The DR is the second largest country in the Caribbean and benefits from a booming tourism industry. When one thinks of the DR, they picture visitors coming from far and wide to soak up the sun, swim in the warm Caribe, hike the magistic mountians and take in the breathtaking views the country has to offer. White sand beaches are plentiful and the Brugal and Presidente flow freely. Travel brochures show elegant resorts and eager Dominicans awaiting to serve the next American, Canadian or European who walks through the door. Tourisim is one of the biggest industries in the country and the secound main generator of income for the Dominican people (first is remitances from the States). What the travel brochures do not show though, is the 43 percent of Dominicans who live in poverty or the 16 percent who live in what is categorized as extreme poverty (USAID, 2010). Nor do they show the effects of the tourism industry on the people of this country.
I am living in the barrio Brisas del Norte in Andres, Boca Chica. Boca Chica is a tourist hot spot in the DR, known locally for sex tourism and child sex trafficking. Brisas is one of the poorest areas of Boca Chica and is home to many people exploited and displaced by the tourism industry. It is also home to tons of Haitian and Dominican youth.
I will be working in both a small orphanage and the community of Andres, Boca Chica as a youth development volunteer. My focus will be on creating and organizing activities with the community for the youth as well as supporting a small boys home on an organizational level and increasing collaboration with other existing organizations and groups in the community. The youth who live in the Casa as well as in the community come from what is classified as extreme poverty and there exists no organized activities for the youth in the community.
My first three months of service is dedicated to completing a community diagnostic where I will assess existing resources and strengths as well as weaknesses, needs and opportunities. I will meet with community leaders and youth to conduct focus groups and interviews as well as gathering oral histories of the families and the barrio. In this diagnostic I will also identify possible projects that the community would like to work with me on, whether it be bringing sexual and reproductive health education into the schools, supporting alternative educational oppertunities or building a community center for the community.
Brisas is a barrio filled with familial and domestic violence. Unemployment is high and education is low. There is no high school in the barrio and only one free public primary school, which means that many children do not have the opportunity to attend school and many drop out after 8th grade. Due to the high level of poverty in the community, many children work near or on the beach, being taken advantage of or abused by Dominicans and tourists alike. There is no existing community center or other “healthy” place for youth to gather so night in the barrio is much like a scene from a modern Lord of the Flies, youth of all ages 5 and up, dancing in the street, drinking alcohol and getting fresh with one another, more or less running the streets. Hunger is a common occurrence and many children’s only meal is that they receive for free at school per governmental donation. There is no public transportation within the barrio and many people die due to medical emergencies because they are unable to get to a medical clinic.
Brisas is just one of the many barrios like this in the DR. But one would never know by looking at the brochures the country puts out to attract visitors from far and wide. Some of the effects of the poverty are obvious, others you cannot see with the naked eye, but instead have to know what to look for. I am not here to solve the community’s problems, but instead to support them in moving forward and recognizing the changes that can be made. To support the future leaders of the community so the future can be a little brighter. Or so at least they have something else to do for a little while.