Interning in the Dominican Republic: PART 1

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

Sophia DR

Hello! My name is Sophia Jones and I am studying international public health in the University of Arizona’s Masters in Development Practice (MDP) program.  As part of my programs requirements, each student is given the opportunity to select an NGO to work with over the summer in order to experience working in development. When I first read about Good Neighbors online and saw how their development programs are oriented towards youth, I immediately knew it would be a good fit, because I have always been passionate about helping children.

Good Neighbors International (GNI) first came to the Caribbean island of La Hispaniola after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in 2010, when millions of people became displaced and were in desperate need of emergency relief. The complete destruction of Haiti’s infrastructure made it impossible to reach the survivors without first crossing through the Dominican Republic (DR). After spending time in the DR, GNI saw that beyond the fancy 5-star resorts and white sand beaches, many children and their families lived in extreme poverty (about 20% of the population). The GNI crew decided that these people could use their assistance and began their mission to open GNDom.

The head office of GNDom is located in the capital of Santo Domingo, a bustling tropical city, and where I live.  I have been assigned to work as an assistant to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Program Coordinator, who is in charge of opening a clinic. This job has been keeping me busy, as there are a lot of logistics that must be accounted for before the grand opening in September. In addition to these duties I have been assisting other departments and getting to know GNDom by visiting the areas they work in.

Currently, the office has been busy collecting almost 4,000 annual letters that children use to thank and update their sponsors. Some of the children live in remote locations so far away that the staff must ride on horseback to find their homes nestled deep in forested mountains. All of the sponsored boys and girls live in areas where GNDom has performed impact assessments. These studies are carried out in order to determine areas where their work can benefit the most children and these are called Community Development Projects (CDP). GNDom has opened a CDP each year and because of this rapid expansion their network has allowed them to provide support to people living across the country. During my short time here I have visited all but one of the CDPs and was very impressed by the various projects and activities GNDom has been able to implement.

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The sponsored children in Los Guandules (an urban slum outside of Santo Domingo) writing to their sponsors.

Despite the rapid economic growth experienced in tourist areas, over half of the DR does not have access to improved sanitation. The arrival of cholera makes this troubling, considering that the bacteria can never truly be eradicated (it is a natural part of aquatic environments). The CDP in Las Javillas (Hato Major) is attempting to prevent cholera and other water-borne illnesses by installing latrines throughout the community.

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This little boy proudly stands in front of his family’s new latrine

One of the sponsored girls in Chinguelo, a community of rural organic coffee farmers showed me the pigs her family received through the GNDom micro-credit program. This has diversified her parent’s income and will allow them to provide her and her two sisters with a better life. Thanks to GNDom, she has received electricity for the first time and with prescription reading glasses.

My first month here has been filled with new adventures! I look forward to visiting the rest of the CDPs and creating fun projects for the hundreds of children that will participate in GNDoms annual summer camp that will begin soon. Stay tuned for my next blog!

 

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