Mi Despedida

Posted October 26, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

So, it’s coming to an end. And okay, I didn’t blog that much and I apologize; it’s one of the many things I wanted to do and just didn’t. It can be exhausting to sit and think, process and write, and try to put things in just the right words.

It’s been amazing. The best thing ever. I lived my job for two years, and my job was amazing. My life was simple and it didn’t matter at all that I didn’t have the luxuries I was previously afforded. I’m coming back with a summer tan, a few parasites, tons of pictures, the love of my Dominican family that I will carry in my heart everyday, and enough memories to fill a vast space.

Construye:

These past couple weeks were crazy busy and I rocked them like a champ. (I DID say I work well under pressure.) The Construye Tus Sueños national business plan competition went great. I co-emceed the competition (in the Spanish!) and did pretty good, so I was told. I’m incredibly proud of all the youth who participated this year, and especially of the winners. I have faith they will be successful in their business ventures. The top 3 winners this year:

1) Easy Learning English Institute: A young man teaching English classes with an energetic, creative style will now have money for more resources such as books and desks to expand his classes.

2) JeanOscar Mantequilla de Mani: Two young men from the south make homemade peanut butter by hand. With their prize money, they can now afford an electric grinder which will increase their productivity from 20 jars a week to 50 a day.

3) El Mundo de Reparaciones: A young man from Yamasa has a small repair shop in his campo where anyone can bring a utility to be repaired.

Yay building dreams!

My Project:

The big project at my site is about 90% finished. I’ve done my part, the community will take care of the rest. We built 7-level bleachers with two bathrooms and locker rooms, an electrical control room, and a garden. We installed 3 electrical poles and bought electrical equipment to provided lights and power to the computer center and basketball court. We repainted our community club house and basketball court and bleachers. We planted grass and flowers. We shoveled…. a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot. I have the blisters and back pain to prove it. The guys have told me that they are going to name the basketball court and bleachers area “Sarita” which means “Little Sarah,” a nickname that many people call me. They are going to paint the name on the court and bleachers. I painted a Peace Corps logo on the bleachers which can be seen below. All we need now are a few more electrical parts, and materials for the bathrooms such as doors and toilets. Expensive items, but presidential elections are coming up and when that happens, politicians make it rain. Money=votes, so throw some our way!

Goodbyes:

Yesterday was my last day with my community. I attended a women’s group meeting and they all cried and it was so sweet. They gave me a card with a nice message, and a bracelet and mugs with Dominican Republic written on them. At night, about 70 people gathered at the basketball court to play/watch a game and to partake in a traditional Dominican ginger tea made from ginger, leaves, water, and sugar. After that, I had a nice dinner with my host family made by my mom Maria, and then we ate brownies I made with Chulo. They requested I played my guitar, which was nice because they are easily impressed and entertained. This morning, I had several people come by to give their blessings, say thank you, and hug me goodbye. A couple people even cried over saying goodbye to Ani.

I haven’t said goodbye entirely just yet. Tomorrow I will hug my best friend for the last time in a long time. My friendship with Chulo has been the most amazing gift of my two years of service here, and I feel so thankful to have received his love and friendship. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

Along with Chulo, there is my host mother Maria, a beautiful Dominican woman whom I admire for supporting and sacrificing for her family; Ambar, my best little Dominican muchacha who has already gotten into my backpack and my dog cage to show me she can fit so that I can take her home to Nueva York; Wendy, my original project partner and friend who loved and helped me when I needed it, giving me mountains of food every time I came over even though her poverty has her in a home with no floors.

Amor a todos…

Y Ahora, And Now:

It will be strange to go from  managing a $10,000 project and planning national business conferences to probably working at some office job being managed by someone I could probably manage. I haven’t looked too much into a job because I’ve been so busy, and really for now I just need anything to keep me afloat until graduate school next August. I’m spending my first month at home submitting grad school applications, finding a job, cleaning out my room, and moving into a new apartment.

As far as all the ways I’ve changed and what I’ve learned and what it meant etc.etc.etc., maybe I’ll write that in a post-Peace Corps update. Too much for now.

Here are some pictures! Thank you to everyone who supported the project. A special thanks to the following:

Kate Flood
My parents
Falcon Bridge
Cigar Family
Berkeley Preparatory School
New Palestine High School
USAID
La Tabacalera Fuente
Indotel
Claudio Almonte
Francis Estil Mejia
Peace Corps DR

And to all of those who donated financially to my project. Que Dios les bendiga y les cuide. Gracias por su apoyo.

We built bleachers!

Painting PC logo with Meredith

All free hand!

The first of many nights playing basketballCaribe Dragons Basketball Team!

Flowers at gate entrance, newly painted club house

Yellow now, green later

Caribe Dragons Basketball Team!

Building

Posted August 9, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

Summer is coming to an end. As kids head back to school, the campo will get quieter, which I’m happy about. No more running around and stealing oranges from my tree! I hope you all enjoyed your summer, hot as it may have been. I feel for you on the heat- it gets up to 98 degrees IN my house some days. But when there’s heat, there’s rain, which cools off my roof and makes for nice napping weather.

Our recreational area project is coming along slowly but surely. We have finished the construction of the electrical control room, installed 3 electrical poles, held a ground-breaking ceremony, and have started construction on the bleachers. Here are some photos for your enjoyment!

Electrical Control Room

Ground Breaking Ceremony

Leveling the Ground

Digging!

Installing Rod Before Pouring Concrete and Laying Block

Besides this, I spent part of July working with a youth camp at the Cigar Family School called Dedicado Al Planeta, or Dedicated to the Planet. We had 6 female volunteers come from Spain to work with us as group monitors for the camp. I gave a charla about the harmful effects of pollution and talked about the 3 Rs- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We took the kids to the Colonial Zone in the capital, and spent most days just playing games.

My service is quickly coming to an end. As most volunteers finish up their projects, I am diving into several here at the end. Serves me right as a procrastinator, but hey- it’s how I like to get things done! I’d like to do an art contest with students to choose a mural to paint on our bleachers once they’re finished, and also tutor some university students in English. Our National Business Plan Competition is coming up, and as the co-chair of the Competition Planning Committee, I’ll be busy at work preparing for that. I’ll also be the emcee! For those who know me from camp, you know I have no problem with the microphone. :)

Personal reflections on service and life to come soon.

Peace.

Thoughts From the Circle

Posted June 9, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s about 2pm on Thursday, June 9th. I’m sipping on a Starbucks’ tall mocha while watching people walk to-and-from the Strawberry Festival on Indy’s Monument Circle. It’s been a lovely week,with great weather and nice time with my family and with Kate. It feels good to get up early and drive downtown to a clean city with tall buildings and monuments, just to later drive back up Meridian and enjoy the street of endless beautiful houses. I’ve been fishing and rock climbing. I’ve walked along the Monon, enjoying some of the fun things Broad Ripple has to offer. I’ve been out to eat, out to church, and soon to be “out” to Indy at this Saturday’s Pride festival. If you go, you will probably see me in the parade. That’s right, in the parade. :) Tonight it’s to the movie to see X-Men, followed by a cookout at my parent’s house. Whip out the beer and ladder ball Johnathan, it’s time for yard games.

I thought I would run into someone I know while downtown or in Broad Ripple, but it hasn’t happened. A little disappointing, but meh. I’m sure I’ll run into people on Saturday.

As great as Indy has been this week, I must point out an observation.I’ve forgotten how overweight Hoosiers are, or Americans in general. Obesity in Hoosiers appears to be at alarming numbers; I wonder how we compare to the rest of the country. Let’s get healthy, Indy! Plant gardens at home, quit smoking, don’t eat crap fast food and processed foods, and get outside for some exercises. And recycle. And, if you feel real motivated, make a compost bin and then garden with that!

Dominican men and youth are generally not overweight but slim and muscular, and that’s not because they’re super poor and don’t eat a lot, because they do, more than me even. They’re outside a lot, they walk a lot. There are some men who get the “dad belly” and when it’s hot, they lift up their shirts over their bellies for a little bariga afuera time. Dominican women are usually fat, but not obese. They have large butts and are really curvy and it’s part of the culture to look that way. When you gain a little weight, they tell you that “you are a little fatter!” and it is meant as a compliment. It means you are looking good. I haven’t received that compliment too much, but my host brothers have given it to me a few times. Sweet guys.

Onto other thoughts…

Water. The fact that water comes straight to our homes and instantly turns hot or cold by turning a nozzle is just amazing. Those who have quick, easy access to water should realize how rich they are compared to the rest of the world. Granted, I have water at my house in the DR, but I’ve also lived with people who wait for the rain or water trucks to fill up their buckets. My host mother used to walk to the river to get water and wash her clothes just a few years ago. Unfortunately, cholera has been spread from Haiti to the DR, and I believe it’s now arrived to Bonao. So, not only do we Americans have quick access to water, we also get it clean… or clean enough. And that is amazing.

Thank you to EVERYONE who donated or promoted my project. I have received all my funds from the funds I raised and the grant I received from USAID. I did a local fundraiser in my community with the guys I work with. We did a peaje, where we made signs about the project and stood in the street, and when people drove by, we tightened a rope strung across the street to force people to stop, or at least slow down. It’s not as intrusive as I thought it’d be, and in fact, lots of people asked about our project and we received a ton of donations. We raised about 5,500 pesos and that money has been/will be used for logistics for the project such as phone cards and gas. My friend Meredith, the volunteer in Las Delicias just 15 minutes away, came out and helped with the fundraiser. Sin verguenza, she yelled at everyone who went by and I am grateful for her enthusiasm. We had fun. The guys made sure one of us was always in the street smiling because, according to them, it was our American smiles that got the donations. Haha, I took no offense.

Last week, we bought materials to build the foundation for the bleachers for the basketball court. Today, I was told that the guys are in Santiago buying equipment for our computer center as well as flood lights for the basketball court. Falcon Bridge will probably come out next week to install electricity, and we’re hoping that Indotel, the institute that build the computer center, will see the initiative we’ve taken and provide the rest of the materials we need. Even though prices are way higher now than they were back in November when we made the project budget, we still believe we can come out under budget with enough money left to buy or build playground equipment and tables and benches to give the area a park-like feel. Yaaay!

I decided not to teach the business plan course this year, but I am still helping with the national business plan competition. My friends Megan, Phil, and I will be leading our fellow business volunteers to a great 2011 competition. (And although it may be a little early to announce, I just might be this year’s emcee. What up.)

Also, summer camp is coming up at the Cigar Family school. We are getting 150 participants for a two-week camp focused on the environment. I can’t wait to talk about the importance of not throwing trash on the ground, which is a HUUUUGGGEEEEE problem in the DR. Huge huge huge huge huge.

Will post pictures next time when I’m back on my own computer. Take care everyone. I hope you’re having a great summer!

Only 6 More Months?!

Posted April 3, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

Wow. It’s official. I have 6 more months to go before my service ends and SO much still to do. However, that’s a good thing! If you know me, you know I work better under pressure. I like a little deadline panic to jumpstart me into focus mode.

Here’s a summary of both ideas and solid projects that lie ahead in the next 6 months:

  • Develop the recreational area- build bleachers, install lights, landscape, repaint court/club house/IT center, paint murals
  • Teach the youth entrepreneurship class
  • Help coordinate the national business plan competition
  • Buy materials for the IT (info tech) center using a SPA grant. This will include things like copier/printer/scanner/desks/chairs
  • Help plan a summer camp for children at the Cigar Family school
  • Continue making floor cleaner with my women’s group
  • Bring 2 or 3 women from my community to a women’s retreat (a brand spankin’ new project brought to you by two stellar business volunteers: Bob and Kaitlyn)
  • Bring boys or girls from my community to a boys or girls retreat
  • FINISH RAISING FUNDS TO MAKE THE FIRST ITEM POSSIBLE!!!!!!! Please donate:

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=517-418

On top of this, I’m planning an annual hitch-hiking competition among all volunteers which is an UNofficial Peace Corps activity, I’m hosting at least 2 more US visitors, AND I’m studying for and taking the GRE on June 3rd. Ahhhh, snap!

Life feels comfortable. I’m adjusted. I speak Spanish. I have close friends in my site and within Peace Corps. I love my dog and spending time with my best friend Chulo. I love taking care of my house and my garden (I made it with just a kitchen knife! See Facebook for pictures.) The work is the same, the people are the same, the problems are the same, but my service is a whole lot better now that I speak the language and don’t feel alone. I live here. I have a life here.

February and March were busy months at the Cigar Family school. We had members from the Cigar Family Foundation come down and visit. They took a tour of the tobacco farm and then the school, followed by a nice dinner. I was invited by the Newman family, met lots of interesting people, and walked away with a couple fine cigars that are extremely hard to come by.

8th graders from Berkeley Preparatory School from Tampa, Fl came down on their annual trip to the CF school. I helped interpret for a woman who gave students eye exams, and we passed out donated eye glasses to students who needed them. The Berkeley kids also came out to my site to plant trees and help move rocks where we are going to build bleachers once my grant money gets filled. Donate?

Berkeley also donated 2 new basketballs and nets for our court. Thank you! I’d like to give a quick shout out to my girl Jennifer Lindsay- Thanks for the chat, I totally support you. Keep up the good fight: yay diversity!

So, I sort of came up with another idea for a mini-project, but that involves someone at home who would be interested in making it happen. After the Berkeley kids came and after a nice chat with my host mom yesterday, I realized that there is a definite need for reading glasses in my community. My host dad uses reading glasses, but they are too strong for my host mom and she doesn’t have money to buy her own pair. She also said that her brother thought for a long time that he couldn’t read but discovered he could once he put on a pair of reading glasses. Now, I know that you can get a pair in the States for way cheap (like seriously ONE dollar,) whereas eye glasses are more expensive here and people have less money. That made me think about the fact that my parents have lots of reading glasses laying around the house because they often lose their pair, buy more, then find their old pair. (It’s true Mom, admit one for the team. <3) Surely this happens to many people. Soooo, I think it would be great if someone (or many someones) took on their own reading glasses donation drive and collected some pairs then sent them down. I can do eye tests and pass them out, just collect ‘em and send ‘em on down! Could be one pair, could be a hundred. The need is great, but every little bit counts. Let me know if you are interested.

As you might recall from previous blogs, I had a photographer named Richard Sitler (Peace Corps Jamaica) come down last August and take pictures of my every day life. After visiting volunteers all over the world, his “Making Peace With the World” book is now for sale, and I’m in it! You can purchase it here: http://tinyurl.com/4lj3q9a

Well, I must be going. I stayed up late last night with a group of friends up in Ben’s site in the mountain. We enjoyed a bonfire with all the things that make a bonfire great: hotdogs, snacks, beer, guitars, drum, and fun people. The night was clear, the stars were bright, we were surrounded by a bamboo forest with the mountain backdrop. Preciosa. Time to finish work online, go home and water my garden, then take a nap.

Have a great day! And don’t forget to donate! :)

 

 

Time for Fundraising!

Posted January 13, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

Alright folks, the time has come.  My project grant is online, so start donating so we can TOGETHER build this youth rec facility!!! Learn more about the project by clicking on the link and by checking out the pictures posted below.

Click on the following link to donate:

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=517-418

These are some of the youth and young adults that enjoy playing basketball in my community. They would like to let you know that the ball they are holding is the ONLY ball they possess, and the happy, fat fellow pointing at his shoes would like to note that he is wearing two different tennis shoes and would be delighted to receive a donation of a new pair. His shoe size? I don´t know, big? (By the way, it is common and accepted to refer to someone´s physical features in many Latin American countries, even if you are calling them fat! His nickname is literally El Gordo, or The Fatty. Trust.)

 

We are going to take these old tires and recycle them into playground equipment and places to plant trees and flowers, just like in the two pictures below.

 

Filling tires with dirt and plants helps prevent the spread of dengue fever. Mosquitos love to use empty tires as a home.

 

Behind this sad excuse for a swingset are recycled tires.

We are going to landscape along the outside of this fence, planting grass and small palm trees, all the way to the outside of basketball court and the information technology center. On the inside of the fence, we hope to lay down gravel.

Here is where the bleachers will go. Once all funds come in, we will buy materials and begin construction. Also, we are going to install two posts with flood lights that will hook up to a generator so that we can play at night.

New Year, New Ideas

Posted January 6, 2011 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

Feliz año nuevo! It’s 2011, which means I’m coming home THIS YEAR. It’s amazing how fast Peace Corps is going, but although the end is drawing near, there is still much to be done. But before I begin explaining my new project, I’d like to recap on the greatness that was 2010.

Highlight Reel:

  • Made 4 trips to beautiful Cabarete beach
  • Jumped off the 27 waterfalls 3 different times
  • Hitchhiked in a race from Hato Mayor to Bayahibe and won second place
  • Spent vacation at a resort in Punta Cana with my parents
  • Celebrated 4th of July in Las Galeras, Samana and took a boat to the amazing Playa Rincon
  • Celebrated Halloween/One Year of Service down in the south at San Rafeal and Bahia de Las Aguilas, which required 31 volunteers to ride in the back of a pick-up truck for almost 3 hours, which is obviously awesome
  • Hiked and swam in the waterfalls of Bonao
  • Took a trainee to Ben’s site up in the mountains of Bonao where we hiked up a river to a waterfall then had a bonfire on the ridge in front of his house while his Dominican neighbors played live bachata, which was simply the most amazing weekend ever
  • Hosted a photographer working on a photojournalism project featuring volunteers from all over the world (more info on his book coming out soon)
  • Cooked a lot of food and shared a lot of love with my dear friends Ryan Stock and Shilpa Jhobalia, two of Peace Corps’ greatest returned volunteers
  • Taught 21 teenagers how to write their own business plans
  • Assisted 2 girls from my community to compete in Peace Corps’ and Plan International’s national business plan competition “Construye Tus Sueños”
  • Learned to make higuero with my artisans and spent a weekend at an artisan exhibition
  • Made and sold lots of Caribe Clean floor cleaner
  • Had the time of my life with my amazing Peace Corps and Dominican friends
  • Took in a campo dog and enjoyed her companionship
  • Said goodbye to good friends, let go of an old love and stumbled upon a new
  • Formed a very deep, valuable friendship with a Dominican guy

They say that your first year of Peace Corps service is not easy, and they are right. It was not easy to immerse myself in an unknown world, alone, and without speaking the native language. It’s been a challenging year, but it’s been great! I’ve reached the point in my service where I feel like this is home. I know my way around, I know who to trust. And because of this, I’m ready to tackle year two with confidence.

HERE IS WHERE YOU COME IN: This year, I have decided to build a recreational center in my community. This project will consist of building bleachers next to the basketball court, installing a generator, electrical poles, and flood lights, landscaping, painting, and recycling tires. To make this possible, not only will I need the immense support of my community but also the support of my American community. I’ll soon begin fundraising through a Peace Corps Partnership Program. Once my grant has been processed, I will post information on my blog and on Facebook and probably YouTube as well on how to donate to my project through Peace Corps’ website.

Thanks for all your support and I hope everyone had a very happy new year!

*The photo below is the area we are going to build bleachers and landscape. I’ll post before and after photos as the project develops.

12 Months Down

Posted August 31, 2010 by thesarahrobertsexperience
Categories: Uncategorized

Sorry for the lapse in updates! Things were busy there for awhile.

At the end of July, my friend Shelby came to visit. Unfortunately our friend Joel was also supposed to come but missed his flight. Bummer! Shortly after Shelby left, I visited my family in Indiana. I was only able to stay for one short week. Most volunteers come back from the states with a healthy glow, a few extra pounds…I did not. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time! But with so much to do and such little time, I hardly slept each night which means I barely ate (I feel sick if I don’t sleep.) I’ve been learning not to underestimate the value of a good nights rest. Since I’ve been back, I’ve kept myself pretty busy up until this week. I’ve been to the capital way too many times- medical, green card, meetings, hang outs, visitors. The Cigar Family seniors just graduated, and I was busy putting together a display table at the graduation with information about my projects. The graduation was a success! We had a huge catered lunch and lots of guests. I was able to visit with Carlos Fuente and Eric Newman, two of the leading cigar producers in the world and founders of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. Each of the graduating seniors that were in my “Construye Tus Sueños” class received a certificate of completion for my class included with their diplomas. They were really excited. The graduation was a huge reminder of the amazing changes within this community and the accomplishments of its youth. Once malnourished, uneducated kids are now healthy, capable young adults. The list of accomplishments for the students at the Cigar Family School is practically endless. Three students received a 97% or higher on their national exams after graduation, putting them within the top scores of the country. The senator from Bonao even came and surprised them with laptops! Such a rare, exciting opportunity.

My class has finished, and one of my groups followed through to turn in a business plan. The national competition will be at the beginning of October, and we volunteers are busy at work preparing. I will be in charge of monitoring a judging room and putting together a scavenger hunt game for all the participants. We’ll find out soon if my group made it in the top 20 plans to be invited to the conference.

I recently had another visitor. His name is Richard Sitler, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Jamaica 2000-2002 and Crisis Corps Jamaica 2006. He’s a professional photographer who’s making a book for the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps. The book will include photos and stories from volunteers all over the world. He’s been to over 20 countries in the past year, and I was the last volunteer he visited. The book should be out as soon as October. I’ll keep you updated with information on how to find it. I’m not sure which photos he chose to include, but I’m sure you’ll find pictures of Ani, my friend Chulo, and my muchacha Ambar. They are, after all, three of the biggest components of my life down here.

My work load is pretty light these days, now that my class is over. I’m working on planning the Construye conference, still trying to sustain my Caribe Clean project, and figuring out how to start a sexual education class, which will be my first cross-sector project and include my first ever grant money, si Dios quiere.

Lately I’ve been working on more personal projects. I’ve re-enrolled in Ball State to take an online microeconomics course to better my chances of getting accepted to graduate programs that interest me. I’ve also been studying for the GRE. (Who would have EVER thought I would be doing those two things? Not me, that’s for sure.)

On Thursday, I’m going to receive one of the new trainees at my site for four days! I had to do this as a trainee, and I remember it being really helpful in answering some major questions. I’m sure it will be a nice boost of confidence as she asks me questions and I give her tons of advice to help decrease her cluelessness as to what the heck PC service is all about. I was sitting in the office on Saturday as a few trainees walked in, asking just about as many questions they could think of. Once they left, I looked over at my friend Kenny as someone asked, “Aren’t you glad you’re not arriving right now?” Our response- “Yeeeeeeessss!” The hardest part of Peace Corps is training. You come down here when it’s blazing hot, everything is new, nothing is easy, and you’re always going to the bathroom when you don’t even understand how to flush the toilet with a bucket. I’m so glad to be over the transition period… SO glad.

Well, I’ve officially been in country for over a year, and the end of October will mark the end of my first year of service, which means only one year to go after that. In my next blog, I’m going to write down some reflections on my first year, so look forward to hearing about how much my life has changed.

*REMINDER* WE ARE STILL FUNDRAISING FOR THE BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION. IF YOU’D LIKE TO DONATE TO OUR PROJECT, PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK INCLUDED IN MY PREVIOUS BLOG POST. THANKS!

-Sarah


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.