Tuesday, 1 March 2011 to Tuesday, 10 September 2013
924 days in Peace Corps and counting.
2 years, 6 months, 9 days
79,833,600 seconds - 1,330,560 minutes - 22,176 hours - 132 weeks
On day 923, I submitted my volunteer reporting form… that was yesterday.
Today I am thriving. On day 924, I am helping with math, teaching résumé basics, organizing community service hours for students, grading papers and helping one aspiring professional get a résumé together for a job interview this week.
It is time to let Peace Corps know what you have been doing in your community. Bring on the Volunteer Report Form… VRF.
-E, Costa Rica
Sometimes I feel like I’m going to remember my Peace Corps experience only as just two years of constant illness.
~Barbara Pualani, Peace Corps Volunteer, Dominican Republic
A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who worked in the Dominican Republic posted this photo on Facebook the other day. In the Dominican Republic many people receive remittances which are cash transfers from outside of the country for no measurable exchange of a good or service.
Think of the migrant laborer sending money back home to his family.
While my friend posted this photo in jest, I got to reading about remittances which if classified as an industry would be the number two money maker for Dominican citizens. At $3.3 billion annually and rising, remittances account for 7.7% of GDP while agriculture accounts for a about 6.1% of GDP.
The CIA World Fact Book says that the percent of remittances is even higher: ”Remittances from the US amount to about one-tenth of GDP, equivalent to almost half of exports and three-quarters of tourism receipts.”
Services like tourism beat out remittances and make the largest share of GDP in the Dominican Republic.
These two English articles about remittances state that the DR which has a population of 10+ million, 2/3 the size of Ecuador, receives about the same amount of remittances. Mexico receives much more money through remittance but per person, the average Mexican citizen receives $203 annually while their Dominican counterpart receives $321. These are calculations that I arrived at with a few Google searches.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer who doesn’t believe in just giving out money with no community contribution, I have a hard time not scoffing at charities, churches and NGOs that throw shirts off the back of trucks.
To the people who are sending money, my real question is: “Should people send remittances? Is it useful? Does it create lazy citizens?”
If the roles were reversed, I would want to send money to my family.
Please do your part to help without fostering dependency. If the beneficiary has no commitment to the service that you provide, they will not appreciate your efforts.
Or we can do an experiment in which you send me $321 and I will let you know… si dios quiere.
Dan Wendt is a third year Peace Corps Volunteer and a professional development teacher with DREAM’s A Ganar workforce development program. A former IT consultant in Columbus, OH and environmental extension specialist in rural San Cristóbal Province; Dan has trained business leaders to implement cost saving technologies and masons to build efficient cooking stoves that mitigate deforestation while improving the respiratory health of rural women. Whether he is teaching peer educators to prevent HIV/AIDS, directing the construction of a community center with a local neighborhood association or acting as the master of ceremonies at a youth leadership conference, Dan works under one mantra: Be uniquely you. Begin with the end in mind. Do small things in great ways.
This week my A Ganar (in Spanish to gain or to win) students developed 4 – 6 minute speeches on any given topic. For example some students spoke about Dominican culture, meringue, Cabarete tourist zone, teen pregnancy, abortion, HIV/AIDS, basketball and the history of baseball in the Dominican Republic.
Dream Project volunteer Victor and I are pictured above evaluating presentations. So many people fear public speaking and once again, I find myself teaching kids to present. Stand up straight, smile, practice, use note cards but don’t read them word for word, if you think that you are going at a good pace - slow down, enunciate and remember… Proper Preparation Prevents
Piss Poor Performance.
Also pictured are my students doing mock customer service dramatizations where one student plays the client and the other the representative in a hardware store, hotel reception desk, kite surfing school, clothing store or restaurant.
Here is an example of a scenario from my class:
Escenario: El Operador de Pizza Hut
Tú, siendo el cliente, estás hablando por teléfono con el operador de Pizza Hut. Tú mandas pizzas pero no sabes la dirección. Sé difícil y confundido. Pide la dirección y pide clarificación por cada instrucción.
- Después, tú dices que tu motor está dañado y quieres que te traigan las pizzas a casa.
- Sé confuso con las direcciones (inventa. Ejemplo: “llega al colmado y pregunta por el flaco”)
- Dale tu mandato de 5 pizzas:
Una pizza sin queso pero con tomate y jamón…no jamón… con tocineta.
Una con doble de queso y parmesano.
Una pizza con mitad carbonara y mitad carne…no, mitad atún, la mitad de la carbonara sin cebolla y la otra doble de cebolla.
Una calzón rellena de queso y jamón
Pizza con piña y otra fruta que él te tiene que proponer
¿Cuándo llegas a mi casa? Tengo que hacer una diligencia pero yo estaré allí si Dios quiere.
Scenario: The Pizza Hut Operator
You, the client, are talking on the phone with the Pizza Hut operator. You are ordering pizzas but don’t know the address. Be difficult and confused. Ask for the address and ask for clarification for each instruction.
Afterwards, say that your motorcycle is broken and that you want them to bring the pizzas to your house.
Be confusing with the directions (make something up. Example: “go to the corner store and ask for the skinny guy”).
Give them your order of 5 pizzas:
One pizza without cheese but with tomato and ham… no ham… with bacon.
One with double cheese and parmesan
One pizza half carbonara and half with meat… no half tuna, the half with carbonara without onions and the other half with double onions.
One calzone with cheese and ham.
Pizza with pineapple and another fruit that the operator should propose.
When will you arrive at my house? I have to go run an errand but I will be here if God willing.
I push my students. I am demanding, uncompromising, overly assertive and at times I correct them in public instead of taking them aside. Sometimes I lose my temper and yell. I am a new teacher and I am working on it. I make mistakes. I am sometimes an asshole and other times and effective motivator. I figure that this is a workforce training class and that I have been charged with training students to perform under high pressure with difficult clients and bosses.
In class, I feel like I have to be that boss. My students are adults but lack the discipline of professionals. They make a ton of noise. They are unfocused. They are poorly educated. They are unfocused. They lie. They come up with excuses before they forego homework. They cheat. I get wrapped up in my passion for my work and have to take a step back. I can only do so much and hope that they don’t all hate me for it.
I need to treat them like the individuals that I think they will become. I need to just let it wash over.
Peace Corps Teacher by Keegan Krause
This happened to my friend and it was too good not to share:
So one of the funniest things in my life happened today. A kid was being disrespectful to me in class, so I let him know that I was going to his house after school today. I waited for him outside his class, and when school got out, he took the first chance he got to bust a move and run out of the school towards his house. So, I ran after him making sure that every time he turned around it appeared that I was walking, like the terminator. He then ran into an ally behind an apartment, and I assumed this was his house, so I called in the usual “Saludos” to let them know I was there to talk. He then explained that this was not his house, and that he wasn’t going to go to his house. I let him know that I live here, and I have all night to wait for him to go home so I can talk to his parents. He wasn’t budging, so I asked the woman next door who he was and who his parents were, but when we turned the corner so she could get a good look at him, he had already scaled the wall, and was running on the roof towards the next street over. I then proceeded to walk home with his little brother who had followed him and was waiting by the ally. I was sitting in his living room talking to his mother about his bad behavior when he finally came home. I am not sure if this would have been appropriate in the US, but I am pretty sure I won.
Look, I made the Dream Project Website!
To learn more about Dream Projects initiatives take a look at the August Newsletter.
Peace Corps Blog Update
I have been in my new community for nearly 2 months and I have a good routine established. I spent 6 weeks developing customer service, sales and professional development classes for my 35 students and I am finally in the classroom.
My routine is somewhat different than the one that I had for 2 years in the village. Since I am working full time, living with running water and enjoying 24 hour electricity, I hardly feel like the typical Peace Corps Volunteer.
So here is what my Monday through Friday routine is looking like:
6:00 – 7:30 wake up, coffee, email, news
7:30 – 8:30 arrive at school, review lessons, grade homework and setup classroom
8:30 – 11:30 teach customer service and professional development curriculums
11:30 – 12:00 clean up class, organize self, rest voice, extemporaneous meetings, help students with resumes, call businesses to setup interviews with students
12:00 – 1:00 rice and beans
1:00 – 5:00 plan, make copies for class, tutor students
5:00 – 6:00 work out of some form: open water swim, gymnastics rings, lifting, jogging, yoga, other calisthenics
6:00 – 8:00 call home, shower, use internet for anything but looking at graduate schools…
8:00 – 11:00 watch movie, visit with neighbors, drink a beer, sleep, internet
Yep, I have actual supervisors who like to know where I am and I don’t actually get to control my entire schedule… which after two years of self-motivating, is both good and bad.
The weekends are the best. I have been snorkeling and so far I have seen two sea turtles, two spotted eagle rays, two octopuses and a lionfish.
Pictured above are my students doing various presentations.
More interesting is the spear gun that I made one Friday with my buddy Carlos and his cousin Moreno. Seriously, most of the materials were salvaged. Here are the ingredients for a spear gun: an old shower curtain, scrap wood, old rubber bicycle tubes, a fitting for a piston for a motorcycle engine, two screws, a spoke from a motorcycle wheel, rod from old mattress (spear), 8 feet of string and two big rubber bands. As far as tools go: hammer, screw driver, hack saw… grinder if available.
On Saturday we went fishing but because it rained the visibility was poor and we did nothing but swim/walk through hip deep mud while squinting through our goggles into the fresh water lagoon outside of town. The birding was good, I got to do some exploring, it was incredible exercise and most importantly, it was still better than working. Next time we’ll get ‘em… but if not, its still all good.
Lifting, spinning and throwing kids into the air: that moment just before they vomit when the muchachos think that you are the strongest man in the world.
It’s a good job.
Community Center Progress!
I moved out of my old community in the San Cristóbal Province 7 weeks ago and I am happy to report that my project partners are still working hard on the Community Center.
While we still have a way to go, the stucco work is completed, electrical wiring is nearly done and aluminum windows and metal doors have been installed.
Because of road and school construction, the local quarry is operating at full production and we are still waiting for a donation of 16 square meters of caliche fill. This gravel is used as the base for cement floors that are built on clay soils to prevent cracking and warping.
I have been in Cabarete for about 7 weeks. I have been planning about 40 classes, writing them into professional Spanish lesson plans, making worksheets, designing PowerPoint presentations, dreaming up activities and finding the right places to slip in a educational videos.
Life is good as a professional development teacher. I have 35 underprivileged students ages 17 - 24 who are very committed to the program. A service learning group of 30 American teachers came through the DREAM Center the other day. Pictured above, you can see that we dropped class for extemporaneous English interviews with our visitors. It was a riot and their English has come a long way in just 100 hours of formal instruction.
So, here is how our A Ganar workforce training program is broken down by subject and hours:
Deportes para la vida: Team work, healthy decision making, HIV/AIDS prevention: 75 hours
Intensive English: 105 hours
Writing and Grammar: 40 hours
Mathematics: 22 hours
Customer Service: 30 hours
Professional Development: 12 hours
Resume Development: 6 hours
Professional Interviews: 12 hours
Language Tutoring: 12 hours
Community Service: 20 hours
Internships at local businesses: 80 hours
Day 874 as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Today I worked out, swam for 40 minutes with out stopping in the Atlantic Ocean, gave my mom remote computer support and had a friend from my new organization over for soup. A good Sunday.
On day 873, I went snorkeling with current Peace Corps Volunteer Leader Sabine. We swam for an hour on a reef. For dinner we invited Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Rebecca (who served in Ukraine). Rebecca works at my new partner organization. We made pasta, talked about all the hard times and how no one posts pictures of themselves crying alone at night or suffering from explosive diarrhea. Those days do exist and the best thing to remember is that situations are temporary.
All I can say is if you are making etch marks in the wall… don’t worry too much about day 536. Even if 537 isn’t better, you will find a way to make the bad days less frequent. Think of it in terms of stretching. If you are just starting cold or you are a yogi… we all arrive to a certain point and feel the same burning/stretching sensation. This is true even if our positions are different.
Eventually Sabine mentioned that the normal Peace Corps Dominican Republic volunteer service is 799 days. Our service will be ~40 months and ~1,201 days.
No etch necessary.