By Elizabeth Williams
UNL Detroit Mogul in Training, Rising Senior at Grand Valley State University
Elizabeth Williams is is co-founder of a nonprofit called Books IV Bonding, which she started with her sister and the support of UNL and her mentor, Usher. The nonprofit provides books for schools in Kenya and inner-city Detroit, with the goal of bringing students from both places together through literacy and shared experiences. In 2015, Elizabeth received New Look’s prestigious Global Youth Leadership Award.
Waking up as early as 6:30 to get the day started early is the easy part of my experience in the Dominican Republic. The challenging part is to not immediately feel connected to the culture and the history and beautiful architecture of the city Santo Domingo. Our day started by web conferencing an amazing and innovative political representative from Haiti, John Miller Beauvoir. In this particular session, we were able to learn about public health and also discuss how the government and economy operates in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The state of race relations is an important factor to discuss in the context of bridging the gap between the two countries.
After we engaged in a deep discussion, we were able to visit a Trikke shop and ride around the Zona Colonial Santo Domingo. We witnessed some breathtaking architecture and scenery. Driving a Trikke through the city was something that our entire group experienced for the the first time together. It was enlightening to see how small moments would connect us all together. Some of my most favorite stops during our Trikke tour was going to a rum store, seeing how it was being made and learning the importance of it in the community. The people in the small neighborhoods seem to be really show a since of pride and relaxation in their way of life. I am paraphrasing from one of the speakers, Pablo, from a organization called AFS, who spoke about community involvement: Community involvement is not being a saving grace of a community, but the starting point of an equal learning platform for both communities to bring change to each other. I learn from you and we learn together.
We were fortunate earlier today to go to community called Buenos Aires with Fundacion NTD Ingredientes, an oregano growing project, and experience how people who are financially unstable reside in poor living conditions. We were able to see the beauty in the community and not a sense of despair but, love and peace. We were able to go to a community garden, and I learned that a small plant can empower and bring vitality to a community. At dinner we met with the Minister of imports and exports, Eddy Martinez, and discussed the state of the Domincan Republic and how it directly affects smaller villages. We also had a special guest, Pablo from AFS, who said their program has been serving the community of Dominican Republic for decades through service.
The discussion of Public Health and the economy will be instrumental to the vitality of the DR current state. I had a conversation with Thiaggo Marrero, a lawyer who practices law in Santo Domingo, and we exchanged knowledge about law enforcement in the US and also in the DR. Thiaggo told me that in the Domincan Republic, the enforcement of the law must be an issue, because if it isn’t, then you are failing to promise the people a sustainable justice system. Connectivity and immersion in a culture is not charity, it is love, compassion and drive to bring change!
Read students’ blogs from the rest of the trip!