This summer I had the opportunity to work with an educational organization in a small town called Cabarete on the outskirts of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. If I reflect honestly on my experience, I’d have to amount it to one word- unexpected. This word sums up my experience because I found myself constantly surprised by unexpected realizations, frustrations, learning curves, feelings of confidence and insecurities, friendships and finally- the unexpected ability that I found within myself to understand and reason through difficulties while in an unknown environment.
Aside from the personal growth that I experienced, here are some of the facts that I learned about the current status life and education in the DR:
- The DR is home to over 8 million people with a per capita GNP of US $2,100.
- The US Embassy in Santo Domingo issues the third largest number of immigrant visas to the United States. In other words, about 1 out of ever 7 Dominicans now lives in the United States.
- 1 out of every 5 poor children entering primary school will complete the 5th grade.
- 85% of poor Dominicans have never completed primary education.
- 40% of all 14 to 17-year-olds still attend primary school.
I also learned that the Dominican Republic’s education system is considered to be the worst in Latin America. That there is an extreme epidemic of xenophobia against Haitians. That children of uneducated mothers (not fathers) have a lowered likelihood of attending school. These facts are dismal but true, and trust me there are more like them. For many children in the Dominican Republic, access to a primary school education is impossible to attain so those who make it to high school and beyond have done what’s nearly impossible for the majority. We’ve all heard that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but I find it remarkable that nobody addresses the suffering economic and educational status of the equally poor in the Dominican Republic. Even more mind blowing is recognizing that the two countries that share island of Hispaniola, also share many ancestral and cultural similarities that are purposely neglected in social and historical accounts of Dominican history!
That being said…
I have a lot of thoughts to work through about my experience in the DR. This is only my first post about my experience. Though I probably will not return to work with the organization that I volunteered with this past summer, I certainly hope to return and serve there. I’ll continue to work through my thoughts and write about them here. As I near my date to move to Abu Dhabi, I plan to immerse myself in education-based literature and prepare for my job. Time permitting, I’ll reflect on some of those readings here too.
Thanks for reading!