Santo Domingo “The Misery Belt”
On the fifth day of our vision trip to the Dominican Republic we visited the Palmera Area Development Program (ADP) in northern Santo Domingo. People from the agricultural areas come to Santo Domingo hoping to find a better life for their families and better economic opportunities. Unfortunately, they often find filth, crime and poverty.
What Is a Vision Trip?
A vision trip is a unique experience in which a donor gets a chance to see how their money is being used to directly impact the lives of those whom it was intended for. As a donor and volunteer for World Vision, this was an opportunity to see where my dollars go and whether or not the programs that World Vision provides actually make a difference in the lives of the Dominicans.
A vision trip is not a mission trip. We were not expected to work in any formal sense of the word. We were asked to observe and listen to the stories of the children and families living in Santo Domingo.
As with many major cities, the people from the agricultural districts come from the countryside with idea that opportunity waits for the taking in the city. Once they get there, they find little opportunity, and in many cases, they’re deeper into poverty then they were before they left. The Palmera ADP focuses their attention to these people and communities.
World Vision began their work there in 1999. Today it includes twenty-five communities and has enrolled 4417 children into the child sponsorship program. While I was at the office, I personally witnessed three more children going through the sign-up process. As of March 25, 2011, there were 3558 children sponsored by United States donors.
Becoming a sponsor child is a completely volunteer opportunity. No one is forced into child sponsorship. Occasionally, local leaders will identify specific families in need but the family does not have to participate if they do not want to.
Poverty in Santo Domingo
The Dominican Republic is not the poorest nation in the world. However, the people living in the “Misery Belt” experience poverty every day. As we drove through some of the most desperate communities we saw shacks made from wood debris topped with tin roofs. Hundreds of unfinished and abandoned homes and businesses lined the streets. The streets were filled with trash. Sanitation is a major issue for the people living there.
Domestic violence is one of the biggest problems in the capital city and much of it stems from the growing rates of youth involvement in crime and drugs. Our guide informed us that the local police rarely get involved with domestic disputes and there are no shelters available. Most abused women flee to the homes of other family members.
World Vision has created programs for single women to build their self-esteem and training programs to teach them skills that will generate income for their family. In addition, World Vision offers workshops to young adults called “Skills For Life” that enable them to create a life plan that is positive, productive and gives them hope for the future.
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Other World Vision Programs in Santo Domingo
The people living in the “Misery Belt” have to generate income to feed their families and World Vision provides training in a variety of fields. Women are taught how to sew, bake, build furniture and cabinets, make jewelry, and cosmetology. All of the participants receive certification and can then go into business for themselves.
We visited the home of Zulieka who took beauty classes and, with a micro-loan from World Vision, has opened a shop inside the front room of her home. She recently took a bead-working class and now sells jewelry too. She said that the extra income she earns is used to pay for her oldest son to attend university and pay back her loan. When she pays off the loan, she hopes to get another one so she can buy another hair dryer to accommodate even more clients. She is proof that the programs in place are truly effective and life-changing.
World Vision works with HIV/AIDS patients throughout the area by way of care-givers. A care-giver is a volunteer that travels to the homes of those affected by the disease. Their main job is to comfort and make life a little bit easier for the family and assist them in dealing with the social stigma surrounding them. If they cannot afford medications, World Vision will step in and help with the cost when needed as well. In the community, World Vision has developed awareness programs to help in preventing transmission of the disease and all of this is done in coordination with the government.
World Vision built early stimulation centers for children too young for school, music and art programs for all ages, and vocational schools for the adults throughout Santo Domingo. Every five years, the five primary schools with the most sponsored children are granted permission from the government to receive specialized training from World Vision staff to improve student performance. They are also constructing Family Therapy Units for abused and challenged children.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by what I saw. My dollars were making a lasting change in this community. I believe that they will be able to graduate from the World Vision program and each community will one day be self-sustainable.