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Volunteer Short-Term in the Dominican Republic With Girls!

Emine grinding coffee beans in the Dominican Republic.
Emine grinding coffee beans in the Dominican Republic.

Only have a week or two, but want to make a big difference in the life of girls? Interested in travel to the beautiful Caribbean?

Read this interview with U.S. teacher Emine about her time volunteering in the Dominican Republic!

Teaching Traveling: Emine, tell us a bit about your background.

Emine: First and foremost, I realize social media has become a platform for over exaggerated personal experiences. Yes, I have edited this so my grammar is decent (or so I think), but I’m speaking from my heart. My intentions are to do my best to share the real version of an experience I have lived, nothing perfectly tailored, nothing fabricated. We should share our joys and losses, but never fake them.

I’m a 27-year old Detroit native who has recently moved to New Delhi, India. My career in education has taken me through a variety of paths. I have worked for the Waldorf School, taught fifth grade and most recently was a special education teacher/coordinator for an elementary school in Detroit.

Outside of the schools I frequently work with non-profits and many of those experiences have been formative and brought me to where I am now but the one that acted as a cohesive entity for all my work thus far was traveling to the Dominican Republic with Nobis World.

TT: So interesting! Tell us more about your experience in the Dominican Republic.

E: Prior to moving to New Delhi I embarked on a trip with a group of educators from the States to the Dominican Republic. We were going on behalf of Nobis World to build a reciprocal relationship with The Mariposa DR Foundation, and to also begin designing service-learning projects on a global scale for our own classrooms.

The Mariposa Girls in the Dominican Republic.
The Mariposa Girls in the Dominican Republic.

The Mariposa DR Foundation aims to bring to light The Girl Effect; the notion being that when girls are educated, entire families and even communities are transformed. The girls pass their knowledge to the next generation, get married later (if at all), have fewer (or none) and are able to provide for themselves. It is a sustainable model from the roots up.

Children of the Batey.
Children of the Batey in the DR.

The Mariposa DR Foundation is an enrichment and supplemental program to the schools. They offer summer programs where the girls learned to surf, swim, play sports, read, do arts and crafts and better their reading and arithmetic skills.

They were even learning how to produce music, and while I was there a music video was to be created by them. During the school year the girls arrive to Mariposa once school is finished and receive tutoring services that strengthen their foundational skills.

Their self-esteem is raised as their self-efficacy increases. They are given something productive to look forward to. It provided the girls a safe place to grow and learn without having to deal with the pressures of their homes.

Our trip itself lasted for about a week in July, but our work began in February. We studied Hispaniola’s history including delving into the atrocities committed by the Dominican dictator Rafeal Trujillo. Rafeal Trujillo was a diabolical man who had massacred over 15,000 Haitians in the pursuit of white supremacy.

When we arrived to the Dominican most of our time was spent at the Mariposa DR Foundation, but we were graciously given a tour of the Dominican countryside where we were able to taste, touch and feel the bountiful harvest that the land provided. We were shown a renounced Haitian batey.

A batey is a sharecropping relationship Haitian immigrants have with sugar cane mills. The labor is so intensive and the wages are so low that no Dominican will do the work. So the sugar cane companies bring Haitians to live and work on the plantations, they are given 4×6 concrete rooms as “houses” and are allocated one meal a day. What makes matter worse is the people are trapped there because they have no papers to prove their nationality.

Girls Creating Music at Mariposa.
Girls Creating Music at Mariposa.

TT: What a powerful experience. How did you find this travel opportunity?

E: I found Mariposa through an ad placed in the awesome and progressive magazine, “Rethinking Schools”.

TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?

E: By the grace, love and generosity of my friends and family I was able to successfully crowdfund the money for the trip using a platform called Incited. It was much easier than you think and I was pleased and humbled by how supportive my community was in helping to fund my professional development.

A Haitian Voodoo Temple.
A Haitian Voodoo Temple.

TT: What a great resource for funding travel! Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

E: I could hone in on one experience that truly affected me the most, which was visiting the batey, but that would be ignoring what the overall purpose of the trip was. I could focus on the pain and guilt I felt when I saw the unnecessary anguish poverty creates, but that doesn’t create a sense of empowerment it only conjures a cloud of frustration.

And as I felt stuck in that frustration and my feelings overwhelmed me I experienced a moment of transformation. Something I did not anticipate would be a part of my experience, but something that will stay with me forever.

From my experience with Nobis World I came to realize that there is no such thing as one moment, everything is constantly evolving. Every second, every breath, and every move I make I am changing, which I have always been since I was a single celled embryo.

In order to evolve I must embrace and learn from everything I live whether good or horrible. Not dwell on one moment, but evolve from everything as it comes. And it is my hope to take this learning into my classroom and to help students find this understanding as well.

Emine at Mariposa.
Emine at Mariposa.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

E: My Dominican trip open my eyes to how confined the educational experience is for many students. Yes, there are those who attend elite private schools and are able to go on their yearly trips, but what about the rest of the population? How do we connect this new generation together? How do we change the mindset globally so students from all walks of life are thinking in the same open way?

With this questions in mind I have began brainstorming with educators in the States and with a school in India in hopes to begin a global exchange for students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to leave their respective countries.

Children Swimming in a Waterhole in the Dominican Republic.
Children Swimming in a Waterhole in the Dominican Republic.

TT: Wonderful idea. Keep us posted on that! So, what advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

E: Whether you are a teacher, engineer, sales rep, model, or a business owner you must travel. Stop hibernating in your small corner of the world. We are doing one another an injustice by acting like countries are our barriers; making money a barrier (it can be, but if there is a will, there is a way, make it WORK), making obligations become our barriers.

The true form of education is nothing that is learned in the classroom, but what is experienced, what is lived. Leave your safe place.

Emine in the Dominican Countryside.
Emine in the Dominican Countryside.

TT: Very well said. Thanks so much, Emine! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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Sunday 30th of November 2014

The Dominican Republic looks like such a vibrant cultural place to travel ... Emine has done excellent work ... I hope those girls end up making a big difference in their communities as a result of this!

Emine Sharma

Tuesday 11th of November 2014

Thank you Lillie for the opportunity! I'm so happy to have the opportunity to share what I've done with everyone!

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