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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Dominican Experience 2011 - Day Four Feb 21

Wally our driver for the day

Driving along the ocean front to Santo Domingo

We were up at 6am again today, today's trip was to the capitol of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo.  We were a little late being picked up this morning, and for this trip they brought along a few extra guides for the day so I actually ended up sitting in the front of the bus.  I was happy to find that our driver for the day was Wally!  He was our driver quite a bit last year too.  Well, sitting up front is certainly an eye opening experience!  Last year I think we were kept so distracted in the back of the bus with the music and dancing that I just never noticed just how INSANE the traffic is in the DR.  There seems to be no obvious rules of the road, unless they exist and are ignored.  Right of way seems to be whoever goes first or whatever is bigger... you just butt your nose in and go!  We definitely had what I would call some close calls Wally just laughed at me!

Crossing the bridge, the slum Simon Bollivar below

House on top of house, on top of house, 60,000 in 2 square KMs

Our first half of the day was spent at Esquela De La Salle, a school at the top of the slums Simon Bollivar we would be visiting a little later.  We met with the same teacher who spoke with my group last year, he also visited my whole school in Canada last year and spoke to the students about just how valuable education is.  He told us about De La Salle how it was a school for the less fortunate who life in the slum.  He also told us about the technical school nearby where the students can move onto after graduating to learn trades such as computers, baking, electrician, and so on.  So there is hope, to get out of such poor conditions, if you can get to school and apply yourself.  In North America we're so fortunate, education a good and free education is just taken for granted.  That education can really change your life situation.

Teacher at De La Salle

Course list on the wall outside the technical school

One house is built on top of another

Before we headed down into the slums, Ray pulled us adults aside and let us know we'd not be going as deep into the slums this year, as it was not safe.  There seems to be quite a bit of unrest down there, not even the police go down into the slums.  I didn't feel unsafe going down there, we were wearing shirts that identified us as part of the program, which does a lot of work down there to help the people.  We had about 8 Dominicans going down with us, all of our belongings were left in a locked classroom at the school.  The only two cameras allowed down into the slums were mine and the male teacher's on the trip.  I must admit we were never left alone, a Dominican was with us at all times.  We lined up two-by-two and off we went.  Our first stop was at the technical school.

Heading down into the slums

Cinder block houses

Poor living conditions and unsafe drinking water at the valley's basin

We then moved into the slums.  The slum is on a river valley, at the top of that valley/hill the living conditions and homes really weren't that bad.  As we went down the uneven cement steps, slowly the construction of the homes and materials used got poorer.  Instead of cement and cinder blocks it became scraps of wood and corrugated tin.  Also the amount of garbage increased, and the smells were less and less pleasant.  At one point we came across a ravine, it could of been pretty but it was filed to the brim with garbage, the smell was out of this world.

Poor construction at the river level

However, among the poor conditions and misery I saw moments of hope and light.  I saw beautiful children smiling and playing, teenagers sitting outside (because it was too dark in their poorly built homes) doing their homework.  These kids, going to school and doing their homework will have a future and will be able to get out of the conditions they grew up in.

Another bright spot of the slum is Little St. Paul's.  It was built and two teachers salaries are paid for by another school in my board.  I hoping before this school year is over that we will come up with a project that we can start from the ground up and can continue to support from year to year.  This school is where the young children without legal papers to go to school in the D.R. can start getting an education, the teachers often help get those kids their papers so that when they are bigger they can go to school at De La Salle.  The kids welcomed us warmly, they sang and danced for us.

Students at Little St. Paul's look at the poor condition their textbooks are in!

Kids outside little St. Paul's

When we got back to De La Salle it was time for reflection.  To talk about what we saw and what we felt.  The impressions the kids had were quite similar.  How fortunate they were to be born in the circumstances they now live in.  How these people they saw that morning have nothing, the garbage, the smell, etc.  These were the impressions many of us had last year as well.

Next we were introduced to three Dominicans who are part of the scholarship program that we had to contribute $2,500 towards as part of our fees to have this experience.  They all have come up from very poor circumstances and will be successful adults, hopefully giving back to their community.

Young boy and girl, residents of the slums

They had also brought back to the school with us a young boy and girl.  The girl about 12 used to go to Little St. Paul's, however she's now too old to go there anymore and she does not have her papers.  So there will be no further education for this girl.  That is sad, because she loved going to school.  Who will know what will become of her as an adult.  The young boy, he is blind.  Amazingly he apparently can get around the slums without any assistance!  He is also a fantastic musician.  Once a week he goes to a club and earns a few hundred Pesos playing with the band.

De La Salle school yard
A moth we found in the school yard during the lunch break

After reflection we had lunch in the De La Salle school yard before heading to the Colonial Tourist Zone.  Here's some shots from our walk about.

The oldest cathedral in North America, construction started in the 1500's

The altar at the cathedral

I'm assuming someones remains are buried here, this was in the floor of one of the little chapels

I just loved the ceiling of the cathedral

Yours truly

Ray and Pedro horsing around

 After walking around the colonial/tourist area we headed to a market to buy gifts for family/friends/ourselves.  I had a much easier experience this year as my Spanish was a little better and I was more comfortable with bartering.  I came home with some jewelry, vanilla, a painting, coffee, hot chocolate, and t-shirts.  I did much better with my money than last year!  Before heading back to San Pedro de Macoris we stopped for dinner at a lovely restaurant on the ocean front.  It was awesome and a nice way to end a long and emotional day. 
Ocean view from the 2nd floor of the restaurant

Who couldn't enjoy eating on the patio?

One of the dishes on the menu, not mine I don't like fish.

This is where I had my new profile picture taken, so pretty!


Karen said...

It must have been hard to see the slums and to see people living like that.

Glad you're Spanish improved! Great pictures by the way.

Bette said...

I am so much more appreciative of what I have been blessed with after seeing your pictures and reading your blog. Thank you for doing what you are doing.

Lesleyanne said...

Another great post which makes me so much more appreciative of what I have been blessed with after seeing your pictures and reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Cole said...

What an amazing experience! Truly soul-touching moments for sure.

Alice said...

What full days you had! Great photos!

Sally said...

Another fantastic post Dani. It certainly makes me appreciate what I have.

Jodie said...

Very pretty indeed, Dani!! Amazing pics...the cathedral looks breathtaking.

jane said...

An interesting and thought provoking blog post Dani. Makes you realise how much we take for granted. The cathedral is very impressive.

Lynn said...

What strikes me about all the children in the slums is how they all appear to be neatly dressed. The little girls with the pigtails is adorable!
I wish that all of our children could visit these areas and realize just how blessed we are.

Suzanne said...

Thank you for this moving post. It is an eye opener and makes me truly appreciate how easy my life is and how much I take it for granted.

Lisa said...

Looks like an eye opening and emotional day. I remember seeing the slums when we visited, it really does make you realise just how lucky we are doesn't it.