Many have told me that after telling others that we are serving here in the DR, that people ask them why. That makes sense. The (most-likely) majority of Americans that have visited the DR have only visited all-inclusive resorts, and let’s be real here… An all-inclusive here looks the same as an all-inclusive in Mexico, Jamaica, any Caribbean location. Anyway, the all-inclusive resorts take up a VERY small, rich percentage of the country here. Many parts of the country do not have running water, have electricity sporadically, and tin roofs. So yes, when you think of the DR, think of the beautiful beaches, but also think about the people who live here and how they live their lives. It is very different from life in the states, but who is to say they aren’t as happy?
So, back to the original questions: What are we doing? We are volunteers in the education sector, one of the four PC sectors in this country: Business Development, Health, Youth and Families, and Education. Specifically, the education sector focuses on childhood SPANISH literacy. We are not teaching English, but working to improve the literacy rates in Spanish here. The reading and writing rates are very low in certain parts of the country, even for those that are attending school.
Last semester, Keeg and I focused on small reading groups in the 1st-4th grade. There are nearly 200 students in these four grades in our school, and about a third of them could not recognize the vowels at the beginning of the school year. I should clarify, Kindergarten is optional, so many of the first graders had never been to school before. In these small groups, we worked mainly with the kids who needed the most help… those who could not read in 3rd and 4th, and those that did not know their vowels in 1st and 2nd. The semester went well, with every single child improving in one way or another. Some of the older non-readers even started reading!
We also worked on teacher training with our counterpart from the DREAM Project (workshops with new ideas and strategies), as well as ran some other smaller programs, like Deportes Para La Vida, which is a program that focuses on sports as well as health and HIV/AIDS awareness.
We also built a library! And by built, I mean we converted a large closet space into a library. I wish I had before pictures, but I don’t. The space was piled high full of 60+ broken desks and chairs, and close to 1,000+ textbooks that could no longer be used because they were outdated. Now, we have a beautiful space that looks a little more inviting for the kiddos.
Now for the transformation…
We are just about finished for now (in these photos it’s still a bit messy). We could not have done anything without funding from the DREAM Project and the school, as well as help from community members. Our next project is raising funds for children’s books in Spanish. We will be applying for some grants (one will most likely be a friend’s and family donation link) in the near future. Or, if you’re feeling extra giving, send a children’s book our way! Yes, we love getting packages (message me for our address)!! This semester, to raise funds within the community, we are planning a men’s basketball tournament as well as a reading/literacy fair at the school.
So, what will we be doing this semester? We are trying to move into different projects. The teacher training will continue with the DREAM Project. Our small groups will continue, but we’re going to start a tutoring project to have high school students and older take over the small groups for us (more sustainability, yay!). Keeg will be focusing more on youth groups and youth leadership programs as well as some parent education. I will be focusing on some youth groups as well as a mom and toddler program to raise (sidenote: I just sat at my computer for three minutes trying to translate this word from Spanish) education and learning in the household. Keeg also was nominated the VAC representative of our region! That means, he’s in charge of organizing quarterly meetings for about 50 volunteers, as well as making sure everyone is doing well in their sites (an extra person to call for questions or support). So congrats to him! We also are working on a presentation for a national conference for one of the Peace Corps initiatives, Escojo Enseñar, which is the teacher training program where many volunteers will bring teachers and principals from their communities. I am also helping update a small section of the manual for this initiative.
Many of you may be surprised to learn that nothing we are doing has anything to do with teaching English. In the future, we may teach an English class here or there since we live in a high tourist area, but for now, we have our plates full. =]
School has started back up and we’re already starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with everything on our plates. We are eager to make these new changes in our schedules, though! We are looking forward to having visitors again in March and hopefully a trip soon shortly after… Surprise!