I’d like to start out this post by making a general announcement to my friends and relatives on the east coast that: yes, I am fine. Irene didn’t even come through here. In fact it’s you guys who should be worried about the hurricane.
That said, my second week here has been both amazing and exhausting. Having been properly coddled and pampered our first week to prevent the onset of a too severe case of culture shock, on Tuesday, we finally got down to the serious business of community service. Being enrolled in the program Santiago Service Learning, service is, after all, the whole reason that we’re here. Therefore, we are required to volunteer at some organization for the semester. To this end, we spent the week touring various organizations so that each of us could find somewhere to work.
Tuesday was devoted exclusively to the hospital and affiliated health organizations of Juan XIII http://centrojui. At Juan XIII, we spent the morning inspecting the hospital portion of the organization. The hospital itself was well-maintained, well run, and seemed all together quite efficient. Still, from the crowded waiting rooms and harried looking staff, it was obvious that they did not have the recourses to meet the insatiable demand imposed upon them by the surrounding community. That afternoon, we went to another Juan XIII owned organization, named “Cambodia” (not sure why), which was a whole neighborhood devoted exclusively to people suffering from hypertension and asthma. The community was staffed by several medical personal that did daily rounds around the neighborhood to check up on all the patients. We got to follow a pair of them around their rout to get a good idea of what working for this organization would be like. The sight of the run down, poverty stricken, barrio that these people call home was disquieting, and the sight of a women’s bulging, diabetes ravaged, leg was heart breaking. But everyone we visited was so polite and infectiously optimistic that it was hard not to be cheerful with them.
On Wednesday, we visited Arte a Mano, an organization designed to support local artists and artisans in order to both contribute to the cultural richness of the region and to grow the local economy. Art, alas, has never been a strong suit of mine; so I was skeptical from the get go. What did it for me, however, was being assigned to help transport some of the works. Because of my inherent clumsiness, I found carrying expensive, pain stakingly prepared, and extremely delicate pieces of art around the city of Santiago to be a terrifying experience. Accion Callejara http://ong.tupatrocinio.com/accion-callejera-fundacion-educativa-inc-ong-665.html, another organization we visited on Wednesday, I found to be a little more to my taste. It is essentially an after school program/homeless shelter (depending on the need of the person in question) for the youth of the surrounding community. It especially focuses on children who live on the street, by taking them in and working to reintegrate them into society as well as provide them with an education.
On Friday, we visited the final organization, One Respe http://www.onerespe.com/ (creol [the language of Haiti] for “Honor and Respect”). This organization works to provide Haitians and Haitian (I.E. dark skinned)–Dominicans living in the Dominican Republic with wider opportunities for participation in society; a process which is made difficult by the racist attitudes of some across the nation.
When all is said and done, I have to say that I would be happy and proud to work for any one of these organizations (even Arte a Mano which, after all, has a very noble mission). At the moment, I find myself leaning towards either Accion Callajera or One Respe, because my polisci background is good for the sort the sort of clerical paper pushing that both of them want out of volunteers. But again, who knows? Maybe I’ll have a sudden change of heart tonight and decide art is my thing after all. Either way, I’m very exited by my potential prospects and look forward to getting to know my future service program, whatever it may be.