25 August 2006

One Giant Update

Time certainly flies when you're busy. I can't believe I left home 11 months ago, and have spent 8 of those months in my site already! I figure you're all overdue for a Peace Corps update by now!

A quick recap: I am in the Dominican Republic with Peace Corps, a 2 year commitment of which remains about 1 1/2 years. I am doing "Community Economic Development" in Jarabacoa. My particular placement is with a coffee growers association (ASCAJA) where I am helping with marketing aspects and group/association strengthening (specifically, working on a new logo and packaging for roasted coffee, and trying to get the directiva to meet monthly). I live in the "campo", or countryside, with the coffee growers. I was lucky enough to get a placement in the mountains where it's much cooler, although it rains frequently.

In the last couple months, I chose to dive in to several unrelated projects, which now take up the majority of my time. The first of these projects is the often-requested English class. We've been meeting twice a week since June, and have our last class this week. I regularly have between 20-30 students. They range in ages from 8-40, and English levels of knowing nothing to those who can hold conversations. While an actual testable curriculum is hard under these circumstances, I have chosen to focus on pronunciation and getting everyone to talk. As with most people learning a new language, most of my students are shy about speaking out. Therefore, a lot of the one-hour class time is spent going one-by-one with practice phrases.

The second project is a preparation class for a youth business plan competition called Constructing Your Dreams. The idea is to meet weekly to learn about a step in the business plan process (evaluations, feasibility, accounting) which culminates in a 3-day workshop and competition in Sept. The winners receive prize money to start their business.

There is another youth conference in Sept called Celebrando Cibao (Celebrating the Cibao). This conference will focus on national and international diversity. Each volunteer on the planning committee can bring 3 youth to the conference. While planning has been overwhelming at times, we are looking forward to the conference.

The last project I have undertaken is my most important and time consuming. I am working with another volunteer, Courtney, who lives 30 mins from me on a project to get birth certificates for the kids in our campos. Birth certificates are very important because without one, you cannot attend high school, get an ID card, get insurance (although few of these people will anyway), or declare your own children. There are many reasons these people don't have birth certificates: lack of knowledge on the parents' part, lack of money, mothers waiting for the fathers to agree to declare his kid, or just plain neglect. Between Courtney and I, we have found 120 children and adults, 60 of which are ready to get their certificates by the end of August. We are excited about the success of this venture, although overwhelmed by the numbers. After we finish this round in August, we are hoping to continue the campaign through education regarding birth certificates, and possibly have another round later in the year. So far this has been my most concrete and rewarding work here!

Apart from work, life here is good. I am a new aunt (John Michael born July 9 to my brother, Peter, and his wife, Kelly); I have a new kitten, Bean, which wreaks havoc on my life sometimes; I have a Dominican boyfriend named Hito who takes good care of me when he's in town from work every other weekend; and I have a wonderful house that no Peace Corps volunteer deserves, but I lucked out with the owner. My life is much more "tranquila" since I moved out of my host family's half-built house, and it's given me time to appreciate the countryside around me. I've learned more than you can imagine about coffee growing, and (wonders of all wonders!) I've learned to actually cook a couple things! (Nothing fancy or out of the ordinary, believe me!)

And how can you be a part of this experience? Lots of ways! Keep reading my blog (updated when possible). Also feel free to email me or snail mail:

Jessica Stearns, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado 1412
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
I would love to get news from you, home, or the states in general! (Care packages are welcome too!)

And lastly, if you are so inclined, we can use your financial support in one of the following projects. (A donation of $20-100 goes a long way.)

**Business Plan Competition - a youth business conference and competition,training today's future in entrepreneurial skills

**Celebrando Cibao - a youth conference celebrating diversity

**Birth Certificate Campaign - resources will be used to cover costs of paperwork and logistical expenses. In the future, we may do an education campaign on the importance and process of getting birth certificates.

If you would like more information on the conferences, please follow the above links (or just keep reading) or feel free to contact me. Each conference has its own manner of coordinating funds, so please note where checks can be sent. If you would like to donate to the Birth Certificate Campaign, please send checks to:

Jessica Stearns
1532 Castle Hill Rd
Walnut Creek, CA 94595
I hope you are all well, and I would love to hear what's going on in your corner of the world! Dios te bendiga!


Krista said...

Hey Chica, I am glad you finally have an update on all the stuff you are doing. It sounds wonderful. I t looks like the birth certificate program is something I might be working with here too.

edith said...

jessica jessica what a great project you are working on keep up the good work im praying for you im at your school i mean your mothers school helped with the knitting will go to coles first birthday party i miss you . cole is jackies baby in wrightwood. love grandmother t.