Pictured: Victor and I with some of our students at the A Ganar vocational training graduation last week. Congrats to all of our students!
Also, the above pictures were taken several hours after I was stung by jellyfish, went to attend a meeting at a church and then realized that all of the pain that I went through just may merit a
Finally, a photo of a jellyfish in a Christmas stocking cap that my friend Kathy sent me. How appropriate.
Prepare yourself for a rant.
I have lived in a 900 person village and a 15,000 person town in the Dominican Republic. I will openly say that the education system here is embarrassing. Teenage pregnancy, high drop out rates, low social capital (aka your parents are illiterate), the tendency of students to skip school when it rains and a lack of electricity are just some of the factors that contribute to the fact that my students cannot write in their own language.
My focus isn’t literacy, it is youth employment. For single parents, high school graduates and drop outs alike, if they are 17 - 24 years old, at least 4 out of 10 are unemployed.
Everyone here knows this and thinks that “we should do something about it.”
Well I did.
I extended my Peace Corps service to help address this problem by teaching customer service and professional development in a vocational training program that is administered by DREAM Project.
This is a long, painful story about failing to find a classroom so that I could teach students to GET A JOB!
The other day, I put in my office time and then I went to go meet with a group of pastors about using their church to teach our 6 month vocational training program. We spent months recruiting 35 students from several poor communities, getting the approval of the Ministry of Health and we only needed a building. Plans had fallen through with the schools in two communities and we were really desperate.
Our meeting was scheduled at 8 pm in a town that is about 45 minutes away. I left the office at 5 and thought, man, I gained 15 lbs while I was in America. I need to take a swim and get my cardio in. So I rode home, changed into shorts and at 5:15, I was in the Atlantic Ocean.
When it’s good, I can go for at least 40 minutes.
I swam for 15 minutes and in an instant, my reality changed. I immediately knew that in the turbid water, I had swum into some jellyfish. My chest, back, nipple, armpits and arms were on fire. I yelled an expletive and the flight mechanism did its thing.
Tentacles were stuck to me. I ran to a restaurant and convinced a boy to let me use the hose. Burning, I traipsed across the beach while pretty Dominican prostitutes let me know that they liked the goods.
I got on my bicycle and went to the corner store by my house. With no money, I convince the owner to loan me 4 bottles of vinegar on credit (a value of 75 cents) and rushed to the house where I awkwardly asked my Norwegian neighbor if she would help me.
Half scared by my groaning and half entertained, she applied the vinegar. It did absolutely nothing. Neutralizer my butt.
My entire torso swells and all I can do is focus on breathing. I speak to our beloved Peace Corps doctor and she tells me to get some lotion and ibuprofen. The Peace Corps doctor originally told me that I could go to the clinic. She always knows best. I however had this 8pm meeting, and wanted to be tough. Read: dumb ass
Shirtless, I don my helmet and my buddy Carlos races me to a pharmacy that doesn’t have the lotion. They take for ever calling around about the lotion and finally I yell out, “JUST GIVE ME THE IBUPROFEN!” Luckily the next pharmacy had the lotion.
I get to the house and two of my coworkers are there. One wishes to borrow a baking sheet. Fine, but first I need a favor. She sees my welts and gives a swear. It looks like I have been branded with all sorts of hot wires.
We apply the lotion and still all I can do is focus on breathing. The house is a mess and my first aid kit is strewn about the floor. I am having an allergic reaction in a foreign country and I need to see a doctor.
Still shirtless, surly and smelling of vinegar, I grab my helmet and hop on another motor cycle. Within 30 minutes, I had some sweet pain medication and steroid-something-sone pushing through an IV.
The local doctor told me that he once had a patient who was stung on the testicles and then said, “but this is by far the worst that I have seen.”
I lived it. It was not the worst thing that I have ever felt, but it was close.
In regards to getting stung in the junk, it’s debatable.
At 6:45, I paid $125 out of pocket (30% of a month’s pay, but reimbursable by Peace Corps… so OK.) and made my way home.
I started to feel better, met up with my supervisor and we pleaded with the church elders in the neighboring community to let us use the church.
Yes, the course is entirely free.
No, there were no scheduling conflicts.
Yes, there is a need in the community.
No, the students can’t afford to travel to take the course somewhere else.
Yes, this would be a great experience for 35 impoverished students.
We met for an hour. We explain the program and how our previous students’ lives have changed. We explain that a school backed out and that we just need a facility. We explain all of the positive life skills that we can teach. We talk about preventing HIV/AIDS. We pray. We mention that our students will do over 600 hours of community service in the area. We have references and to top it off, another Peace Corps Volunteer lives next to the church.
The elders were concerned about the chairs. What if they broke? What if students vandalized the church?
We screen our students and the program is pretty well funded. Replacing a 10 year old broken chair isn’t a problem.
I said that we would sweep the church after class and put the chairs back in order each day.
They denied our request to use the church “because of the issue regarding the chairs.”
Have you ever done that thing where you throw your hands up in the air and just swear? I do that (in the privacy of my own home).
What a freaking day?
If I have learned anything from this job, it is that somehow I will always find a way to get what I want.
Our students will have a classroom and they will get good jobs even if the occasional would-be community leader gets in my way!
Seriously, pray on that, a-holes.