ALUMNI NOTES: Taking A Gap Semester in the Dominican Republic

This new column allows recent graduates of MCSM to speak to current students about college life and post-high school experiences. Ms. Sondo graduated last year, when she also served as Editor in Chief of the MCSM RamPage

Getting experience of life and work inside a rural “campo”

 

By Haby Sondo

After graduating MCSM, I entered a college program deliberately structured to begin my Freshman year in January 2018. This allowed me to investigate study abroad and work study programs in support of my major, and my associated interests.

I am now back in New York City after three months in the Dominican Republic (Santiago city). I got back on December 15th. It was quite an experience, and I learned a great deal about myself and how the world sees me as a person.

We actually had to evacuate twice during the first month because of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, so we ended up missing out on about two weeks of our experience.

I learned a great deal about Haitian and Dominican Republic relations as well as the history of both countries and the impact colonization still plays on the island, a great deal about the Trujillo dictatorship, and a great deal of Spanish due to my one month long Spanish intensive classes and all of the volunteering organizations I became apart (which forced me to constantly put my Spanish to use).

I volunteered at three different organizations:

– Accion Callejera– an educational foundation helping provide structure to the lives of children who live and work on the streets. At this center, children receive the opportunity to eat, shower, and receive a bit of schooling which they are otherwise unable to have due to the fact that they have to work. Many of the children are shoe-cleaners, and out of school. Many migrated from Haiti to work and raise money for their families. This organization is where I spent a great deal of my time, and where I was able to greatly improve my knowledge of the racial tensions between the two countries.

Haby (right) and a pal peruse the waters of La Isabella island.

 

The women who work at the organization are all Dominican women and do not always put the boy’s best interests at heart. At times, the boys were discouraged from speaking their native tongue, in which some of them feel the most comfortable, and which for many is the only part of Haiti they can have with them in the Dominican Republic. A majority of the people who work at the center do not know all of the boys’ names, or anything about their lives. There seemed to be a real lack of connection to these youths, with few caring to understand the boys and their native culture.

There is one person in particular though, a young Haitian man who works there who the boys see as an older brother/father figure. He is in charge of distributing breakfast/lunch at the center but does much more. With him, the boys can communicate in Creole as well as express their deepest feelings. His presence in the center is very essential to the boys, and to the program itself.

In all, it was very similar to the current racial & political tensions in the country. It was very interesting to see it play out in front of me and observe.

I’m currently working on a fundraiser & website to go into more depth about my time at the Center, and to share these boys and their stories with the world. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Cuidad Santa Maria – a public school in La Otra Banda Public school in which I taught English Classes through an access program offered by the U.S.

– La 37 por Las Tablas – an art organization in the middle of Santiago where I helped with preparing costumes and set equipment, and learned more about performing arts.

The weather was really great, and it’s a bit difficult getting adjusted back to the cold here. In terms of life there, there were numerous frustrating experiences. Among these were people assuming that I was Haitian, with all of the absurd, disturbing stereotypes that comes along with that, as well as constantly having to prove that I could be black and American—which caused me a great deal of emotional stress this semester. I’m still trying to process it all and will be writing a lot of blog posts about my experiences as a black woman there.

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