Category Archives: Dominican Republic

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VOLUNTEER JOURNALS | Everything Was Shared

 

Meet John Seo (pictured above on right.) Avid reader and student of Tustin High School, John was one of several students who journeyed on a Good Neighbors volunteer trip last year. The location: Dominican Republic. Their mission: build new latrines for families affected by poor sanitation. But here’s the story in John’s own words.


In 2014, I went to Guatemala with six other students to build new cookstoves for families who suffered from inhaling toxic smoke while using traditional cookstoves in their homes. This past summer, we wanted to experience something different but also make an impact in people’s lives. So our team of eight volunteers went to help build latrines for homes in Chinguelo, a remote mountainous community and one of the project sites overseen by Good Neighbors Dominican Republic (GNDOM).

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John Seo (right) and the volunteers taking a break in the shade to cool off from the sweltering heat

The obstacles began at Las Américas International Airport. Extremely humid air coupled with the scorching heat was almost unbearable compared to the cool and breezy winds of Southern California. Drops of sweat rolled down our faces even before we stepped outside.

Although it wasn’t my first time going to a third-world country in Latin America, my expectations were blown away by the extreme poverty that struck the country. The extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor was disturbing. It almost didn’t seem fair that, back at home, we lived in houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in one of the safest cities in the world, yet millions of people lived in poverty.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines. Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, just to name a few. An estimated 842,000 diarrhea deaths around the world are caused by poor sanitation every year. Although the access to improved sanitation facilities has increased in the country during the past decades, rural areas still lag behind.

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A latrine the team was helping to build

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Volunteer Sam Yoon (left), helping a community member unload cinder blocks from a horse

We officially began work on the latrines on the second day, but the first day was just as challenging adapting to the new environment. As the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean shores always seemed just a few minutes away, most of us half-expected a small paradise, but the poverty stricken communities we passed by showed us the reality of the situation.

 

When we first met the families, something was quite different from ours. Families of 5-8 people were living in “houses” the size of our closets, yet not a single face showed discontent. The children were radiating with joy and excitement. It shocked us to see that even without the convenience of modern technology and video games, kids were still able to have so much fun.

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Bonding with children: Clarissa, Lina, Eileen and Lina’s little sister (from left to right)

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Community members, GN volunteers & staff in front of an almost complete latrine

More importantly, the sense of community the people shared was beyond anything we had seen in America. Every fruit, every soda pop, and every meal- individuals would come together to share the joy. Nothing was kept private and everything was shared. The trust and support for each other was even extended toward us, complete strangers to them. We worked side by side with them and they even invited us into their homes. With unconditional generosity, the families accepted us into their lives.

Geographically, most of the homes were separated over a mountainside, beyond a grassy plain, or across a river, yet the community’s concept of family stretched further than any border. Although the work we did there was more challenging than we experienced in Guatemala, we couldn’t have been more grateful for this unforgettable experience.

Blog_JohnOuthouseBlog_JohnNewOuthouse                         BEFORE                                                         AFTER

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John and his fellow volunteers left Chinguelo with one latrine fully completed, and three more built with finishing touches added after their departure.   This directly impacted the daily lives of four families, improving the health for over 30 people. Because of the volunteers’ hard work and determined hearts, these households can now thrive, free from the dangerous diseases that come from lack of adequate sanitation.

If this story has inspired you to step out and make a difference, Good Neighbors has 2016 trips lined up and open for applications! Simply email volunteer@goodneighbors.org for more info!

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Interning in the Dominican Republic: PART 2

Sophia interned at Good Neighbors Dominican Republic this summer, and wrote about her experiences in a two-part blog. Read below for her second entry!

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Hello! Living in the DR has reminded me of how fortunate I am to live in the USA and have constant access to potable water. Here in the DR, tap water is not safe to drink, so people purchase water from jugs that are brought to the house via motorcycle. This service is expensive for those living in extreme poverty and it causes people to struggle to provide their families with safe drinking water (the price for one 5 gallon jug is over $1.50). Good Neighbors Dominican Republic has provided the people living in the urban slum of Los Guandules, Santo Domingo with a water filtration system so that they can refill water bottles at the affordable price of only $1.50 per month instead of per jug ( it’s called “Project Good Water”).

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

This is the “Project Good Water” reserve osmosis system.

The Community Development Project (CDP) in Los Guandules has a dedicated doctor working for them.  Dr. Rossy Molina Cuevas provides free medical checkups and care for the parents and children enrolled in the program. Dr. Rossy always has a long line of people waiting to see her and she does an incredible job providing the community with quality care despite the limited amount of resources she has at her disposal.

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Los Guandules is located by the Ozama River, but unfortunately the river is considered to be the most polluted river in the Dominican Republic due to decades of industrial runoff.

I also had the opportunity to work at the summer camp in Los Guandules as a yoga instructor. Over 250 children attended the camp and it was truly an amazing experience (hundreds more children will be back for the second half of the camp). The children are truly talented, sweet, and enjoyed the yoga class. I got more hugs than I thought were possible and the outpouring of love was heartwarming. I’ll never forget their smiles and gratitude.

Yoga time!

Namaste! Yoga time!

The staff and summer camp volunteers are a group of dedicated individuals and I was lucky to get the opportunity to work with them.  The final day of the camp a couple of us got dressed as clowns and the kids went nuts!

That's me in the front and center clowning around!

That’s me in the front row clowning around!

I never thought I’d ever be a clown, but that’s the amazing thing about volunteering abroad – you never know where it will take you or who you will become!

Thank you SO much for spending part of your summer with Good Neighbors Dominican Republic, Sophia! We know they loved having you as much as you loved being there! Are YOU interested in volunteering? Visit our website for more info! 

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4 Months in the Dominican Republic

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Meet Lisette Rodriguez, a Los Angeles native who just wrapped up four months in the Dominican Republic as our amazing Good Neighbors International Volunteer. Now that she’s back in the states, she’s sharing her thoughts on going abroad and her top four memories:   

I arrived in the Dominican Republic four months ago as a volunteer in international development. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to learn and help as much as I could. In reflecting on my experience working with Good Neighbors Dominican Republic, there have been so many meaningful, educational, and life-changing experiences. Here are some of the highlights…

  1. Personajes Fantásticos de Chinguelo Workshop

Personajes Fantásticos de Chinguelo was a painting and photography workshop that was a collaborative endeavor between Good Neighbors Dominican Republic and Proyector de Sueños, a non-profit arts organization. Through this two-day workshop, kids in the community of Chinguelo had the opportunity to express their personal identity by creating fun masks from the natural materials in their environment. They even learned photography skills and had a photo shoot with their newly created masks. This was such a wonderful exercise in creativity and self-expression! I loved watching every minute of it unfold and the kids had a great time.

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DSCN8903The kids of Chinguelo learning photo skills, above, and exploring the forest together to find materials for their masks.

L1180312 One of the many amazing, original creations the kids came up with!

  1. Working with the California Institute for Social Business

It was such a pleasure to work with students from the California Institute for Social Business on developing a social business plan for Good Neighbors Dominican Republic. Our plan in the end recommended opening a café in the city of Santo Domingo. In addition to typical café menu items, the café would also feature a gift shop where products and items developed by community members would be available for purchase, as well as an art gallery. The funds generated from this social business would go toward facilitating workshops and training sessions for community members so they could learn about income generation opportunities for themselves and their families.

  1. Researching a New Community Development Project Site in Los Cacaos 

Good Neighbors Dominican Republic is in the process of researching a new community development project site in the community of Los Cacaos in the San Cristobal region of the Dominican Republic. This region is known for its cultivation of coffee, and as part of the initial research phase, we got to visit the Asociación de Caficultores La Esperanza (ASOCAES) to tour the coffee facility and learn about the incredible coffee-making process.

DSCN9842Operations Manager, Karla Sanchez (center), and myself receiving an overview of the coffee cultivation process from a representative of ASOCAES.

DSCN9861Proud to say the coffee produced is 100% organic.

DSCN9868GNDOM staff Marjorie Andujar, left, myself, and Karla Sanchez pulling our hair back and getting ready for our tour of the coffee packaging facility. 

DSCN9886An employee packages freshly ground coffee. It smelled wonderful!

  1. The Staff of Good Neighbors Dominican Republic

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my time was having the opportunity to work with the most amazing group of people who are dedicated to making children’s lives better: the staff of Good Neighbors Dominican Republic! I will always remember the efforts, smiles, frustrations, and laughs that we shared. I am so happy to have worked with and learned from such a spectacular group of people.

Training_04Our staff together at a training workshop.

photo1We know how to have fun! Our staff at a day retreat toJuan Dolio Beach.

So, what’s next for me?

I’m back in the United States now, but I’ve definitely left a piece of my heart in the Dominican Republic. In August, I’ll begin another position for an international service learning program where I’ll be traveling to six different countries around the world over the course of a year. I’m very much looking forward to taking everything that I’ve learned at Good Neighbors and applying it to my life and work in the future.

We’re so grateful to have had a volunteer like Lisette! If you’re interested in volunteer abroad opportunities with Good Neighbors, please contact volunteer@goodneighbors.org. 

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