Back home I found it surprisingly difficult to explain my plans for this year. I threw around the phrase “post-grad service”, assuming most people would have an idea of what that meant. Most did not. I couldn’t believe the number of times people would reply, “Oh, so you’re going into the….military?” Most of them seemed as thrown off by the thought of me enlisting, as I was by being asked what branch I was going into. I then began to explain my post-grad plans differently, saying that I was moving to the Dominican Republic for a year to work as a volunteer. However, the looks of confusion on many people’s faces did not change. Although many were excited when I told them my plans, there were others that asked me why. The job market had improved; I should be able to get a job. Others would say that it’s admirable that I’m “giving up” a year of my life. However, I’m not here because I can’t get a job, nor do I feel I am sacrificing my time. I’m here for the experience: the culture, the people, the challenges, the issues, the relationships, the confusion, the language….. This is the epitome of me living my life.
I feel incredibly lucky to have attended a school where service is an integral part of the community and student experience. This was something I knew little about upon choosing to go to Stonehill; however it quickly became a vital part of my college (and post-college) experience. The volunteer experiences I had at Stonehill allowed me to discover what I’m passionate about. Additionally, my experience “studying” abroad in Sevilla, España showed me how incredible it is to not only experience another culture, but to live there and become a part of that culture. There is a huge difference between visiting a place and living there, and I wanted to experience that again on an even deeper level.
So, here I am. I’ve been in the DR for almost a month now through Stonehill’s International Extension Program. This is the fourth year that they’ve sent alumni down to work for el Patronato Benéfico Oriental (PBO), a non-profit organization in the city of La Romana. Founded by a group of local women in 1976, the PBO works to improve the lives of underprivileged children in the community by ensuring that their basic and educational needs are met. The PBO’s main project is the Hogar del Niño, also known as “the Hogar”, which is a school and daycare that serves upwards of 1,500 children ranging from newborns to 18 years old. In addition to education, they receive three meals a day, as well as health and dental care. The PBO also runs a vocational school, which trains adults in specialized areas, such as carpentry and sewing, with the hope of providing them with greater employment opportunities. Finally, the PBO opened up the Social Diagnostic Center, or Diagnóstica Social, two years ago. Located next to Central Romana Hospital, the health clinic offers advanced care in the areas of medical imaging and diagnostics to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Previously, these types of services were unavailable in this part of the country.
My role this year consists of working at Diagnóstica Social, and the Hogar. The specifics of my projects are still being worked out and the uncertainty is driving me crazy, but I’m learning to be patient as my roles here develop. Ideas are constantly running through my mind, but implementing them is far more difficult than I had anticipated. I’m so anxious to accomplish big things, yet I’m learning more and more that the important thing is to be present in the moment.