Sister Idalina and a Visit to a Batey

Two related themes arose during our visit to the Dominican Republic: the Haitian presence in the Dominican and Human Rights. One morning, we visited Sister Idalina, a Brazilian nun, working in the Dominican to help Haitians improve their rights. The day we visited she was hosting a clinic to help Haitians acquire proper documentation such as their passports, which will allow them to work in the Dominican and make a better life. She is an amazing and inspirational woman and even though we only had a few moments to meet her I think she left a lasting impact on all of us.

Another visit we made with a Haitian connection was to a Batey. A Batey is a town where sugar cutters live.  John, a member of our group from Rayjon who acted as our guide, described it as ‘an island in a sea of sugar cane’. That is truly what it feels like. The little community is surrounded by fields of sugar cane all around as far as the eye can see. It was extremely hot out there since there were no trees and hence very little shade. I cannot imagine what it must be like for workers to spend six months of the year working all day in such conditions. In the past, Haitians were forced to work here under such conditions. Both experiences were eye opening to some of the history and cultural diversity that exists in the Dominican Republic.

 

Culture

Food:

Rice, beans and fresh fruit such as melon, pineapple, plantains, banana and avocado were enjoyed regularly.

Fruits and vegetables at the market.

Language:

I had a limited Spanish vocabulary to communicate with the people I met but at the end of the week had learned a few words and phrases such as “Ola”-Hello and “Como se llama?”-What is your name?. Even though I wasn’t able to communicate with the children very well, we were still able to play and enjoy our time together, which makes me think of a quote from a Justin Bieber song, “U smile, I smile”.

Playing with the children at Gorge’s school.

I also found being the minority in the Dominican Republic to be an interesting experience.  As a group, we definitely stood out because of our skin colour which gained a lot of attention from the locals.  I personally liked this because I have never experienced this type of attention before in Canada.

I learned a lot about Dominican culture in the week there and got to experience it first hand by trying the food, speaking the language, going out dancing and interacting with the people.

 

 

Beach Day

On Sunday, we had a break from our usual busy routine and had a chance to experience the Dominican Republic as a tourist.

In the morning we walked to a local Catholic church in San Pedro.  For me, I thought the mass was similar to one I would go to at home except that I could not understand the language and children singing the hymns added to a more lively atmosphere.

Then we packed up our bags and headed to Santo Domingo.  We stopped in a tourist area and visited a building called the Marcado Modelo which was full of little shops containing lots of souvenirs.  Many people were eager to sell you things and I think everyone learned to bargain a little.  I ended up getting a magnet and a small painting of a sunset as souvenirs of the trip.

For lunch we ate at Pizza Hut then went to a beach in San Cristobal called Playa Palenque.  All the Dominicans were very curious about us.  We were at the beach for about an hour and enjoyed the beautiful view of the water and warm weather- perfect swimming conditions.  At the end of our visit we walked over to the concrete pier and took a few pictures with the locals.

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At the beach. (missing Sabrina)

That night we went out dancing at a disco called La Fama.  We had the opportunity to practice the bachata, salsa and merengue dances.  I definitely had a lot of fun even though I couldn’t get the dances quite right and it was great to experience Dominican dancing; a perfect ending to our tourist day!

Accomodations Throughout the Week

Each place we stayed at was simple but nice in its own unique way.

For the first two nights we stayed at a teacher’s college in San Pedro called Juan Vicente de Moscoso. We stayed in a dorm where students from out of town would normally board. The campus way very pretty with lots of flowers and trees, a cage of birds, a basketball court and outside benches and tables to enjoy the nice weather.

This is a picture of the room I stayed in at the school and shows a mosquito over the bed.

This is a picture of the room I stayed in at the school and shows a mosquito over the bed.

For the next two nights we stayed at a former resort called Boca Canaste Caribe in Bani. This place was very quiet and serene and after a long busy day we had the opportunity to relax by the pool. We were right on the beach and could here the crashing waves as we slept at night. We learned to make do without electricity and found the light of our candles created a very peaceful atmosphere.

View of the beach at sunrise.

View of the beach at sunrise.

For the last two nights, we stayed at Manresa Altagracia, a religious place where nuns and priests lived in Santo Domingo. I don’t think we had ever been so thankful for hot water and electricity before. The grounds were very sunny and offered a beautiful view of the houses in the city below and and the city lights at night from the rooftop.

My room at the religious house.

My room at the religious house.

Sonrisas and El Arca

Hola! Hola!

In the DR, there are so many amazing organizations that are working towards improving the health and well-being of the population. We visited two such organizations in Santo Domingo called Sonrisas and El Arca.

Sonrisas or Smiles in English is a dental clinic that provides free dental care to children and low cost dental care to adults. Sonrisas is actually a sister organization with the Smiles Foundation founded in Toronto and is the only clinic in the Dominican Republic that provides free dental care to children and dental care to adults at half the cost of private clinics. Whilst we were there we were able to receive a tour of the clinic and learn about the services that they offer. Fun fact: John, one of our Rayjon trip leaders, worked at Sonrisas for a few years when he lived in the DR. It was awesome to see the work that Sonrisas is doing and the impact that they are trying to have on dental care in the DR. There are also great opportunities to get involved with Sonrisas and the Smiles Foundation. Definitely check out their website! http://www.smilesfoundation.org/index.html

El Arca or L’Arche in English is an organization that has communities around the world that provide care for adults with developmental disabilities. We visited the only home in the Dominican Republic that provides care for 11 people. At El Arca, the residents participate in a variety of activities such as arts and crafts, cooking and sports with the help of assistants. When we were there we were given a tour by Juan Miguel who has been working with El Arca for about 12 years. When we arrived the residents were making coconut jewelry. I asked about the process of making the jewelry and was told that it took about a day to make a piece of jewelry and there were a lot of difficult steps involved. The residents of the home also make a variety of coconut and bead jewelry for sale to help raise money for the home. We definitely bought a bunch while we were there. It is unfortunate that this is the only home of its type in the Dominican Republic as typically people with developmental disabilities would be considered an outcast by the rest of society. Dominicans are definitely making strides in the right direction to improve the quality of life of the population and these two organizations are prime examples of this. Here is a video of El Arca de Santo Domingo so you can see a bit of what the home is like. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fdaUrCa99E

Traditional Food of the Dominican Republic

The diet of the people living in the Dominican Republic has been influenced by the foods available locally, by the indigenous cultures, such as the Taino native peoples, as well as by international influences from Spain and Africa. In a period of a week we samples many different dishes and foods and would like to share our culinary experiences.

Fried Plantain

Plantains are a type of banana. They are larger, less sweet, and more starchy than the type of bananas familiar to us. This means they must be cooked before they are consumed and are a more savoury dish.

Yuca/Casava  

This is a very starchy, carbohydrate rich root vegetable grown in the Dominican, the Caribean and South America. In fact, it is  the third largest source of carbohydrates in these areas!

We had yuca at Jorge’s school where it was peeled, boiled and cut into slices.

Rice and Beans

What a group favourite! We had this meal several times during the course of our trip. We found that rice in the Dominican to be very flavourful through the spices that were added by the use of coconut milk.

We also learned the con-con (burnt rice from the bottom of the pot) is a delicacy in the Dominican.

Stewed Beef (Carne Guisada)

A traditional dish we ate one night for dinner. Meat is always very well cooked

Fruit!!!!

The fruit was amazing and we ate so much of it! Since it was  so fresh and delicious  that was easy to do. The fruits we tried included pineapple, banana, papaya, cantaloupe and avocado.

Monday, February 18

Hi everyone! Emily and Justine here reporting on Day Five of the ASB Trip.

Our first visit on Monday was to the Elizabeth Seton Nutrition Center. We spent the morning playing with the children. There were several rooms of kids ranging in age from two to five years old. At around noon we helped serve and feed them their lunch which was soup. The soup was made from pumpkin leaves and macaroni mixed in to give it some substance. They told us that this soup had an equivalent nutritional value as a piece of meat but a lot cheaper! The kids went for their nap after lunch and we got to try some of the soup. Next we went to visit a rural high school where we visited classrooms and watched a game of baseball. At the school we learned how teachers in the Dominican struggle to be named so that they can be on the government’s payroll. The last stop of the day was to the Saint Martin Shrine which was a little stone building at the top of a hill in a valley surrounded by mountains. We had a magnificent view and took a few photos before going back to our accommodations where we got to watch a beautiful sunset on the beach.

Hi Everyone !

We want to keep you as up to date as possible while we are on our trip. Right now we are in Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, and luckily found another wifi location.

We’ve had an eventful day thus far. We attended a church service in Consuelo this morning. The locals were very welcoming and it was really interesting to see the similarities and differences between mass in Canada and mass in the DR.

This afternoon we made the journey from Consuelo to Santo Domingo by bus. It was over an hour drive, but there was a lot to see, including the ocean! When we arrived in the capital we had the chance to shop at an indoor market. Many of us purchased jewelery, key chains, wooden sculptures and coffee!

We’re heading to the beach now! Adios!

Jazmyn and Jaclyn

Day Two of the Dominican Republic

We started the day travelling to Barrio 41 (barrio means neighbourhood in spanish). This is where George’s school is located. All of the money raised though selling Pencils, Bricks, and Apples will be supporting the school. After introduction, we were divided into 2 groups, one to spend the day at the school interacting with the children, and the other going to the market, a walking distance away. Both groups thoroughly enjoyed learning about the culture and the daily routines of the Dominican Republicans. Through travels and discussion, our team thoroughly enjoyed making connections with the children, and their families. After both groups returned for lunch, we travelled to a near by health clinic and delivered an eye pressure test machine. As Mary assembled and taught the process of the optic machine, we toured the facilities and met an american doctor who has been living and working in the Dominican for 2 years-completing a fellowship in pediatrics. After learning about ho health care is provided, we continued exploration to an orphanage. Our tour guide, an American graduate in Public Relations, explained how our previous perception of an orphanage differs from how this orphanage is run. Though we thought that an orphanage would consist of a run down building, this place is actually quite new and still growing, consisting of a school, health clinic, gendered specific dorms, a kitchen, a recreational center, a park including a baseball and soccer field, and a special needs facility in the making. The children come to the orphanage to get an education and live together in a family setting with chores, and services required. After they have graduated highschool, they must give back to their home by working for a year at the orphanage. Currently, only 1 male has completed highschool and the year of service. In June, 15 students will graduate! And serve a year after. Following our tour, the guide explained that Dominican is driven economically by tourism, but it is not just a place to go to the beach.She completed the session by explaining the role of a volunteer, their typical lifestyle/schedule, as well as the process of applying and learning Spanish. For more information about volunteering or just general knowledge of the orphanage, visit www.nph.org. We returned to the retreat centre which is a teachers college. Dinner was the traditional rice and beans meal including pineapple and fried fish. Following dinner, the group gathered and had a reflection time, thus discussing our current ideas and experiences. Then an attempt to sleep with the rooster and dogs outside. Should of brought ear plugs…