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Community Service Alliance is an
organization based in Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic that works to
facilitate connections for individuals
and groups interested in engaging in
experiences of service and cross
cultural study in the Dominican
Through volunteer service
opportunities and dynamic study
abroad programs, CSA offers you the
opportunity to live, learn, and be
changed by a unique experience in the
This was the hotel we
stayed at in Santo
We stayed here for our
first week and also our
last night before
returning to Canada.
First impressions were
that it was satisfactory
but on the lower end of
expectations. Once we
experienced our later
housing, this became
At the CSA office –
what will happen
during the next 3
weeks and meeting
culture, youth at
risk and the
The Colonial City – located between Independence Park and the
Ozama River, was the first city built in the New World by
European settlers, including Columbus's brother, Bartholomew,
and his son, Diego Columbus.
The first street in the Americas is Calle de Las Damas, the site of
numerous historic buildings including the Ozama Fortress, the
oldest fortress in the Americas. There is also the house of
Nicolás de Ovando, governor of Santo Domingo in the early
1500's and a ruthless warrior against the Taino Indians.
Of great historical interest is the Museo de las Casas Reales
(Museum of the Royal Houses), the restored 16th century palace
of the Spanish Court, which features a wonderful glimpse of the
past. Nearby is the Alcázar de Colón (Castle of Columbus) built
by Diego Columbus and his wife Maria de Toledo, niece of the
Spanish King Ferdinand.
b. February 27
b. March 12
b. October 15
All 3 died Nov.
All 3 sisters were natives of the Dominican Republic and were adamantly
opposed to the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. There is a
fourth sister who is alive today and her name is Beglica Adela Dede
Mirabal-Reyes, known as Dede. She did not have an active role in
working against the dictator, Trujillo. The tale of the Mirabal sisters is an
ongoing legacy of bravery and compassion in order to save the lives of
many many people in the Dominican Republic. They defied the flow of
conformity and stood out as National Heroines.
On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly
designated November 25 (the anniversary of the murder of the Mirabal
sisters) as the annual date for the International Day for the Elimination
of Violence Against Women in commemoration of the sisters. This day
also marks the beginning of the 16 days of Activism against Gender
Violence. The end of the 16 Days is December 10, International
Human Rights Day.
The site of the sister’s monument is where their car was found (an
accident staged to cover their murder). An elderly gentleman supervises
the site – as a boy, he was present when the car was discovered.
The most popular form of music and dance in the
Dominican Republic is called Merengue - easily
identified by its unique beat pattern of 2/2 and 2/4
time. This is the music you'll see the Dominican people
dancing to in bars, and listening, as well as singing to,
in their cars, businesses and homes.
Couples dancing merengue is somewhat of a practiced art and
many Dominicans are more than happy to teach this exciting
dance to anyone willing to learn.
As in Spain, the largest, most
important meal of the day is lunch. Its
most typical form, nicknamed La
Bandera ("The Flag"), consists of rice,
red beans, meat (beef, chicken, pork,
or fish), and salad.
Rice, Beans, Plantains, Pork, Chicken
and Seafood are the most common
Some other things we ate:
Mangú – mashed, boiled plantain.
Originated in west Africa and is known
as fufu in Africa, Cuba and Puerto Rico
Tostones – fried green plantain slices
served flattened and salted
• The Dominican Republic ranks first in the global ranking in cocoa
production and export. In 2009 it exported over 62,000 tons of
cocoa mainly to the United States and Europe.
In the Dominican Republic, cocoa is one of the four traditional export
crops. Its economic importance is determined by some factors such
as, among others, its role in the generation of hundreds of jobs, its
contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the protection
of the environment, and to the country’s international renown.
• The country developed the organic cocoa farming in the
1980's. Planting is done in entirely agro-ecological land, without the
use of herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Additionally, semi-
processed products are also obtained, such as organic cocoa liquor,
cocoa butter, cocoa powder and chocolate.
Republic has seen
a huge growth in
in the last 25
years, and several
been attracted to
the region not
only for its climate
and soil but also
because of the
more recent stable
exports over 350
million cigars each
On the floor of the
main rolling room, it
was fascinating to
watch the workers
who were permitted
to smoke while
working. There was
also a small stage in
the front corner of
the room with a desk
and microphone. A
person is brought in
to read the local
newspapers to the
workers for part of
the day. They
typically worked from
7am to 3pm.
These iguanas were at a nature reserve in the arid
region of the country (interior DR near the Haitian
border). They obviously know the routine as when our
bus pulled into the parking lot, they started streaming
from the underbrush. We counted over 30 iguanas.
A peacock at the retreat centre where we stayed
in the province of Puerto Plata during our
second week. The students named him “Kevin”.
Garbage can be seen on streets in
the cities and towns.
Car/trucks are either well cared for
expansive cars or those that are
Motorcycles were the main form of
transportation. Helmets are not
necessary and often you would see
entire families (complete with
young children and babies) on a
single motorcycle. We saw propane
tanks, 2x4 boards, water jugs, etc
regularly being held onto and
transported on motorcycles.
Taxis were often very run down and
as long as you could bungee cord a
taxi sign to your roof, you could be
a taxi. People would get into taxis
anywhere even when they were
stopped at traffic lights.
There was also no necessity to where
seat belts as often you would see 6-7
passengers in a small taxi – you would
have to adjust your sense of personal
There are traffic laws but they seemed to
be more of a suggestion than a law.
During our time in the capital, we parked
beside no parking signs, we drove the
wrong way up one way streets – driving
in general was amazing – our driver had
to be very forceful to move in and out of
traffic. It seemed like horns are used
there more than brakes.
Crossing streets was also a challenge.
Our CSA friends would just tell us that
you have to walk out into the street like
you expect the traffic to stop and then it
will – “You just have to believe”.
Animals room freely in cities, towns
and the country side
There are private schools, public schools, non profit schools in the DR
The primary language of instruction in public schools in the Dominican
Republic is Spanish. There are generally not enough teachers, facilities
or funding to meet the demands of the unusually large Dominican
school-age population. Many private and religious schools supplement
the state-financed schools. Children aged 7 to 14 years are required to
attend, and almost every large community has elementary and
Primary education is officially free and compulsory for children between
the ages of 5 and 14, although those who live in isolated areas have
limited access to schooling. Primary schooling is followed by a two-year
intermediate school and a four-year secondary course, after which a
diploma called the bachillerato (high school diploma) is awarded.
Relatively few lower-income students succeed in reaching this level, due
to financial hardships and limitation due to location. Most families with
regular income (middle class) in urban areas send their children to
private schools, which are frequently sponsored by religious institutions.
Some public and private vocational schools are available, particularly in
the field of agriculture, but this too reaches only a tiny percentage of the
Children go to school for ½ day in the Dominican and often do not
go in rainy weather. Everyone, rich and poor alike where school
uniforms. Schools are not large enough to house all grade levels
at once so middle school aged children often go to school in the
morning and then the younger children go to school in the
afternoon. In some cases, not only do the ages/grades change
but the whole staff, administration and even school name changes
from morning to afternoon. In urban centers, most schools offer
night classes to teenagers who must work during the day. Adults
may also attend.
What a huge
Most rooms we
desks and a
nothing on the
walls, or resources
around the room.
On wash day,
clothes are found
hanging / drying
off of everything
even on the
Oddly, the public
seemed to have
than the urban
Here we saw some
displays on the
walls and some
often did not have
yards sufficient for
play. It was hard
to see / observe a
At the schools we visited in the rural areas, our projects were to assist
in the construction of a reading room (often a storage area where
they are trying to start a library). Often we were needed to paint and
put up some shelves. At this school, they needed a doorway built so
we assisted in breaking down a wall and later closing up half of the
window. Anything can become a tool in the Dominican as sticks from
trees were often used to stir paint and rocks became paint scrapers.
Steel toed boots, protective eye wear, or masks were not even items
that were considered necessary.
At this school, the students did have a
small play area that at one time had a
basketball net on a steel post. The
basketball net was long gone as was the
majority of the post when we arrived,
however, as you can see, there was a
sharp metal stub that remained about six
inches out of the concrete. It made
playing in the yard very dangerous.
While some of our students demolished a
wall, some were painting in the reading
room, students also took turns chipping
away at the concrete around this metal
stub. The plan was to break the cement
down far enough that we could cut off
the protruding metal pole and then cover
everything with a concrete patch.
This became a huge team building activity as everyone (students,
instructors and CSA staff) took a turn chipping away at this project. It
took us all day to complete the task but finally we did it!! There was
even time to play some games with the kids at the end of the day –
At first, the amount of garbage around
the countryside really bothered me and
it still does but as I observed the
homes over a number of days, I
noticed that while the yards and areas
on either side of the homes may have
had a lot of dirt, waste and garbage,
when I looked directly in front of each
of the homes, I could see the care and
pride that truly existed.
This home was only 5 years old and took us less than 10 minutes
to empty. A mother and 5 children lived here. Their father lived
there sporadically. The children had no beds and slept on a dirt
floor. We found mice and a couple of scorpions while cleaning out
the home. Our job here was to mix and spread cement for her
floor and add the plumbing for a shower. Our carpenter wanted
to build bunk beds for the children but we ran out of time – our
CSA leaders said they would be returning in a couple of weeks
with a group of high school students.
we have experienced mosquitos.
The biggest difference, of course,
is that mosquitos can carry
malaria in the areas we travelled.
Here we also began to experience
Dominican bugs. Spiders, the
size of your hand (including the
legs), beetles and cockroaches as
long as a finger, geckos and
frogs everywhere as well as
lightning bugs that would stay lit
for 30 seconds to a minute at a
time – gross and cool all at the
same time. The Dominican does
have some large snakes and
tarantulas but fortunately, we did
not see any!
Sleeping with mosquito netting was
interesting and while there were
mosquitos (we were warned several
times about how bad they were), I
don’t know if the Dominican people
truly understood that as Albertans,
Each night we would tuck ourselves in tightly more to keep out the
spiders than the mosquitos! This location was also our third and final
week and was very damp and humid. We dried ourselves off with damp
towels, put on damp clothes and slept in damp beds. I never thought I’d
say this but I really missed Alberta’s dry climate.