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What? So What? Now What?

As an assignment for their Community Partnership class, CIEE Service-Learning  students of Fall 2014  were asked to answer three questions in a reflection about their community practicuum: "What? So What? Now What?" Read about the experience of Victoria Ware, who is working with  Niños con una Esperanza this semester. She gives us insight into the nature of her community, Cienfuegos, a neighborhood in Santiago de los Caballeros.  

What happened today? 

Today, I woke up early to finish some homework for class. I ate breakfast with my host family, and walked to PUCMM (Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra) with my classmate, Hannah. We went to our Research Methods class  first, and then our Poverty and Development and Capstone classes followed. I ran home after class to change, eat, and drop off my bag. I ate too fast and walked to a street near El Monumento de los Heroes de la Restauración or “The Monument” (a major historical landmark near my neighborhood in Santiago) to wait at the stop for the Route K concho (public transportation car). I took the K concho to calle España (Spain Street) and crossed the street to take another concho to Cienfuegos, a large barrio (neigbhorhood) on the outskirts of the city. The driver and another woman in the concho were very friendly. We talked a bit and I learned that the driver is studying English. The driver stopped to put air in the tires and talk to his friends. After a while, I got dropped off on a corner  near a motoconcho (public transportation motorcycle) stop. From there, I walked to my workplace, the organization,  Niños con Una Esperanza or NCUE (Children with a Hope). I greeted many of the people in the community on my way to work because they are very friendly and always want to talk to me. When I had nearly reached NCUE, I saw some children playing in the street and when I passed by a store there, I saw a three or four year-old boy walking with a Corona bottle. Once I arrived to the organization, I set about my work for the day, teaching children English.. I spent a lot of time helping them and learned more new words in Spanish. Later, I went with some girls who told me they had homework but really just wanted to play. Because they had no English homework, I tried to teach them parts of the body and other words in English. After I finished for the day, I went home to eat and work on my homework late into the night. 


Why does it matter? What did I learn?

Today was very interesting because I saw many new things. Every day is different walking to Niños con una Esperanza  because I encounter new people in the street doing this and that. I learned a lot in class today and I also learned a lot about the community I work in, Cienfuegos. For example, I asked Elizabeth, the director of NCUE and my supervisor this semester, about the child I saw with the bottle of Corona. She explained that people sell bottles  in the communty for money, and maybe the boy was drinking another drink out of the Corona bottle. But she also told me it is entirely possible that this child was drinking a beer because his parents were too busy and they were not watching carefully. This is a good example of the conditions in Cienfuegos, as I've learned. Some parents do not care or are too busy to take good care of their children. Often, children are playing  in the streets or are with their parents working when they should be in school. 

I also learned that located right beside NCUE is a school where some of the students enrolled in Elizabeth's program go to study in the morning. It is something of a surprise to me to see how many other institutions there are near NCUE working with children. I also witnessed an incident between Elizabeth and a boy who was standing outside our building. He was talking to the other students and trying to listen in on what they were doing in the classroom because he could not register at NCUE this term.  

Now what? 

This experience will help me to continue to learn about the mission of NCUE, the community of Cienfuegos, and problems that exist there. Every day is a new experience, even just walking from the motoconcho stop to my organization. It is interesting to see how much the kids in the community want to go to NCUE. The other day some children entered without permission because they wanted to play with everyone else during recess. Elizabeth told me that children are always looking for a way in. As every day is a new opportunity to learn about the program, I can use my new knowledge in the future to inform my work and the project I will soon be implementing here as part of my practicuum. 

-Victoria Ware

Stonehill College 


Labor that Uplifts

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our first group trip to Santo Domingo was very interesting, fun, and a great opportunity for me, as an exchange student, to learn about the history and culture of the Dominican Republic, as well as to explore different themes of development. One of our stops during the trip was to Alta Gracia, an apparel company with a factory located in the Free Trade Zone just outside the capital. Our visit to this factory opened my eyes to the horrors that exist in many clothing factories; but in this factory, I was able to see a new model of factory work in progress. 

Before arriving to Alta Gracia, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been given an article to  read to learn about the company’s mission, and from that I formed my own opinion. I was familiar with factories like those in Indonesia and China that are owned by large companies like Nike and don’t provide benefits to their workers, let alone care for their well-being. I have even learned that some large companies employ children to illegally work in their factories.  When we arrived to the doors of Alta Gracia, I saw what  looked like any other sweatshop on the outside; but after walking around inside the factory, I discovered that Alta Gracia is nothing like a sweatshop. In reality, Alta Gracia is like no other clothing factory that I have heard of!

We had a brief talk with one of the employees of the company before taking a tour of the inside of the factory. In Spanish, she explained the history and mission of the company, and shared important information about other factories that compete with Alta Gracia and are known for treating their employees very poorly and offering them less than livable wages. Though I struggled to understand every word, I heard tons of information that surprised me: All employees of Alta Gracia are paid above the living wage (in fact, their salaries are close to three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic) and are given two breaks during every workday—in the morning for breakfast and in the afternoon for lunch. Alta Gracia also pays its employees independently of whether or not they reach their daily quota, and gives them overtime pay if they work extra hours. In addition to these benefits, Alta Gracia also treats women who become pregnant with dignity. During their pregnancies, they provide women with additional pay and offer sufficient time for recuperation to care for themselves and their family. 

When I walked through the factory during the tour, I was surprised by the work environment that was created there. I saw a smile in almost every employee’s face. I felt happy knowing that the workers were comfortable and were even enjoying their time at work. Instead of metal chairs or cheap benches, Alta Gracia gives their employees cushioned seats to support their backs, and the space in which they work offers plenty of elbow room.  Also, there is plenty of ventilation from opened windows and fans so that everyone in the factory can breathe fresh air as they work. 


What struck me most about my visit to Alta Gracia was this: Alta Gracia mainly depends on universities in the United States to carry out its operations and provide benefits to its employes. As a US student, this visit has impacted me by showing me how I can help change the environment of factories in developing countries. I feel empowered to try to bring the Alta Gracia brand back to my home school in Kentucky with the hope of brining the company future success. 

-Kimiko Kasama

Transylvania University


Spring 2014 Photo Essays

Throughout the semester, students have learned about, read about, and discussed various methods of gaining community consciousness. They were asked to create a photo essay that tells a story about what “community consciousness” means to them based on their community work in various nonprofit organizations throughout Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. The following photo essays showcase students' experiences as they explored  how people get to know, participate in, and collaborate with a community. 


An Open Door

Within the center of Santiago de los Caballeros exists a center for children who work daily in the streets to maintain their basic needs. Acción Callejera’s mission is to uphold the basic rights of children by providing a space for academic, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Before coming to Acción Callejera, many of these kids have never or scarcely had access to education, sports, or a supportive community. Open during the weekdays, Acción Callejera provides a small sanctuary for these kids to leave their work and daily stresses behind to learn, play, and feel equal respect as a human being.

-Gaby Salazar Kitner

University of Oregon

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Access to Health Information and Resources

Accessing health information and resources is a multi-faceted process that community members in Barrio Obrero experience differently depending on factors such as age, occupation, and socio-economic status. These factors determine the ways in which this information and these resources are attained. The following photo essay depicts community members of all ages engaging in activities, lectures, and treatment that are intended to promote their well-being. Additionally, the photo essay illustrates the process community health leaders undergo in disseminating accurate health information and providing resources to residents, as well as the role the local healthcare system plays in creating both individualistic and structural change. Collaboration between community leaders, educators, and residents has fostered an open environment that promotes the distribution of and access to health-related resources. 

-Mikayla Bobrow

Clark University

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Sense of Community at Community School of Arturo Jimenes, One Respe

 The community at la Escuela Comunitaria Arturo Jimenes (Arturo Jimenes Community School) is comprised of several classrooms full of children, from maternal care to fourth grade; their dedicated teachers; and a staff of other adults work to keep the school running. Amidst this human community, many relationships form both within and beyond categories. When a groundsman displays a special bond with a first grader, the same trio of second graders are seen daily holding hands in the yard, and a kindergartener visits her third-grade sister each day in class, it is evident that the sense of community here transcends formal classroom rosters and work/play dichotomies. It is also clear that the very geography of the school, the place and what it means to the children and adults who spend their time there, contributes handily to the sense of community. The ways students, teachers, and staff interact with each other and their environment provide a look into this unique community’s identity.

-Amy Lebowitz

Macalester College

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The Different Faces of Women in our Communities

My photo essay is about the roles of women in Korea, a neighborhood of Santiago. My photo essay attempts to show how women occupy public spaces and the ways in which they move throughout their community. My photos capture brief moments of the daily experiences of women in their professional and social lives. Some of the women in my photos are captured smiling, facing the camera, and other photos are candid. I wanted to include both types of photos to showcase women in their natural settings and also have photos of women smiling or posing proudly in their professional and personal lives. Each woman captured here is contributing to her community in a unique way. Even seemingly mundane activities are essential to how the community functions. I chose this theme as my focus in order to demonstrate how women contribute to their communities in myriad roles. 

-Hannah Yore

Clark University

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Why (the Entire) Family Matters

Throughout this semester, I have been lucky enough to learn from La Fundación Cuidado Infantil Dominicano (FCID, The Dominican Foundation for Child Care) and experience firsthand the integral role the family plays in the success of the child. This photo sequence takes us through the experiences of promotoras (public health caseworkers) with different families and depicts the ways in which families support the learning process. This essay defines family as those who take part in raising and developing the children. Thus, culturally, the entire community is often the extended family of the children and plays an integral part in the rehabilitation process. It has been truly incredible to witness the lasting effects that this large family can have on a child’s development.

-Aviva Schwartz

Clark Unversity

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Creating Environmental Leaders at Niños con una Esperanza

My photo essay takes place in Cienfuegos, Santiago, DR, where I am working at the organization, Niños con una Esperanza (Children with a Hope), an after/before school program for at-risk youth within the area. The environment is a relevant subject in this neighborhood, despite a common lack of awareness. Many of the people living in Cienfuegos spend their days rummaging through refuse in Rafey, the adjoining landfill, and Santiago’s sole trash depository, searching for items that can be resold. Working in the landfill, they suffer from countless dangers such as respiratory damage from the incessantly burning trash and being smothered by truckloads of trash.  In addition, the trash pickup service in the neighborhood is infrequent at best, leading to an overflow of waste, which is then usually left on the streets. There is also a lack of education and knowledge regarding the potential harms of improper rubbish disposal. Despite these discouraging facts, the people of Niños con una Esperanza are conscious of everyday harms to the environment, especially in their home. They work to create a safe and healthy space for the children who attend their program, and to provide the proper education ad tools necessary for the students to better their surroundings. This photo essay attempts to educate the viewer about some of the challenges the community faces, but also to showcase the efforts made towards improving the situation. 

-Addie Pendergast

Eckerd College

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The Day in the Life of a Promotora

For three months, I have been working with Juan XXIII, a public hospital in Santiago, Dominican Republic. I have been working alongside the promotoras, or public health caseworkers in the community of Pekín Abajo.  They are paid minimally, if at all, to visit the ailing on a case by case basis. However, these women go above and beyond. I have worked with them on every sort of scale from every type of angle. I have worked with them as they visited house confined patients, completed censuses for the Ministry of Health, promoted continuing education, and worked through numerous other non-governmental organizations. I have also seen every single one of them deal with their own lives, their own families, and their own rich connections with the community of Pekín. In sum, they do it all. These women tap into all their potential. This grassroots health work is powerful and unlike anything I have ever seen. 

-Calli Johnson

-University of Colorado Boulder

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