Davis Turner joined UNL’s Moguls in Training college program in 2015. He is a rising junior at Washington and Lee University and was selected to attend the trip based on his outstanding academic accomplishments around the subject of the Dominican Republic.
Before sunrise and the scuttle of the morning, the UNL and Haiti Ford fellows team disembarked to do what they have always done: make a difference. Ever since the conception of UNL, igniting change and inspiring individuals and community development has been at the forefront of the program. The Powered by Service (PBS) program is an accelerated youth development curriculum with the intended purpose of identifying/galvanizing the spark (passion/expertise) of the participants. Ultimately, the participants must learn to become critical thinkers as we teach them how to apply their spark to fix problems in their communities. PBS is but the first chapter towards the development process that yields a cascade of positive multiplier effects.
Escuela Mi Hogar:
The PBS training would be my first session as a certified UNL peer trainer. As we stood waiting in anticipation for the students’ arrival, one could feel the anticipation in the air. When the 175 students arrived, we quickly had to adapt to the language and cultural barriers. Thanks to our translators we were able to make our message succinct and impactful. The students responded well towards each activity, being able to critically assess their spark and the value of community. One student I had the opportunity to speak with named Oscar, spoke to me regarding his dream of one day becoming the president of the Dominican Republic, and after a successful career in the U.S. as a professional baseball player he intended to not forget the community that raised him and give back. Oscar’s words resonated as they demonstrate how the youth are tackling problems in their communities at an early stage and with high but worthy ambitions.
Another aspect of the training session that evoked a sense of hope for the future was the interactions between the students and Haitian Ford fellows. The interaction between the students and the fellows was nothing but positive, as the students could relate to the tribulations the Haitian fellows spoke of. Empathy and understanding are key factors to mending the current relationship between Haitians and Dominicans. From their interactions with one another, one could see the forging of bridges of trust.
Overall the PBS training was an amazing opportunity to take part in. The training not only positioned the path of youth towards becoming makers of change, but also instilled in each of us trainers a desire to take greater steps towards being global citizens.
Les Tres Ojos:
After the success of the PBS training, the group ventured out to see Les Tres Ojos, a series of underground lake formations. Les Tres Ojos’ formation and beauty are the result of a powerful earthquake that took place over 200 years ago, leaving the land forever sculpted. Each lake established a calm and opulence that directly clashed with its own genesis. Les Tres Ojos represents the new age for the Dominican Republic. A harsh history does not reflect a harsh present and that there is always the opportunity to make the world a beautiful one. The future is not solely bound on the faults of the past, as we the people have the ability to grow and change for the better.
Round Table Discussion:
Later in the evening the UNL team and the Haitian Ford fellows had the opportunity to speak with an economist and financial lawyer about the current economic climate of the country and brainstorm solutions. What became apparent quickly were the huge disparities rampant in the micro and macro sectors of the Dominican Republic. The last few years have represented significant economic growth for the DR (~7% GDP growth). However, growth is not everything, as the quality of life especially for the middle and lower classes has been diminishing. Unequal distributions of wealth yield to an environment of booming opportunity for a small minority. We discussed critical issues such as corruption and a struggling public education system. Over half of the countries GDP come from an informal cash based economy. This creates difficulty in collecting income taxes: resulting in taxes only coming from indirect methods, such as sales tax. The lack of funding directly hurts public institutions and feeds into the deeper aspects of corruption. One thing discussed was despite the harsh economic situations of both the DR and Haiti, the only true way to overcome these issues will be through the partnership of both sovereign countries as they attempt to establish themselves as a leader in modernity (progress and order).
Read Our Student Blogs from the Rest of the Trip!