Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Importance of Cement Floors

During both of our campo immersions, one of our service projects has been to build cement floors for families that do not have them.  In some cases this meant just one room of the house that was lacking, and in others it was the entire home.

Cement floors are extremely beneficial for hygiene and health.  According to a study done at UC Berkeley, "Dirt floors are a major threat to the health (of inhabiants) by providing a breeding ground for parasites. In neighborhoods without sanitation, fecal matter can enter the house easily and, on a dirt floor, become difficult to spot and remove. This contributes to the heavy burden of parasitic infections in children, resulting in diarrhea, malnutrition and anemia" (http://cega.berkeley.edu/materials/E2A_Cement-Floors-Brief.pdf).  Paul Farmer's organization Partners in Health also points out that without adequate housing material, rainwater often enters homes during the rainy season, turning dirt floors to mud (http://www.pih.org/pages/food-water-and-housing/).  In addition to these health concerns, many people feel that cement floors give the owner a sense of pride and ownership of their home, thus increasing their happiness and productivity.

But laying cement floors is difficult and expensive.  We learned first hand the time, energy, sweat and sometimes even tears that goes into this difficult labor.  We feel so lucky to have been able to provide so many families with such a simple, but important thing as a floor.  Please watch the video below to see how we were able to provide a cement home for one young man and his father in Ceboruco.

Campo Immersion 2 - Ceboruco

On Saturday, November 12, Comunidad 12 headed for the community of Ceboruco for our second Campo Immersion.  Ceboruco is a small town in the hills about half an hour outside of Santiago.  Since it's so close to the city, few people work in agriculture, and instead most people come into Santiago, or closer Tamboril, for work.

While in Ceboruco, Comunidad 12 worked to build cement floors for 10 families, and latrines for 6 families.  In addition to that, we also built the foundation for what will soon be a community health clinic.  We were so excited to give Ceboruco the first leg up in their dream to have a doctor and a clinic right in their own town.  The clinic will serve not just the community of Ceboruco, but eight surrounding communities as well.  The number of lives made better by this labor is unimaginable!

We worked hard on all of our projects, and also had a great time getting to know the community members and our new families.  The Pastoral Juvenil, the church youth group, really took us in and made us feel welcome.  Their president Suleika arranged two activities for us during our 10 days in Ceboruco!

Our "party" that included dancing and dominoes!
Suleika leading us in a get-to-know-you activity
We also worked in the kitchen and learned how to cook with Cruz Maria and Mariza, our two chefs.  Stay tuned for a video of Lindsey and Kailee learning how to make one of our favorite Dominican foods - Tostones!

When our ten days were over, we were sad to leave.  The community threw us a big "Thank you" celebration, and we were all awarded certificates of appreciation.  It was so nice, and we all felt very proud.  When the time came to get back on the gringo bus, none of us wanted to go. Tears were shed, and goodbyes were made longer and longer.  Eventually, we all got back on the bus and drove away.  Thankfully Ceboruco is only a half an hour away!
Jerry, Lindsey, Cecilia and Mithra saying words of thanks at our Despedida

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dajabon - The Haitian/Dominican Border

Uncomfortable in my own skin
by Shelby Christian

I never thought I would want to wash the white off my skin and blend in with the people around me until today.
Lately we have been reading books about Haitian immigration and discussing them in depth for EDP class. Yesterday morning after discussing Haitian immigration in EDP class, we got on the bus and headed for Dajabon. Dajabon is one of the major points of immigration for Haitians; it is also a site of major extortion. Twice every week, Dominican guards open the gate at Dajabon early in the morning for Haitians to come across the border and trade their goods with Dominicans.
On our way to Dajabon, we stopped and talked with a National Government Organization called “Solidaridad Fronteriza” where we learned about their objectives to unify Haitian immigrants and Dominicans and help them get papers. It was great to hear about their organization and the Jesuit in charge was so passionate about his work.
Afterwards we went to a Jesuit boarding school where we dropped our things off and ate dinner down the street. We stayed the night in the Jesuit boarding school in one big room with a ton of beds. We had a lot of fun with our big sleepover.
We woke up early and ate breakfast down the street. After breakfast, we got on the gua gua and headed for the border.
The border consists of a river with a bridge over it, and on that bridge, there is a massive blue gate. This gate doesn’t keep the Haitians from coming over however, several Haitians just wade across the river with huge bags of goods to trade on top of their heads or on their shoulders. There was a chain link fence where a few guards stood on the side of the Dominican Republic; they were letting motos and a few trucks pass by and prodding back any Haitians that got too close. One man came by on a moto to cross the chain link fence and he was lighter skinned, but had a darker skinned man riding on the back. The guards yanked off the darker man and started pushing him back while the lighter man was allowed to cross the border.
At about 8:30 the Dominican Border Police opened the big blue gate, and like a herd of cattle, the Haitians came sprinting out in thousands carrying their goods on top of their heads, on a cart, on their backs, or on their shoulders. Once the amount of people crossing slowed down, our group moved in closer and we stood off to the side on the bridge. I felt like a terrible person just watching. I felt like by observing their lively hood, I was partaking in dehumanization. I honestly believe that if my skin color were darker I wouldn’t feel that way at all, it would be much more normal. But, to paint a picture so you can understand how uncomfortable this situation is: there are a ton of Haitians just buzzing back and forth and here is our American group just watching like they are animals. Of course, that was not our intention at all, but that is how it most likely seemed to them. If I imagine myself in their shoes, I would be so confused as to why we were there, I would be offended. But if I could only wash the white off my skin, it would not be near as uncomfortable. We wouldn’t get stares, we wouldn’t get yelled at in a different language, everything would be fine, and why? Just because of the color of our skin.
Our intentions at the border were to purely observe and be able to bare witness to the lively hood of these Haitians. Many people didn’t wear shoes, and if they did, their shoes were worn down and their feet were dirty. Their clothes were tattered and faded. The expressions on their faces were, for the most part, emotionless and hard. The people crossing ranged from very young to very old. There were even several pregnant women carrying huge bags of goods on top of their heads. They brought over shoes and clothes, some fruit, diapers, and other odds and ends. What they brought back was food. They get all of their goods to trade from donations made by organizations. It’s not clothes or shoes or diapers they need, its food. They came back with bags of rice, noodles, meat, baskets of chickens, fruit, and juices.
After observing, we got back on the guagua and headed for the international highway. This highway, or should I say mountain dirt road, is the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are extremely poor Haitian communities on the Haitian side and nearly no Dominican communities on the other side. I have attached a video of the International Highway so you can see for yourself.

El Hoyo de Sanabe - A Taino Cave

Entering the Cave
We got to visit one of the ancient Taino caves!  We were lucky enough to have a tour guide who gave us lots of interesting information about the Taino people’s culture and tradition.  The walk to the cave was very hot and long, but it is was worth it to be able to see this fascinating piece of history.  

"The Dancer"
The cave that we got to venture into was not one that had been lived in, but was used for religious and healing purposes. Our guide told us that the Taino people used to come to the cave to draw their prayers to the gods.  Each picture represents something that someone had come to the cave to pray for, or thank the gods for.  Even though our 

 guide could not tell us the significance of many of the pictures on the walls, it was still a very cool experience to walk through and examine this place that held so much value for the Taino people.  It was also really cool to see pictures that were drawn hundreds of years ago! 

In addition to the pictures, there were also lots of stalactites and  stalagmites in the cave.  Some of them were made up of a rock that sparkled when it was hit by the light.  There were also lots of critters, like cave spiders and bats!  Some of us were a little scared, but we survived. 

- Lindsey Johnson

Fabrica Altagracia

9 de Septiembre de dos mil once Viernes

"Our guide repeated many times that we needed to spread the word to other students so they can play a part in paying a living wage by their purchases of Alta Gracia spiritwear shirts."
Visit the online Creighton bookstore today to get your Alta Gracia-
made Creighton gear today!
Today nuestra communidad doce woke up early to leave after our breakfast here in ILAC on the gringo guagua, driven by Edwin. We traveled southeast on the highway out of Santiago toward Santo Domingo. After a couple of hours driving past the mountains of the cordillera central, through the campo, over streams, and past huge orange groves, we stopped about forty kilometers outside of Santo Domingo in the town of Alta Gracia, meaning "exalted grace" after Nuestra Senora de Alta Gracia, the patroness of the Dominican Republic. 

Alta Gracia is the kind of town which you could drive through in five to ten minutes, winding your way through the moto-filled streets. We pulled up to a large metal building the size of those huge metal barns you might pass traveling through rural Nebraska. We all piled out and, after filing inside Fabrica Alta Gracia we stood for a moment taking in the loud Merengue playing over the sound of the four busy sewing lines and bustle of Dominicans methodically sewing and folding shirts. After meeting with a few of the Union leaders, we were lead about the factory on a tour, viewing the steps of production. We watched a worker cut the rough shirt forms from the wide bolts of cloth, unrolled into a sandwich of layers with something that looked like a jigsaw.

The union leader related the story of their efforts of seven years to accomplish unionization under the abusive management of the previous owners of the building, BJ&B, a Korean cap company. Despite threats of being fired and a growing struggle in concert with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and other workers' rights groups they finally accomplished unionization. However, BJ&B moved many jobs to their other factories in other third world countries and eventually closed the factory. The workers were forced to find jobs in Santiago, the capital, or other free trade zones at the same minimum wage which never allowed those with families to get ahead, but simply survive. Since then, the factory was bought and reopened by Knights Apparel, a corporation which sells spirit wear in University bookstores throughout the US. The owner, Joseph Bozich, decided that he could afford to pay the workers three and a half times the minimum wage, which is the calculated living wage for a family of four in the Dominican Republic (calculated by the Workers Rights Consortium, a branch of USAS), and absorb the extra production costs without marking up the wholesale price to retailers. However, the line is now being supported by the other Knights Apparel lines, and until they can begin expanding the Alta Gracia line to include other clothes besides tee shirts, students need to purchase Alta Gracia shirts at their bookstores to keep the Alta Gracia factory in business. A few Comunidad Doce members recorded a video interview with one of the workers, who stated that in his own words as well.Our guide repeated many times that we needed to spread the word to other students so they can play a part in paying a living wage by their purchases of Alta Gracia spiritwear shirts. 

We continued through the factory observing all the steps in production, from cutting, sewing, inspecting, folding, tagging, and packing them in boxes. She continued to relate the improvement in their working conditions with Knights Apparel, the promptly paid and respectfully requested overtime, the paid maternity leave, the bathroom breaks and clean drinking water, which made their work dignified and filled them with hope. We watched as the bell rang for the end of the day and all the workers quickly lined up to clock out, jostling and laughing like school children, excited for the weekend.

- Jerry Forget

Campo Immersion - Day 10

Today we left the campo, which was extremely sad.  All of the families walked the students to the comedor and waited while we ate breakfast, just so they could give us a hug before we stepped on the bus.  After breakfast there were a lot of pictures taken, students and families alike were looking very teary eyed.  It felt like I was leaving all my friends without knowing when I would see them again.  Driving away on the bus is like in the movies when the children are in the backseat looking at their home not knowing when they will come back.  At the same time I was very excited to go back to ILAC and see all our friends there.  It felt like I hadn't seen them in forever! 
Celebrating our "despedida" in the La Vereda
 - Veronica Wolf

Campo Immersion - Day 9

Today my family got their latrine!  Up until now, they didn’t even have their own latrine, and had to walk down my grandmother’s house to use hers.  Last night, my  host dad had told me that he was so excited for the latrine to be built, and that he had picked a bunch of oranges for us to eat while we worked.  When we got to my house that morning, the rebar had already be laid out and was ready for the cement floor to be poured.  We poured the cement, and laid the floor in the morning, and after lunch worked on the caseta, all the while breaking for oranges.  I was able to contribute quite a bit in laying the cement floor, and I could tell that my host dad was very proud! 
                After finishing the latrine, we moved on to another site to begin another one.  When the workday was over, I returned home to shower and spend time with my family.  They were truly so happy to have the new latrine.  Immediately, I noticed that my host mom was already cleaning it, and my little brother and sister were playing in and around it.  That night, my dad told me that the latrine would always make them think of me, and how I helped build it.  I was so touched, and so happy to have been able to make such an impact in a family’s life. 

--Mithra Pirooz

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Campo Immersion - Day 8

25 de septiembre

Today started out much like the other days except after breakfast today, there was a mass and we didn't have to work.  Because this was our only day off, some of the members in the community thought that it would be a good idea to go to the river.  When we got there (after a 40 min. hike down steep gravel hills), I knew that they were right.  The river was GORGEOUS!! There was a waterfall that they jumped off of into the river below and we all got the opportunity jump off too.  It was so much fun!  I spent some time skipping rocks with my campo mom and some of the dominicans were making trying to make a human pyramid in the water.  We headed out when people were starting to get hungry for dinner.
The "Rio" in La Vereda
Today was also different because I got to eat dinner with my campo family.  I helped my mom prepare some avocado salad (delicious), pasta and the best tostones that I have ever had!  I feel so fortunate that I now know how to make the worlds best tostones!  After dinner, we went to bed after watching a James Bond movie and looking at the stars for a while.

I am so lucky that I got the change to come here and experience the campo life.   I am really going to miss the people here and their lifestyle.

- Natalie Lyon

Campo Immersion - Day 7

September 24, 2011

Today our group was supposed to go and paint a water tank, but no one had cleaned it yet so Mithra and I got to go help the women in the kitchen cook.  It was fun to be in the kitchen with them because they were so nice and surprisingly it can be hard to cut avocados.  After lunch we got a treat, we got to play cards with Chino and Justin which are two of the most adorable kids in the campo.  Later we walked to a house to build a floor and this house was way off the road.  It is hard to believe that they can get everything they need back there, because it was hard just to walk!

Chino (left) and Justin!
- Kailee Steger