Tag Archives: volunteer

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.

sophia DR2

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.


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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The Paraguay Chronicles: Painting, Cleaning and Teaching Kids

Our second to last entry of the The Paraguay Chronicles is here! Read below to learn what Sabrina has to say about painting and cleaning with the local school children. 


From left to right: Anna-Kate, Emily, Kendyl, and Sabrina

Written by Sabrina Odlum

We just spent the last two weeks working at the local school in Aregua, helping to beautify the school and help promote the importance of proper waste management. Good Neighbors provided large waste bins marked with what products should be placed in each one. Each bin was a different color with a matching label and picture, making it easy for kids of all ages to find the right bin for their garbage.


Our team educated the teachers, students and parents in a meeting that explained the importance of using the new trash and recycling bins correctly. We got the kids involved in the project by talking with them as we worked at their school and letting them help out with our projects. They got very excited about learning how to take care of their school and community! We picked up trash around the school, built a compost pile, painted their existing play equipment, built a table for games out of recycled materials, painted the 6th grade classroom, painted classroom doors and windows, and painted a mural. All of our work sparked the students’ interest and they always wanted to know what we were doing and if they could help. I hope that after we leave, they will continue to take care of their space.


Emily and a local student painting tires.

My favorite part of the project came at the end of the week when we painted a mural. It is a painting of a sunny day with a bright blue sky. Colorful flowers are growing, birds are flying and a large tree is growing and bearing ripe fruit. Across the sky the words “Cherish the Earth” are written in Spanish. The mural is on a wall at the very front of the school and it’s the first thing people see as they walk up. I hope it will be a reminder to the students, parents and teachers that the earth needs to be protected and shown respect everyday in all of our actions.


The APU group in front of our mural!

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#GuatSquad & Ladrillos: My Week in Guatemala

Last month, we sent a group of high school volunteers to Guatemala to support Project Cookstoves,  an initiative that builds new, energy-efficient cookstoves for families and allows us to promote education, health, and environmental protection! Read below for Joy’s account on this amazing, eye-opening trip. 


By Joy Gursky

A couple weeks ago, I found myself in Guatemala City with a group of twelve other volunteers from different high schools scattered throughout the United States. Waiting for our ride to the hotel from the airport, all of us were exhausted and hoping we had made the right decision in deciding to travel to a foreign country with a group of people we had never met before. We were strangers with one common goal: we wanted to improve the lives of the less fortunate, and we were going to accomplish this by building energy-efficient cookstoves for families in rural Guatemalan villages with Good Neighbors. So, after resting in the hotel, we were off to our first volunteer site. The drive to Patzicía was long (a few hours!), and we were all excited, nervous, and unsure of what to expect.


Building stoves is, as one might imagine, very difficult work, and there are many preliminary steps. First, all the bricks (or “ladrillos” as they’re called in Spanish) need to be soaked in water for at least a minute to ensure that they don’t just break apart when you lay them down. Dirt, water, and cement need to be mixed separately to put in between the bricks and ensure everything sticks together and the smoke and flames won’t escape. The terrain where the stove will reside needs to be evened out; in some cases the stoves were built in the kitchen, but in others they were built outside under some sort of pavilion.


Once all these steps have been taken, it is finally time to start laying down the bricks: cinder blocks at the bottom, and the traditional red bricks at the top. After laying them down, the chimney (a cylindrical, hollow, and very, very heavy block made out of cement) needs to be installed. Thankfully, since our team was so large, we were each able to work on the different steps simultaneously to make sure that everything was completed on time.


Constructing the stoves wasn’t the most fun part of the trip, though. The best part was getting to know the native Guatemalans and the rest of the high school group (we eventually very cleverly named ourselves the “#GuatSquad). The families in the homes we visited didn’t speak any English, but on that first day, all of us so desperately wanted to interact with them that we were willing to walk right up to them and introduce ourselves in the bits and pieces of Spanish that we had learned  forgotten in school years before… even if our American accents were awful. Nevertheless, we tried our best, and by the end of each day we had learned the names of the family, their ages, and where they had been born – all while working together to build the cookstoves. And by the end of the trip, we were having basic conversations with local families and children.

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One thing that I’ve taken away from our journey is that at home, we really have it easy. In the U.S, we’re fortunate to have microwaves and ovens that heat up our food, pipes that deliver hot water straight into our sinks and bathtubs, and heaters installed into our homes to keep us warm in the winter. For many people in the U.S, it’s difficult to even comprehend not having any of that, since it’s literally in every home; but for people in developing countries it’s a reality. Many Guatemalans who don’t live in the city rely on fire for everything from heating their bath water to cooking their food. This dependency doesn’t come without consequences. Smoke inhaled by families who use fire as a means to survive regularly leads to several health risks including emphysema, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer–and claims 4 million lives each year, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.


If you’re considering volunteering abroad but are having qualms about doing so, my advice to you would be to just do it. Volunteering in a foreign country is a life-changing experience, and your perspective on just about everything will be altered forever. Take some time to read up on the country and culture you’re visiting before you leave. Bring your own hygienic products because you never know when you’ll need them. And most importantly, have fun!       

Thanks for joining our summer volunteer  trip to Guatemala, Joy! Learn more about our Project Cookstoves here, and how to volunteer with us here


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Read below for another entry in The Paraguay Chronicles, and find out what Kendyl loves about the food and people in Paraguay! 

Written by Kendyl Kolb


Since arriving in Paraguay, our team has had the chance to experience new and fascinating foods, landscapes and art. The people of Paraguay speak mainly Spanish, but the majority of the population also speaks the indigenous language, Guarani. People tend to mix the two together. We’ve had a fun time trying to not only maneuver our way through Aregua (the town we’re in) speaking Spanish, but also learning phrases in Guarani.

Besides language, the Paraguayan culture has introduced us to new foods like sopa Paraguaya, which is a traditional food that you would expect to be soup, but it is actually more like cornbread. We have also enjoyed milanesa de pollo, empanadas, and mandioca. Of course, we’ve had to throw in the occasional pizza for a small taste of home! The freshly squeezed juices are delicious, and the famous Paraguayan drink is called terrere, which is a tea that you can find in the hands of just about everyone, young or old, as they go about their day.

Our team can usually be found eating our delicious Paraguayan food at Don Pablo’s Restaurant. We go there for lunch and dinner almost every day. We have become friends with our server, Julio, who is there every night (he has just about memorized our orders!). For breakfast we often have toast with dulce de leche (caramel sauce) and fruit.

group with server

Here we are with Julio (in the black hat)!

Although the food is muy delicioso, the people here in Paraguay are even more amazing. We have had so much fun getting to know the people that work for Good Neighbors. Each one of them has a fun and fascinating story about life here. Everyone in the community has been extremely welcoming, hospitable, sweet and, most of all, understanding when I cannot speak Spanish very well. Our project involves us working at the local school and we have really gotten to know the kids as well as the teachers. They are all so excited to see us everyday and are always ready to talk to us, play with us, and even help us work. We have heard stories, legends, and dreams from so many different people here and it has brought us so much joy. More often than not, many kids say their dreams are to be in the World Cup because futbol (soccer) is extremely popular here.

Another popular part of their culture is clay work. Walking along the streets of Aregua, you can find hundreds of handmade clay sculptures and pots for sale everywhere you go. Along with pottery, there are often hammocks for sale. The people love hammocks and it has also been one of our favorite things to enjoy here at our hostel with our host. We’ve also visited the beach down by our hostel and see some beautiful handmade crafts.

hammock reading

Emily and John reading and relaxing on the hammocks!

We’ve also learned a lot about the Paraguayan culture through sight-seeing. We visited the local church in Aregua, which was beautiful, and we also visited Aregua’s famous castle. We have encountered beautiful fruit trees and broken down railroads, and cobblestone streets. We also toured the capitol, Asuncion, and saw the house of the President of Paraguay.

group night

Posing for a picture in front of the President’s house in Asuncion. From left to right: Aaron, John, Anna-Kate, Emily, Kendyl, Sabrina, and DeMaree


Visiting the local church.

Our experience in Paraguay has been nothing short of amazing. The people, the language, the food, and the sights have been wonderful. Everything here is definitely shaping my outlook on life and culture. I’m looking forward to the many more adventures I know we’ll have during the rest of our time here!

Are YOU interested in volunteering for Good Neighbors? Visit our website here to learn more! 






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The Paraguay Chronicles: I don’t want to go home!

It’s time for the second entry of The Paraguay Chronicles! DeMaree, another student from Azusa Pacific University, tells us about her first impressions of Asuncion, Paraguay. 

Written by DeMaree Scobey


Meeting a school teacher and a few students

During my first car ride in Asuncion, Paraguay, I noticed that the roads were very bumpy. There were no speed bumps but large bumps on the road every five seconds (sorry buttocks!). There are SO many cobblestone streets, which is very different from the roads back home. The country is very old-school, which I love.

First we went to Aregua to visit a school, and I noticed that the kids play soccer and other games with each other all day long. It is very refreshing to see that instead of kids staring at technology constantly.


Meeting the children at the school in Aregua for the first time

We drive through the streets often and I have found that the country is very artistic because there is a lot of street art. It is less graffiti, and more art. There was a gorgeous mural of some kind in the first hostel we stayed at and it had many graffiti influences. There are also a lot of pottery and art shops along the sides of most roads. On every street there are plenty of trees and plants. The cities are very green. Asuncion is a very colorful city and everything is appealing, even when it’s not meant to be. For instance, the broken down building next to the hostel we stayed at in Asuncion was beautiful.


Graffiti art at our first hostel in Asuncion


A house just down the road from the school we’re working at in Aregua

Even though Paraguay has many issues with waste management, my first impression of the people was of complete happiness. You see parents playing with their kids while surrounded by dirt and trash, but they are still completely happy. I feel as though they are more thankful for what they have here in this country.

To be honest, I have loved every second here in Paraguay. I honestly don’t even want to return to the United States.


Interested in learning more about our volunteer opportunities? Visit our website!

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