors and textures and skin tones. I think their varied skin tones are beautiful, adding even more dimension to their multi-cultural community.

During the reign of Rafael Trujillo, the infamous Dominican dictator who took control of the country from 1930-1961, the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic turned deadly. Trujillo attempted to “whiten” the Dominican Republic by killing thousands of Haitians, who have predominantly dark skin, and created a racial barrier between light-skinned Dominicans and dark-skinned Haitians.  This barrier can still be seen today.

Today, the complexity of races in the DR can be seen in the record of a person’s skin tone on their identification card. Each card has a description of their skin tone, for example, Blanco (white) or Indio (darker skinned), yet there are many different words to describe the a person’s color or ancestry. The person issuing the card determines this racial identification. Before coming to the Dominican Republic I had a very “black and white” mentality on race. I am accustomed to clearly defined backgrounds and races, which is not what I have found to be the case in the DR. The fluidity of race in the Dominican Republic took me by surprise and I am just scratching the surface to understand the complicated background of it all.

It is possible that even after the four months I spend in the Dominican Republic I will still have questions about race and identity. Why do we as humans create these categories of race and self-construct differences between our fellow humans? There is so much history that has affected the current opinions on race and identity and it will take me some time to sort through it all

Hannah Loppnow

St. Norbert College 


Photo credit:

The Role of Labor in International Development

Boca de Nigua, a sugar mill dating back to the colonial period. 

The quest for wealth, trade, and the opportunity to expand fueled the conquest of the Caribbean, beginning with the Dominican Republic. Upon arrival in 1492, Columbus “discovered” an island rich with natural resources and what seemed at first to be a lucrative native labor force. The indigenous people called Taínos proved to be an unfit labor force and were unable to maintain the rigor of plantation efficiency. The native Taínos were gathers and subsistence farmers and therefore were physically unsuitable for the grueling work of sugar production. They were ultimately eradicated by disease, violence, and the harsh labor conditions. Once decimated, the search for a new labor force able to support European commerce and trade began. African slaves were imported in droves starting in 1501. The slave labor was able to support the cultivation of Europe’s most sought after items like sugar and coffee, while meeting the demands of international markets. The economic success of the Caribbean relied heavily on international trade and development. Last week, when the CIEE-Service Learning group visited Santo Domingo, known as the first port of the new world, to learn more about the different paradigms of development including, grassroots, international, human, economic, and free trade by partaking in various meetings and site visits. One of the visits was to the ruins of a plantation and sugar mill, Engombe (plantation) and Boca de Nigua (sugar mill). The focus of the exchanges and visits was to learn about the history that international trade and commerce has had on the DR. Walking through the historical site amid weathered buildings and lush vegetation I kept thinking that these ruins are, obviously, rooted in the Dominican Republic’s history but also in its present. I wondered what role the history of slavery and other exploited labor forces play in current international development efforts of the DR?

Jumping to present day, I have begun to learn how outsourced labor and international trade is nothing new to the development of the DR. The ruins and stories of Boca de Nigua contain similarities to the modern policies of how a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) operates. The goals, at a most basic level, of a FTZ, are to enhance foreign exchange profits, develop export driven industries, and generate employment. I found the last two goals to contain strong parallels to life at Boca de Nigua. First, the idea that FTZs should develop export driven industry can be compared to the sugar exports that created fortunes for Europe while leaving the workers bound in slavery. Similarly today, Free Trade Zones allow for cheap and easy exportation, with trade barriers and regulations being reduced or in some cases eliminated, thus providing quick and cost effective turn-around of goods. With that said, how can this practice provide long term benefits for the communities it supports? While yes, job creation is a vital component to development and FTZs do provide employment for many, the laborers’ conditions have similar sentiments to that of Boca de Nigua’s slaves. In order to meet consumer demands for cheap products the labor must be cheap as well. International corporations look to developing countries, like the Dominican Republic to find cheap labor, where the actual wage ($0.83) can be much less then the living wage, estimated at $2.83. The living wage is a calculation based on an analysis of costs for all things that should cover a family’s needs (food, water, housing, clothes, health care, etc.). While this form of international development is often critiqued for possessing inequalities, I wonder what policies will enhance a country’s economic growth? How can international development be sustainable within a country if it relies on a global network to function?

In the coming semester I will have the opportunity to visit a FTZ and know that my understanding of their role in the DR will deepen. For me, this comparison enabled me to reflect on my role is as a consumer and an American college student abroad. With that, in what capacity can I act responsibly with these new learned experiences?

Anne Safar

University of Washington