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!