October 04, 2011

Card Translations!

Help us to fly higher! With your contribution, you are helping Manuel Guzman Rodriguez!
This shoe shiner, being the eldest of three children, worked to provide parents with their home, as he feels a commitment to help support his family. He entered Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco in 2005 and to this day the space is always present to learn as the 6th course. grade at the miraculous. His dream is to be a baseball player and get to the majors and give his mother everything she deserves.
Thanks to your contribution, Manuel and many children like him, will fly higher, giving them the opportunity to have a healthy life.

Help us to fly higher! With your contribution, you are helping  Paola Michell Sanchez Rojas. Paola Michell is an incredible 13 year old girl who was sad and quiet when she arrived at the center With the support of teachers and staff of Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco. Today, Paola is very cheerful, safe and healthy. Her great spirit of service make her a valuable girl to all who know her. Paola is also a dreamer who laughs, play and enjoys life.
Thanks to your contribution, Paola and many children like her will fly higher, giving them the opportunity to have a healthy life.

Help us to fly higher! With your contribution, you are helping Ayendi Fernandez Santana.
Ayendi entered Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco through "friends of Dominic Savio." At first, Ayendi isolated himself constantly but slowly overcame his fear to become a faithful participant and motivator in all he does. Ayendi is a child with a big heart who works weekends shining shoes to help his parents. His dream is to become a doctor and help others and, as he says, "to have a life free of disease."
During the week, Ayendi participates in dance and soccer. Ayendi never stops thinking about the future, so he studies hard and began his 8th grade basic education courses. Thanks to your contribution, Ayendi and many children like him will fly higher, giving them the opportunity to have a healthy life.

Help us to fly higher! With your contribution, you are helping Genesis Terrero.
Genesis entered Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco in 2004 and is now in the sixth grade.She’s a girl who dreams of becoming a manager and a painter, because she likes to express herself artistically with drawings. Since she entered the program as a quiet girl, who is now playful, cheerful and obedient, always giving lessons in courtesy. Thanks to your contribution, Genesis and many children like her are going to fly higher, giving them also the chance of having a healthy life.

Help us to fly higher! With your contribution you are helping Ana Josefa Chaplain.
Ana Josefa entered  Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco center through "friends of Dominic Savio." Currently 12 years of age, she is a very active and dedicated to educational programs. She takes every chance she has to learn and also help others to do so. Her dream is to become a teacher and help children learn new things. This incredible child  just been promoted with outstanding marks in the 7th grade. Ana Josefa plays on the volleyball team and participates in the dance program. Thanks to your contribution, Ana Josefa and many children like her are going to fly higher, giving them also the chance of having a healthy life.

June 15, 2011

...Dark Roast

The Dominican Republic is known for their coffee. As it very should be! It is delicious! When I go back to the United States, I am going to be soooo spoiled. After all, for the past four years, I've lived in college residence halls, where the basically the only readily available and easily accessable coffee was the burnt-sludge you'd choked down in order to get through those morning (or afternoon...orevening...) classes and late-night cram sessions.

My only complaint about the coffee here is how it is served. Coffee is presented in what I call a shot-glass mug. It absolutely cracks the locals up to see Kristen and myself drinking out of an actual mug filled with coffee. They think we are crazy. They also can´t understand how people could possibly drink coffee without about a cup of sugar per each ounce of liquid. Sometimes when Kristen and I are being served the beverage,we have to resist the temptation to ask if we could please have a little more coffee with our sugar.

I have always enjoyed the taste of coffee. Even as a kid, I would sneak sips from my mom´s mug (Sorry mom!). But after living in the DR for almost five months, I have witnessed the incredible amount of labor that needs to occur before I indulge in this daily habit of coffee drinking.

The entire process of making coffee is a much more complex process than I have ever imagined. It is difficult for me to believe my own ignorance about where coffee comes from has lasted this long.

 A coffee bean is actually the seeds of a cherry-like fruit. Coffee trees produce berries, called coffee cherries, that turn bright red when they are ripe and ready to pick. Coffee is harvested each year during the dry season. During this time, the coffee cherries are bright red, glossy, and firm. The first step in the process is carefully picking each cherry. The ripe cherries are harvested by hand. If the cherry is picked up to early it will lack of essential sweetness, but if the cherry is picked up to late it will be sour, thus, the picking of the cherries needs to be done carefully and selectively.

Immediately after being picked, the it is time for processing. This can be done in one of two ways. The first way is by the Dry method, where the cherries are spread out and left to dry by sunlight. The drying process lasts typically 7-10 days. During this time, the outer shell of the cherries turns brown and the beans rattle around inside.

The second method used is called the wet method. With this method, a pulping machine washes away the skin and pulp. The beans are put in fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours while the coffee to release all the honey remaining from the pulp. The beans are then dried, either by the sun or by mechanical dryers.

After using one of these two methods, the third step is washing the coffee beans. The beans are placed in large tanks filled with water pressure, which leaves the beans with no honey leftovers. It also separates the coffee beans by quality, the beans that float are the low quality beans and the ones that are in the bottom of the tank are the good quality beans. The beans are sorted by size, then by density. The different beans are either sorted by hand as they pass by on a conveyer belt or by an air jet that separates lighter (inferior) beans from heavier ones.

The last step roasting the coffee. In this process is where the roaster will decide the taste of the batch of coffee being roasted. The beans are heated in large, rotating drums using temperatures of about 550 F The beans first turn a yellowish color. After about 8 minutes, the beans "pop" and double in size. The beans then begin to brown as the oils within them start to emerge. This oil is called coffee essence or caffeol. The chemical reaction of the heat and coffee essence is called pyrolysis, and is what produces the flavor and aroma of coffee. A second "pop" occurs about three to five minutes later and signals that the bean is fully roasted.

There is truly an art to coffee roasting. Sound, sight and smell are all used to determine when the beans are roasted to perfection. Timing is crucial, as it affects the color and flavor of the final brew, so the length of the roasting period depends on the type of coffee desired. For American brew, the roasting process is shorter. For expresso, longer.  All of this needs to be done before the coffee beans are finally ground.
Ísn´t it amazing? How all of these steps are nessesary to follow before the coffee can be consumed. So the next time you drag yourself out of bed to the coffee machine or drive to the nearest Starbucks for a pick me up, please remember all those who labor for this taken for granted luxury.

 Information gathered by first hard experience, HowStuffWorks.com and CoffeeResearch.org

June 14, 2011

...Descriptive Rhymes

Two entries, two days in a row! Aren´t you lucky! I wanted to share a poem that my Grandpa Krzysik sent to me before beginning my experience in the Dominican Republic.  I keep this poem on my closet door and found it has lifted my spirits on many occasions.

Only You
No one on earth
Exists quite like you
And no one is able
To do what you do
The person you are
The talents you bear
Gifts that only
You can share
Only you have learned
From the things you've done
Gaining perspective
From the battles you've won
Times when you've lost
Have been priceless too
The lessons contribute
To what makes you you
The rest of the world
Can't see through your eyes
Which is why your insight
Is such a prize
Because you are you
The lives you affect
Much more than you
Would ever expect
The things you do
The things you say
Send ripples throughout
The Milky Way
You're unique, amazing
Like no one else
You have the exclusive
On being yourself

I also included a few of my favorite quotes, which I look to as a reminder of why I am here. Enjoy!

 When the deepest part of you becomes engaged in what you are doing, when what you are doing serves both yourself and others, when you do not tire within, but seek the sweetest satisfaction of your life and work, then you know that you are doing what you are meant to be doing. (Gary Zukov)

 Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one's neighbor. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God himself and God's absolute demand for justice and love. (John Paul II. Justice in the World, #34)

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

As he prayed he saw the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them…he cried, “God, how is it that you can see such things and yet do nothing about them?” God said, “I did do something. I made you.” –Author Unknown.

Every night ask yourself - what has this day brought me, and what have I given it?

June 13, 2011

...Delicious Rice

A very large part of adjusting to the ways of life and culture here has been trying to change the basic eating habits my body was used to. In my situation, because of where I live and work, along with how my meals are provided, All of my meals are pretty much out of my control. Something like eating when you are hungry and portion control is something people take for granted. Here not so much. Don´t get me wrong, I am forever grateful for those here who have so generously taken on the task of hosting Kristen and I. But the American body (or at least my body) is used to certian things. A certain intake of fruits and vegetables for instance. One of my favorite foods is salad. Yeah, I know. Sounds lame and very typical girly-like, but you haven't seen my salads. Ask all of my friends from college. Not only are my salads huge, but I have been known to get every food group on my salad at any given salad bar. So, needless to say, up until this year, my body had gotten used to a whole lot of vegetables.
Here in the DR, there are four major food groups: You have your milk group (cheese), then you have your vegetables (potatoes), grains (rice), and then of course you have your fruits (bananas). Add the occasional red beans and bread, mix in some occassional questionable meat, and TA-DA. You have the basic Dominican diet. But I do enjoy the food here, very much in fact. Sometimes though, the lack of variety reeks havoc on my body.
One thing that was introduced to me here, something seemingly common that I had never before heard of is Kong-Kong. Kong Kong, as it is known here, is the rice stuck to the bottom of the pot after it is cooked. A very weird concept, but the best way to describe it is a crunchy/ chewy rice usually served at the end of the meal. For whatever reason, is really good. It probably isn´t too healthy, based only on the fact that I really like it. When my parents were visiting, I introduced them to the dish and they enjoyed it as well. I´ve heard that Kong Kong may goes by other names around the world, so I´d be interested in knowing if any of you has ever heard of this dish.

May 30, 2011

...Dead Reburied

So, I promised in my last update that my next entry would be about the experience that I had going to Padre Pancho´s mother house to commemorate the anniversary of his fathers death. I wish I could say that I am making this entry up, I really do. But, like many things that I have experienced here...you just can't make this stuff up.

Kristen and I were woken up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning to make the three hour trip. I'm more accustomed to long car rides than I would like to be. My entire extended family lives (or at least used to live) in and around Chicago, so growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, it was a three hour car ride every Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Graduation, Baptism, First Communion, occasional long weekend and birthday. Also, I went to college three hours away from home, so I`m used to making such trips. However, one thing about traveling in the good old United States of America is that the roads are PAVED. And for the most part, even with Wisconsin´s never ending construction season, relatively smooth. Here, the paved roads are few and far between. Even gravel roads are scarce. For the majority of the route to Pancho's mothers, we drive on dirt, around giant pot holes, and even through the occasional stream, brook, or low river. Thus, this particular journey requires a sports bra and Dramamine. But it is what it is. We arrived at the house with only a minor case of whiplash and began meeting the endless stream of Pancho's siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Kristen and I ate some sancocho (a very common food here. Basically a stew type thing.) before helping set up for the mass which was to be held on the porch.

A large table was set up to be used as an alter, with lawn chairs surrounding it. The mass began with about fifty people in attendance. In the center of the alter was a large wooden box, about 18 in by 1in. with a cross carved on top. After beginning the mass with a prayer and a short explanation of the significance of the day, Padre Pancho walks to the alter, leans over and carefully removes the lid of the box.

Immediately, all of those around the alter begin to edge forward, leaning over in an attempt to get a glimpse of the contents of the box. A few of members of Pancho's family step forward, peer into the box and place their hands on the contents. Meanwhile, everyone else present, (save for me, Kristen, and Raphael) crowd in, waiting fortheir turn to see.

Witnessing this entire process take place, I began to formulate several guesses as to what the box contained. But, truth be told, I wasn´t all that sure I wanted to know, much less see for myself. However, my curiosity heightened when cameras began appearing. Within minutes of unveiling the box, cameras were flashing in every direction. So I thought to myself, I can't possibly be right about the contents of the box...could I?
After a few minutes, I turned to Kristen and whispered, "Um, are they looking at...um". Staring straight ahead she answered, "I don't want to know"..

The mass continued, with the occasional guest making his or her way forward for a looksies or the random flashing of a camera. Then, in his concluding remarks, Padre Pancho invited everyone to come forward once more to pay their respects. I glanced at Kristen, who just shook her head. But I had to confirm my suspicions. I inched forward, bracing myself for what I may see. Taking a deep breath, I leaned over and peered inside. The box contained, just as I had suspected. There I was, looking at the actual the bones of Padre Pancho's father. This was definitely one of those moments in life when you are forced to stop yourself and try to absorb the situation.  The mass concluded and people began to to disperse. Needing a few answers for my questions, I approached Raphael and inquired, "So, what's with the bones...?" He laughed, shook his head and said, "You know, I was wondering the same thing myself."
But as it turns out, there was an legitimate explanation. At least, as legitimate a reason that possible for a box of bones. Padre Pancho's father passed away 16 years ago. Like many Latin American countries, the dead are buried above ground in a crypt.. There is a cultural mindset that the dead should not be buried underground. (I can't be sure on the reason behind this mindset). So, when Padre's Pancho's father passed away, the family could not afford to put him in a crypt. Thus, it was necessary to bury him underground until enough money was saved up. This day happened to be the 16th anniversary of the father's death, hence the unveiling of the bones at the memorial mass. Like I keep saying, you can't make this stuff up.

May 18, 2011

...Digestive Rebellion

(Okay, I know, I know, the title is questionable. And you are probably considering exiting out of this Blog for fear that I will reveal more than anyone could ever want to know about me. But don´t worry...The entry won't be as bad as it may sound...)

 The topic of this particular entry is due to the unfortunate fact that after mangaging to live the past nine+ in developing countries without serious incident, I have recently survived my first (and God willing, the last) bout encounter with Food Poisoning. Yes, capital F, capital P. The very large probability that I would eat something bad while here has always been something I have feared. I mean, being sick is bad enough. And being really sick without your mom there to take care of you...well, that just plain sucks.

 It all began with a trip to Padre Pancho's mom's house (Padre Pancho is a priest here who is kind of a big deal. Everyone knows him. So by association, Kristen and I are as well!)  Being invited to his house is an honor. Which is the reason Kristen and I found ourselves waking up at 5:30 am on a Sunday, which happens to be our only day off,  to make the three hour journey down the treacherous road to the local priest's home village. The Delgados (my host family here), Kristen and I had been asked to join in the mass and gathering of Padre Pancho´s family (Oh, he is one of 15, did I mention?) to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the death of Padre Pancho's father...(Incidently, this experience has caused the creation of the next blog enttry...). Anyway, as it turns out, having a large amount of food at family gatherings is a universal custom.

So, after being surrounded by many of Pancho's family members in an enclosed area, and head hurting from trying to make small talk in Spanish, when the food was ready, I helped myself to an overflowing plate of rice, potato salad, coleslaw, and shredded chicken-- which looked particularly delicious...And then, I went back for seconds.

It didn't begin right away...Everyone was so full from the food at Padre Pancho's that none us had any dinner. I woke up early Monday morning, my digestive system much more, um, active than usual. Still, I didn't think anything of it. My stomach didn't feel all that great as I spent the typical Monday morning trying to pay attention in meetings, but again, I didn't think anything of it. Going to the convent for lunch, I wasn't particularly hungry and after I managed to eat a tiny bit, my stomach, once again, began to make its presence known. But, through all of this, I felt relatively fine and finished out the work day.

It was during my and Kristen's daily 3 mile run that I started to feel like something wasn't quite right. Within the first few running steps, I felt each movement of my throbbing joints. Perhaps I should have stopped immediately, but I tend to push myself, and managed to make it through two miles before stopping. I walked the last mile, choked down some dinner, and attempted to shower. When the water against my skin was too painful to bear, I put myself to bed before 8 pm. The rest of the night remains a blur. I should have recognized how sick I was when I woke up in the middle of the night at opened my eyes to "see" a pillow-sized cockroach in my room, and my only reaction was to close my eyes and go back to sleep. What should have tipped me off to the fact that I was hallucinating, was not the appearance of a pillow sized cockroach staring at me, but the fact that my only reaction was to go back to sleep.

I honestly do not remember ever being that sick in my entire life. I realize now, after the fact, I should have gone to the doctor. Probably even the hospital. But I was so sick that I didn't even realize how sick I was. I spent all of Tuesday in bed. Managing to hold down only a tiny bit of soup at five pm before returning to bed and staying there (with the exception of bathroom trips) until noon Wednesday. With the care of Kristen and my host mom, Marina, I was able to go back to work on Thursday, feeling 75%. And after about four hazy days, of which I will spare you the wonderful details, my body slowly began to make its way back to normal. And now, 7 days later. All I can say is that this past week has given significant and unwanted new meaning to the phrase, "This too shall pass".

Too much information? Sorry :)

May 04, 2011

...Daring Resilience

Being here and in Mexico for the a total of almost nine months thus  far has taught me so much more than how to become semi conversational in Spanish. I am SLOWLY gaining confidence in my ability to understand and speak Spanish. The process has been so much more difficult, exhausting, and LONGER than I had ever could have imagined it to be.
Each and everyday here is filled with new beginnings, new experiences, and several, okay, actually MANY new challenges. Nothing about this experience and journey has been very easy, but I have grown to understand that the seemingly constant challenges and obstacles are merely part of the process. Throughout the day I have to repeatedly remind myself that I have to let go of the fear I have and be willing to make mistakes. Because I know that the longer I hold on to that fear, the longer it will take to feel comfortable with the language.  Although there are times I feel like giving up, I am comforted by the love, prayers, and support that I know is being sent from my family and friends.  I am searching hard to try to maintain the sense of peace that I am where I am is where I am supposed to be at this moment in time. And so at the end of the day, remembering why I am here and trusting that God wants me here is what keeps me dedicated to my service and inspires me to work all that much harder. And it is the knowledge  that I have countless people who believe in me and support me in what I am doing here, that fills me with the strength courage that I need to continue this process.

I thought I would share some words of Oscar Romero which sum up what I am trying to express in this blog entry. I think he says it much better than I did...

Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission.  No set of goals and
obvjectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.  we cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. this enables us to do something, and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest 

April 28, 2011

...Donations Recieved

A few days ago, April 26th, marked three months since Kristen and I arrived in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. It some ways it feels as though the time here has flown by, but it other ways, it feels as though I have been here for years. Its hard to believe that this time three months ago, I was settling in here with so many questions, no idea what these months could possibly bring. After my experience in Mexico, it seemed as though anything was possible. Coming here, I didn't know exactly how I would be spending my days or how I would be able to make it through financially. But thanks to the Good Lord above and all of my wonderful friends and family, everything has come together.  And here I am, over twelve weeks into the experience, stopping to take a moment and reflect on all that has happened during my time here.

But with unending thanks to many many people, I am able to be here in the Dominican Republic Without the generosity of people, it would not have been possible for me to be here. This is what my mind keeps returning to as I reflect on the past weeks-- the extreme generosity that has been shown by so many people--some of which I have never even met. I know that when these three months are over, and when I have completed a year of attempting to serve others in developing countries, what I think I'll remember most of all is the utter selflessness of people. Sometimes in people and places you'd least expect....

April 11, 2011

...Daunting Religious

Okay, I feel as though I should explain this title right off the bat. I thought having not written in awhile, I should take a moment to share another personal quirk of mine that seems to be taunting me throughout my days here. In all likelihood, its something that most people would take a moments pause to, but seems to wind up staring me in the face everywhere I go. Let me explain...and feel free to laugh, because in reality,once pointed out, its hilarious. Well, at least I think it is.
 The Dominican Republic is a very religious culture, a very Catholic culture (at least by appearances, while some of the underlying morals and values may seem contradicting. But that´s a whole other blog entry). As part of this culture, Catholicism is evident everywhere. Everyday entering downtown Jarabacoa, we pass a large painting of Jesus with his arms outstretched, pictures of religious are very prominent in public, and even more so, within every household.
The first time I entered a house here in Jarabocoa, I was greeted with this large poster of Jesus.

Ok, fine, like I said, most would think absolutely nothing this. But this poster was the main focus of the room where Kristen and I were sitting, and I felt the need to confess what was bothering me about this particular picture and what has bugged me for years about other pictures, paintings, and statues of Jesus, saints and other religious. I don´t why I randomly felt compelled to share this secret pet peeve of mine, but I turned to Kristen and did just that.
I suddenly blurted out "I know there´s symbolic meaning behind it, but how come in this picture of Jesus, and in so many images of saints, they are holding up two fingers? Why does it have to be those two--the two fingers I don´t have?! Why do they always do that? It´s like Jesus and all the religious are taunting me, silently saying `Look what I have...ha ha`!!!"
After staring at me for a moment, Kristen busted out laughing. And I did too. We had a good laugh and I got that thought off my chest.

But several days later, Kristen and I went with some of the workers of home visits. The first home we walked into:

 We were beside ourselves trying to keep in together for the several minutes were visiting the family. And then we went on to the next home, there was the picture again. And I kid you not, as we went into a good ten- twelve homes that afternoon, in EVERY one of the houses, there was that picture, often times poster sized, the dominant focus of the room, staring me in the face, Jesus following me with his eyes. Its become a running joke between me and Kristen, as we seem to see the picture everywhere we go.
Hope this has brought a little bit of laughter to your day (after being the confused white girl both here and in Mexico, I´m used to laughter at my expense). It certainly keeps me laughing!

...God is always watching!

March 28, 2011

...Difficulty Reading

Growing up, many children pass through a phase where the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  is responded with a confident, "I'm going to be a teacher!" However, for me, I don't remember ever really having the desire to spend my days in front of a chalkboard. This aversion to life as an educator could be due to numerous reasons. (Personally, I believe it was the result of a particularly memorable game of 'School' with my three older siblings, when I was FINALLY allowed to play the sacred position of 'Teacher', and my brothers and sister took great pleasure in taking on the form of  Satan's hellions and simultaneously distinguishing any spark of interest I ever held towards the profession..)
Anyway, enough childhood trama....I've always known that teaching wasn't my vocation.  As an International Studies: Human Rights major, I spent my undergraduate years studying the anthropological, political, religious, and sociological aspects of human rights around the world. With this aquired knowledge,  I have grown into a firm believer that education is the most important and the very foundation of what is necessary for a country to succeed and for the rights of its citizens to be recognized.  The very idea, formation, development and implementation of any progress whatsoever to occur, it all stems from the quality and availablity of education. Without this, improvement is unable to follow. I have studied this. I have researched this. I have witnessed this. I have EXPERIENCED this--all while secure in the knowledge that teaching isn't for me.

Throughout my eight weeks here, I have been hit, kicked, punched, and bitten. And those experiences have not been the most trying. What I have struggled with more than anything else has been patience: To acquire the patience to sit with a child and attempt to explain long division ( in Spanish), to have patience while teaching kids how to look up words in the dictionary, or to find the patience to explain a concept for the fifth time because a child wasn´t understanding.

There is this seven year old girl, China (pronounced Chee-nah), who I work with nearly everyday.  Her mother has five children from five different men and is currently pregnant with her sixth child, so China lives with her grandmother. Due to this, China has no one to encourage her or push her to do her school work. So, at the age of 7, she is still unable to read. And not just this, she still has difficulty identifying the letters of the alphabet. The worst thing about the situation is that China attends school everyday. Each day, the education system repeatedly fails her.  So I have made it a personal goal of mine to work with her to learn her letters of the alphabet and God willing, help her begin to learn to read.

Another child I work with, Joaquin, does not even attend school. I'm not sure of his entire story, but I believe that he is a Haitian refugee and does not have the proper documentation to attend school here in the Dominican Republic. Joaquin doesn't come to the Oratorio on a regular basis, but he has been around enough for me to learn that he doesn't know his letters, his numbers, or even his age. I've tried asking him numerous times, but have received answers ranging from 8 years old to 29 years old (He looks to be about 7). The other day, while playing Bingo with a few of the kids at the Oratorio ( I was dubbed the official spinner), Joaquin runs into the room, full of energy and enthusiasm. He asked to play the game with us and of course, I agree. I spun and the arrow landed on B 5. Within seconds of calling it out, Joaquin is frantically pulling on my arm, asking "Do I have it? Do I have it?" So I said to him, "Well, let's see. Where's the letter B?" Well Joaquin proceeds to point to every single NUMBER on the Bingo board. When I tried to ask him what was a letter and what was a number, he couldn't tell me...Hard to believe, right?

So now, here I am, after two entire months of spending the vast majority of my day helping with homework, teaching English, and trying to figure out exactly HOW to help with homework and teach English, I am even more certain that I am being called to another job. BUT, over these last two months, I truly know that it takes an INCREDIBLY special, amazing individual to be a teacher. Both my sisters are such amazing individuals and I have grown to be be ever so thankful for the educators of our world.

I will say this: it has been incredibly rewarding to see the results. When a student FINALLY begins to understand their homework or when a child comes running into the classroom the next day to tell me that they received a perfect score on the homework I had helped with the day before. Those moments make all the other frustrating ones seem SO worth it.

March 13, 2011

...Drastic Revisions

I consider myself to be an extremely flexible person. I credit this to growing up as the middle child of seven kids. I was also an RA in first year residence halls for three years. I've seen a lot. I can handle even more. And situation that will shock me and few and far between.  However, sometimes I feel as though God is taking all of my weaknesses and testing me through this experience. The short list of simple pet peeves and idiosyncrasies I have seem to pop up everywhere here and force me to be re-evaluate my own comfort zone and tolerance.
Take personal space for instance. A definite quirk  about me.True, most people have a sense of personal space they don't want crossed, but I sometimes take this to the extreme. For example, I don´t like when people stand really close to me, hang on me, or touch my back when i don't see them coming. Oh, and i really don't like it when people touch my face. Even now, typing this out, I am laughing, just imagining the reactions of different people reading this. I mean duh. there are certain things you just don't do, right? Like its not socially acceptable to go up and play with someone's hair while they are in mid-conversation with someone else. And its not too typical to casually touch someone´s face while talking to them. And am I wrong, (with the exception of  maybe pregnancy), or it is really not okay to stand next to someone and stroke their stomach?  Well, the kids here seem to be just fine with doing all of the above, especially the latter. Kids love to put their hands on Kristen and my stomach. I'm always like, " Yep, thats my fat. Thanks". Really, You can´t make this stuff up.
Granted, I work with street children, but it still throws me each time a kid I don´t even know comes and sits on my lap or begins tracing the writing on the front of my shirt. Not much seems to be off limits. Just the other day in fact, this little girl was talking to me, just rubbing my stomach, thinking nothing of it, and she felt my belly button ring. Not knowing what it was she felt,  she lifts up my shirt to see what it is! While fighting shock and hystarical laughter, I tried to explain to the girl why this is just NOT okay. But, have you ever tried to explain to a child seemingly basic social etiquette? Not easy in any language...
I could go on, but I must be off to prepare for another week. I'll tell you, there is never a dull moment here in the Dominican Republic. Stay tuned for more! :) Love you and miss you all!

March 03, 2011

...Discover, Re-learn

Moving to another country and attempting to assimilate yourself into the culture is a process in which all aspects of your "previous" life are put into perspective. All of a sudden you find yourself  within environments and situations completely unlike any you've seen before. Of course this is an expected occurrence to some degree, but many don´t realize that the process of integrating oneself to a foreign culture requires a re-learning some of the most basic habits and customs. Even the most seemingly common and simple tasks you've never given thought to need to be re-evaluated.
Think of all the daily occurrences which our responses become close to instinctual: pulling to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle has its siren on, stopping at a red light, stepping to the side if someone needs to get past you, waiting in line at the checkout, etc.  All these actions make perfect sense to us. They rarely require an explanation because we've watched things done all our lives. Oh and by the by, everything I listed above is considered pretty much optional here in the DR...
Even as we face new experiences in our own culture, we unconsciously evaluate it by using our own background, culture, and social norms as a measuring device. From this personal evaluation, we deduce whatwe know to be the appropriate response or reaction for the current circumstances. Its basic human nature, we rarely are aware of it. But when this involuntary thought process is done in a foreign country, the "measuring device" often fails to calculate the culturally correct answer. The result? Numerous mix-ups, constant confusion, and never ending awkward moments.   

 Let me tell you a little story: it was a Monday in which children were asked not to come to Mano a Mano in order for the teachers to go to each of the children's houses for a home visit. (oh, Kristen and I weren´t informed that no children would be coming that day until about 30 minutes AFTER we arrived and we finally asked someone what was going on.) So anyway, Kristen and I leave the Oratorio with three other teachers and make our way down the street. We came to a house, where a small group of people were gathered looking solemn. they seemed to be waiting outside the house for us, and parted as we passed them on our way to the front door. As this was our first stop, I assumed that this was simply just the way a typical home visit unfolded. I made my way up the walk, smiling happily at each person in turn, putting on my most friendly face. As I entered through the front door, i froze mid step, My heart dropped into my stomach and my facial expression changed in one of shock and horror. In the middle of the room, less than three feet from where I stood frozen, was a casket which held a young man.  Apparently I had arrived at a funeral the way someone arrives at a party. A little heads up would have been nice, but the teachers felt no need to explain because their own knowledge saw the situation and immediately recognized it as a funeral.  I left the house unable to look anyone in the eye. A few minutes later when I was able to speak again, I turned to Kristen. Her face displayed everything I felt. And even though it was a sad event, the way the circumstances unfolded requires the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. That's what gets you through.

February 26, 2011

...Deserved Rights

Yesterday, the Oratorio of Don Bosco's Youth participated in a march in favor of the Rights of the Child. It was a wonderful experience and I feel very blessed to have been able to help coordinate and participate an event that educates and put into action much of what I spend my undergrad studying.
There was a significant amount of children who participated in the march from the Oratorio and other schools in the area came to participate in the march as well. Parents were invited to join, and while there we a handful who did, I noticed that all of them were mothers--no fathers were present. (This is an example of a problem here in the DR. It is not at all uncommon for men to have children with two or three women other than his wife. And here, if a woman is not the wife of the man who impregnated her, the man has absolutely no obligation to the child). Anyway, this is just something I observed.
The march began at the Oratorio and went through the central part of the city of Jarabacoa. A truck with speakers playing music and explaining our purpose headed up the front, followed by dancers from the local dance school, and then the group of about 300 people followed.  Some children held up signs stating basic rights of children that Kristen and I spent the week making and other chanted  and sang along to the music.
We marched for about an hour and a half, being led through the streets off Jarabacoa, escorted by guards holding back traffic.
A surprising amount of people stopped along the side of the road and from their windows to watch us and cheer us on. Our most enthusiastic fan, a man of about 40, decided to show his support by joining us in the march. His chants were cut short fairly quickly however--about the time he  clumsily pulled a half empty bottle from his pants and took a long swig of straight rum...But apparently, I was the only one who even blinked at this behavior. I tell you, there aren't many dull moments here.
So, that was a brief recap of my experience. Now, I'll include a little educational tid-bit (At which point I sense many of you will stop reading and instead briefly skim the below information--if not abruptly close out of this page:) Just kidding...maybe)

For those of you who don't know, the United Nations has nine human rights treaty bodies that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties. One of these nine is the Committee on the Rights of the Child which monitors regulation and implementation on the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assemly on November 20, 1989 and entered into force on September 2, 1990.

The CRC is based on four core principles:
1.) Principle of non discrimination
2.) The best interests of the child
3.) the right to life, survival and development
4.) Consideration the views of the child in decisions which affect them (according to their age and maturity)

Here is something I found that sums up the ten basic rights of the child, as per the CRC United Nations Declaration (Research by Dr. Qamar Saeed, Karachi)

1.) The child shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding,friendship,peace and universal brotherhood and shall not be exposed to racial,religious or other forms of discrimination. RIGHT OF EQUALITY
 2.) The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect,cruelty,exploitation and traffic and shall not be permitted to employed before an appropriate minimum age.
Children have the right to be protected by all forms of forced labor, commerical sex work, and pornography.  Poor and bonded families often "sell" their children to contractors who promise lucrative jobs in the cities and the children end up being employed in brothels, hotels and domestic work. Many run away and find a life on the streets.
 3.) The child shall, in all circumstances,be among the first to receive protection and relief. Every child has a right to lead a well protected and secure life away from neglect.  Children have the right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. This includes the right to safe places for children to play; constructive child rearing behavior, and acknowledgment of the evolving capacities of children.
4.) The child is entitled to free and compulsory elementary education and such an education as is in his best interest for which the parents are to be responsible. Every child has a right to know his basic rights and his position in the society. High incidence of illiteracy and ignorance among the deprived and underprivileged children prevents them from having access to information about them and their society.
5.) The child is entitled to grow up in an atmosphere of affection and oral and material security,with public authorities taking care of children without families or other support. RIGHT OFLOVE. ALL children deserve environmental, cultural and developmental rights, which are sometimes called "third generation rights," and including the right to live in safe and healthy environments and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development.
6.) The physically,mentally or socially handicapped child shall be entitled for special treatment,education and appropriate care. ALL children have the right to participate in communities and have programs and services for themselves. Every child has a right to spend some time on recreational pursuits like sports, entertainment and hobbies to explore and develop.     
7.) The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition.housing,recreation and medical services,including special health care and protection and postnatal care for the mother.  Each child is entitled to economic, social and cultural rights, related to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. Included are rights to education, adequate housing, food, water,  the right to work and rights at work,
8.) The child shall be entitled to a name and nationality. Every child has a right to identify himself with a nation.
9.) The child shall enjoy special protection to be able to develop in every way in conditions of freedom and dignity.  Every child has the right to development that lets the child explore her/his full potential. Unfavourable living conditions of underprivileged children prevents them from growing in a free and uninhibited way. Every child has a right to express himself freely in which ever way he likes. Majority of children however are exploited by their elders and not allowed to express.
10.) All children irrespective of their race,color,sex or creed of their parents shall be entitled to these rights. FREEDOM FROM DISCRIMINATION

These rights help enable children to grow up healthy and free. The Dominican Republic signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child on August 8, 1990.  The Convention was ratified by the DR on June 11, 1991.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty with 190 ratifications. It is important to note that Somalia and the USA are the ONLY two countries which have not ratified the CRC. Something to think about...
For more info: go to un.org :)


February 21, 2011

...Daily Routine

After being here for over three weeks, Kristen and I are more or less beginning to establish a routine here. Our days are fun, but can be pretty exhausting. We get up at a little before 7:00 am and take turns running in and out of the tiny bathroom, which contains the only mirror we have. Its not that either of us are high maitanence, but both Kristen and I have curly hair that requires extreme taming in the humid conditions. After this battle. we head upstairs to where Marina has breakfast for us (along with not having a fridge, we seem to have a rodent/cockroach/gigantic spider problem, so its best not to keep food in our living space). Breakfast is usually a few pieces of toast or a pancake, and of course, as much coffee as we can swallow before we hear our ride. Each day, a nice young man named Luis picks us up on his motorcylce (this is the most common form of transportation here) and brings us to the Oratorio. Kids begin arriving around 8:00 am and thus begins the homework help, disciplining, teaching English, disciplining, games, check-ins and more disciplining. And when I say disciplining, I pretty much just mean telling kids to quiet down, stop fighting, and/or to get to work.

At noon, Kristen and I walk over to the Salesian school and house--The Santo Domingo Savio School. A group of about 7 Salesians nuns also live in a house that is connected to the school. There are also three high school age girls who live at the house with the nuns. The girls are all from disadvantaged homes and backgrounds. This is where we eat our lunch Monday-Friday.  Once at the house, we help Consuelo, the cook, make lunch and clean the kitchen before eating lunch.

At about 2 pm,  we go back the the school. This is when a second group of kids comes. Here in Jarabacoa, the school day is broken up into two sessions: the morning group and the afternoon group. The morning group attends school from about 8 until noon and the afternoon group has class from 2 until 6 pm. Therefore, at the Oratorio, the kids who had school in the mornings come in the afteroon. Did I explain that well enough?
Anyway, from two until 5 pm, I do the same thing as I do in the morning with a different group of kids.  

The kids are good and can be really fun, but you can tell that they are street children.
Meaning that they don't have any real home structure/discipline. The most noticable things are how rude the kids can be and their lack of boundaries. The kids will come up and touch your face, play with you hair, even sit on your lap--even the 12 year old boys will do this. Another thing that is difficult to get used to is when some kids will come to school with bruises--mostly on their faces. it is obvious that many of them come from abusive homes--which is why they hang out on the streets. However, there really isn't anything that can be done since the laws and overall law enforcement isn't strong.

We get picked up at around 5 by Luis and driven back home. Then we go for a run as a little bit of a stress releaser. (which by the way, running in the mountains of the D.R. is just a little different that running in the streets of Mexico). Dinner with Marina, husband and daughter is at about 7. Afterwards, we are usually so exhausted from the day that we just watch some TV and are in bed by about 10 pm. Cuz that´s what cool people do. Even though I am getting 8 hours of sleepa night (something that I haven`t done regularly since before highschool), I feel exhausted all the time. I think it is because of the combination of the sun, high altitude, playing with the kids, trying to communicate in spanish, and deal with the overall cultural differences. Hopefully I'll get more used to it as time goes on! Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers!

February 13, 2011

...Different Reality

The place where I am spending most of my time is called the Oratorio of Don Bosco's Youth. They have a website which provides a great deal of information about the work of the Oratorio, except it is all in Spanish. So,  I've put my translating skills to the test to give you a little tid bit on the place where I am working...
The Oratorio of Don Bosco Youth Center in Jarabacoa, was founded in 1947 by several priests. Their intention was to create a Salesian based atmosphere which would attract young people and provide education and life skills while exhibiting what it means to be honest citizens and people of faith.Primarily, the Oratorio was only open to children and adolescents on weekends. But while the hope of providing the city's youth with a recreational area void of the negative influences and dangers of the streets, more space was created so that the Oratorio was available to the youth in the afternoons and evenings, seven days a week. Throughout the years, a variety of courses and workshops have been created as a way to inspire, educate and prepare youth for employment. Since opening, the Oratorio of  Don Bosco has become a huge center for influence on youth and children. There, the young citizens of Jarabocoa and its surrounding villages are able to play sports and explore art and culture through music, drama, choir , dancing, etc, while being taught with an emphasis on Christian formation and the promotion of a positive work and social life. Today, the Oratorio provides a safe place for the youth, most of whom who have been marked by poverty and marginalization, and every week gives over a thousand young people a chance to achieve their dreams.

A specific program within the Oratorio of Don Bosco is Mano a Mano. It is within this program that I have decided to focus my concentration and servcie. Hand in Hand with Don Bosco, is a center within the network Local Boys and Girls with Don Bosco, which seeks to rescue children and adolescents who are at risk. A vast majority of the children in the program are undocumented, living in extreme poverty, unable to go to school and most often have been either abandoned, neglected and/ or abused by their parents. Through preventive system of Don Bosco, Mano a Mano fully promotes the rights and dignity of impoverished and marginalized children and adolescents in the Jarabacoa area through educational activities and services geared towards meeting the specific needs of each individual. The services we work to provide include
school support and monitoring, hygenine and basic life skills, legal process monitoring, work rooms, and counseling.

That, in a nut shell, has been the reality of what I have been trying to adjust to throughout the past two and a half weeks. Not only has it been a period of attempting to assimilate myself into a new job and trying to figure out where I can be of the most help, it has all been in addition to adapting to the major cultural difference, while struggling with the non-stop hurdling over language barriers...Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely NOT complaining. For the most part I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to spend nearly seven months here. However, I am astounded by how I seem to continuously find myself in awkward, hilarious, and often unbelievable situations that result when adjusting to a life in a different kind of reality. And don't worry, in my next update, you'll be able to laugh at my expense when I share some of my predicaments. 

Again, a HUGE thank you to all who have made my service here possible!


February 06, 2011

...Dominican Republic

WOW. It has been an incredibly crazy past month. As you all know, I was in Mexico (and if you didn't know, I would be very curious to know just how and why you came to be reading this blog...) for 5 months and had a very interesting, challenging, but overall wonderful experience. However, when I returned for Christmas, the parents of the other volunteer decided that it was not safe for her to return. As a result,  I was unable to return. It was extremely disappointing to leave behind all those I had gotten to know, but safety-wise, it was probably for the best. And as He does, the good Lord provided. 

Kristen (the volunteer I was with in Mexico), her dad is a campus minister at a college in New Paltz, NY and he had very strong connections here in Jarabocoa. He brings a group of students here every year for a mission trip. So he was able to set it up where Kristen and I could come here to volunteer.  For the past few years, he has been working closely with a woman, Marina Delgado, who has so generously offered to be our host mother while we are here. Kristen and I live in the downstairs "apartment" of Marina and her husband, Ralphael's house. The Delgados have been wonderful to us. Not only have they opened up their home, but they have made a point of introducing us to their family and friends, along with making sure Kristen and I have everything we need. Not only do Marina and Ralphael have two  teenage daughters of their own (so they are used to having young people around), the Delgados lived in the US for 18 years until they returned in 2004 (which means they can speak English very well!). So, overall, the entire process of getting settled here has gone very smoothly, which has been a huge relief for me. After Mexico, where we lived with three nuns who were older, completely unaccustomed to living with lay people, and never before really known any Americans, it is nice to come home after a long day of work and be able to relax in our own space.

So...within just 5 weeks of learning I wouldn't be returning to Mexico, here I am in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. My head is still spinning from all the changes which have taken place and I am still trying to wrap my mind around all the changes that have taken place. It is hard to believe that I have been here for 11 days now! 


Stay tuned for an update later this week where I will explain all about the place where I will be doing the majority of my volunteer work!