Author Archives: udhp2012dr

Day 7: Santo Domingo

Friday, March 30

It was hard when Friday morning finally came. After four days, I had become accustomed to the Batey and attached to our friends there. Getting up at the crack of dawn didn’t make it any easier, but we still got up, packed our bags in the dark, threw our suitcases in the van, and played one more game of Quien Falta before saying our last goodbyes. By 7am, we were on the road. By 9am, we had fueled up on coffee and croissants (and spent a considerable amount of time marveling at the running water at the rest stop). By 11am, we had made our way through the crazy traffic and into the capital city of Santo Domingo.

We spent our afternoon exploring the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo with Julie and Gerald. At this point, I had already fallen in love with the people in the Dominican Republic. After a few hours in the Colonial Zone, my love of Dominican culture and history had been solidified as well.  As someone who has always been intrigued by history, I found the afternoon of museums and the old city to be very interesting. Though Columbus landed in the Bahamas first on his initial trip to the Americas, it was the beauty of the Dominican Republic and the rich culture of the indigenous Taínos that kept his attention. As such, the Colonial Zone is old, very old.

The Spanish influences are also quite notable. Both Diane and I studied in Granada, Spain for a semester and we couldn’t help but feel at home because of the multitude of similarities to southern Spain.  When I pointed this out to Julie and Gerald, they explained that the city really romanticizes its Spanish history. Though the Dominican Republic was occupied by Spain after it was occupied by Haiti, it celebrates its independence from Haiti. This fact really surprised me, but definitely adds a new dimension to the lessons we learned at the border earlier in the week.

After our cultural excursions, we had a nice lunch at a restaurant in the Colonial zone, eaten family style so we could each try to some of the nine different dishes we ordered. While we were enjoying our chinola (passion fruit) juice, we each shared a high point of our trip, low point of the trip, and something we were excited about for the future.  Everyone’s answers were unique, but we all seemed to mention how much our time in the Batey had influenced our views of the world and how excited we were to share our experiences with our family and friends at home.

That afternoon, we also had a few hours to shop and explore the city on our own. A few souvenirs and pictures later, we were heading to Hotel Residence for the one thing that could rival the coffee Julia and I had at the rest stop that morning: a shower. Coming downstairs for dinner was pretty humorous. Let’s just say, lots of “wow, you look really nice” and “I didn’t know your hair was actually curly” were exchanged.

That night was a celebration of a wonderful week together. We went to this incredible Middle-Eastern restaurant and sat in this outside courtyard with twinkle lights. We had a lot of fun trying hummus, falafel, and shawerma—probably the first meal without plantains that I had had all week.  We were joined by Gerald’s mentor, Yolanda, who is an expert in all things environmental. Heading out afterwards to a culture club and for Coca Colas at a dance bar only made the night more memorable. Though Julie and Geralds’ moves put us to shame, we definitely had fun trying to keep up with them.

It was one of those never-ending days, which was actually quite perfect because I was not ready for the adventure to end. Though we had been running around all day, there was one thing about the day that stood out to me the most: the contrast we had experienced. Driving to Santo Domingo was probably the most obvious manifestation of this contrast. The journey started in one world (the Batey) and ended in a very different world (the capital city of Santo Domingo). The closer we got the Santo Domingo, the bigger the cities became, the more cars appeared on the road, and the more similar the landscape became to that of home.

When we got to Santo Domingo, my first impression was that it was breathtakingly gorgeous. I instantly fell in love with the coastal views, old architecture, and posh restaurants and felt comfortable in the city soon after. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about Batey Libertad.  When we walking around and talking to shopkeepers, I found that I wanted to tell everyone about my time in the batey. I wanted them to know about the other part of the Dominican Republic that I had seen and the wonderful Dominicans I had met that had left me with such a positive impression of their country.  I wanted them to know that there was a community in their own country without potable water and many of the luxuries they took for granted.  Most importantly, I wanted them to care, and care enough to do something about it.

I am glad Santo Domingo was our last stop because I think it was an important step in transitioning back to my life in the United States. I think it will be hard to balance living my life where I have so much and knowing about people who are really no different from me except for the fact that they were born with less. Still, I am glad I have such an incredible experience that has added so much personal relevance to the disparities that exist in the world.  I am also very grateful for the seven other Delaware students (and Julie and Gerald) who shared this experience with me. I think we would all agree that it was a wonderful last day in the Dominican Republic together.

Caitlin Woglom ’12

The group at the Museo de las Americas.


Day 6 at the Waterfall

Thursday, March 29

Thursday was our last full day in the Batey.  In the morning, we had free time to spend with the children and our host families.  Eddie and I went to the Batey’s barber, Alfredo, to get

Everyone from the Batey loaded onto the truck to head up to the waterfall (el chorro).

haircuts before leaving on Friday morning.  I got a buzz cut with the letters “RD” shaved into the side of my head for República Dominicana and Eddie got the letters “BL” shaved into the back of his head for Batey Libertad.  Alfredo did a very nice job and spent a lot of time perfecting the shapes of the letters.  After playing games with the children and eating lunch with our host families, we made our trip to el chorro (waterfall) in Damajagua.  We filled the back of a truck with about 30 people, including the group and children and adults from the Batey.  The ride to the waterfall was 20 minutes but it was quite the experience.  Everyone was singing the entire time in anticipation of hiking and reaching the waterfall.  The scenery on the way to the waterfall was awesome; it reminded us of the Lion King because of some of the trees we saw.  When we reached Damajagua, we began walking on the trails through the various rivers and streams in search of the waterfall.  It was a fun walk with some games of “Quién Falta?” played throughout the trip.  When we reached the waterfall, everyone rushed to get in the water even though it was a little chilly.  Once we were all in the water, we began splashing, playing, and having a great time.  We took many pictures with the waterproof camera and even did some back flips and other tricks jumping off people’s shoulders.  To our surprise, our friends from the Batey knew how to “chicken fight” so we spent some time doing that.  Finally, after many pictures and laughs, it was time to leave the waterfall and return to the Batey for our last night. 

When we got back, the older guys of the community were having their final soccer practice before their weekend match against Esperanza.  Eddie and I joined their practice and took part in their wind sprints, drills, and scrimmage.  It was a lot of fun playing with the team and talking with them about their favorite soccer teams and their record so far on the season.  Willy, the team’s captain, plays for the Dominican Republic Under 20 National Team and is only 17 years old!  After soccer practice, everyone went back to shower and eat dinner with their host families.  At the end of the night, we made una fogata (bonfire) and enjoyed our last night together in the Batey.  We played more “Quién Falta”, danced, and played other games the children had taught us earlier in the trip.  We ended the night by saying our final good-byes to the many friends we had made throughout the week.  Before we left, we made sure to get their names on Facebook and Skype so that we would be able to talk with them when we returned to the United States.  Although our final day in the Batey was awesome, it was bittersweet to know that we were leaving all the new friends we had made the next morning.

Sean Banker ’12

Eddie and Sean each got their hair cut to commemorate their experience: a “BL” for Batey Libertad for Eddie and a “RD” for Rupublica Dominicana for Sean.





Day 5 in the DR: In the Swing of Things

Wednesday, March 28

Today has been a great day. I woke up to freshly brewed coffee, which is heaven to a coffee addicted college student who had just survived a day without any caffeine! This morning it rained so it was a little cooler today.

We all met at 10 to head over to the school to give our presentations about the U.S. I think the kids really enjoyed the presentation, Julie said that we came after school had ended for the kids so it was optional if they wanted to stay or not, but all the kids stayed to listen! I felt bad because I don’t speak Spanish well enough to give a presentation , so I fell a little short in my presenting duties, but Diane, Caitlin, and Sean did a great job with the translation! Then we played a bunch of games with the kids, like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Simon Says, and the Orange Apple Banana game. The Orange Apple Banana game was a success, we split the kids into two groups and while having them form two circles was a bit chaotic, the kids ended up staying even longer to play with us! So it was great, Caitlin taught the kids six new words: Apple, Orange, Banana, Strawberry, Grape, and Pineapple.  What I loved about these English classes was that at the same time as we were teaching English, I would be learning Spanish. I now know all my body parts, fruits, and basic foods in Spanish!

The group prepared a presentation talked to the students about life in the U.S. Several stuents asked very good questions ranging from politics to pastimes.

I would now just like to take a second to talk about how adorable our host son Pio is. He’s got these big brown eyes that make your heart melt and he’s always trying to hold your hand or sit on your lap. He’s always smiling, and he’s so well behaved. When we eat meals, he and his little girlfriend sporadically come in and out of the house, salsa dancing, they giggle as they run away, only to come back two minutes later to begin round two. I wish I could just pack him up in my suitcase and bring him home with me! For lunch we had rice, beans, and chicken. Our host mother Narda is a great cook, and I’ve realized that she really has her staple meals: for breakfast we usually have eggs and fried plantains, for lunch we have rice, beans and chicken, and for dinner we have spaghetti and Yucca. The Dominican diet is definitely very carb-heavy and lacking in fruits and veggies, which once again makes me realize how spoiled we are here to be able to walk into a local ShopRite and be able to get whatever produce you want. At the local store in the Batey, the produce section consists of a shelf containing a few onions, tomatoes and plantains.  And then throughout the day local vendors will drive through the community selling pineapples and other seasonal fruits and veggies.In the afternoon, we had a meeting with the women’s microenterprise project and learned a lot about what they’re doing to empower the women of the community. Basically the women who participate are taught to make things like mini houses and drawings using some materials from nature like plantain leaves and sea shells and then selling the finished product to make money. It’s been proven that when a woman earns a dollar, she invests 80 cents of that dollar into her family, so while this project empowers women, it also empowers families in the community with the hope that their kids will one day be able to go to University and help the family out.  It was really great getting to know all the women involved in this project, including my host mother, Narda.  They taught us how to weave the house roofs from plantain leaves, which is much harder than it looks!

The visit to the school was a big hit among the students!

My favorite parts of the day at the Batey are the nights. Tonight we hung out with some of the older guys and kids at the field, playing Quien Falta, dancing, and playing hand games.  The amusements we found were so simple, but it was at night when the language barrier didn’t seem to be so high after all. It may have been a different experience for the other students on the trip, but since I didn’t know Spanish coming into the trip, everything I learned was through direct immersion into the country. And while I did learn a lot of Spanish for the week we were there, I still found it hard to have a serious conversation besides expressing basic ideas. But at night I would find myself talking to the guys in three languages at one time: English, Spanish, and French (Since some of the guys understood French due to their Creole background). A conversation I had with Felix tonight sticks out the most in my memory out of all the conversations I’ve had. We were talking in three languages and halfway into the conversation I realized how many things we had talked about with such a language barrier! Given that I fully understood what he was saying, he told me about how he graduated from high school and wanted to go to University for tourism but didn’t have the money yet and was saving up to go next year in Santiago. It was cool to see how the money we had raised, which went directly to the Yspaniola Scholars program, could help people like Felix who wanted to go to University and get a better education but didn’t have the money for it.

Julia Pfund ’14

The students and their families spent more time inside on Wednesday because of the rain.

The women from community allowed us to help paint some pictures, as part of the microenterprise project.









The kids learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” during the tutoring hour.

Day 4: La competencia de comer (The Eating Competition)

Each rice plant is sowed by hand. There are approximately four workers for the field we visited.

Tuesday, March 27

Today is Tuesday, our first full day in the Batey!  Diane and I woke up this morning to a lovely home cooked breakfast of fried eggs and rolls, mango, plantains, leche avena con cocoa (a delicious milk drink) and some café.  After finishing our meal, we all met up and headed over with Julie and some of the members of the Batey to the rice fields for a tour.  I was surprised as to how close they were to the Batey!  It only took us a couple minutes to walk there and enter the fields.  It was really interesting to learn about how the whole rice system works!  For example, only about four workers will plant an entire field of rice in only five days!  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I wasn’t expecting there to be any other food being produced at the fields except the rice but I was so wrong!  There were so many other foods on the land, such as mango, chili peppers (which Eddie can tell you how hot they were…), plantains, avocados, and coconut trees!  After walking around the fields outside, we got to go inside the factory where the rice is actually processed and packaged for delivery to many countries around the world.  It was really need to see the rice at all the different stages of production!

At some point between when we arrived at the Batey and when we finished the tour, Eddie, Sean, and some of the other boys that live in the Batey, decided to have an eating competition with rice… so as we left, they purchased 25 pounds of rice to be cooked later for the competition!  Upon returning to the Batey, everyone (except for Sean and Eddie, of course) got to enjoy another meal prepared by our host families.  Diane and I had some chicken with beans and rice along with a potato and carrot salad and some delicious pear juice.  Afterwards, we all had a lot of fun just hanging out and talking with the children of the Batey. 

Eight hungry men, all competing for the title…who could eat the most “arroz con pollo?”

I thought it was really interesting how the school system works here.  Although it was the middle of the day, many children were at home and not in school.  I learned that generally, the students only spend about three hours actually in school—the older kids in the morning and the younger children in the afternoon.  So, because of this, we were able to spend time with some of the youngest members of the batey and dance, play, and take lots of pictures with them!

And then it was finally time for the competition!

There were eight people total competing to see who could eat the most arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).  I couldn’t believe it when they brought out all the food—there was 20 pounds of rice!! And a huge bowl of chicken to go with it!  It was a lot of fun though to watch all the guys chow down on the chicken and rice—there was music playing in the background, everyone was clapping along, half of the Batey must have been present at one point to watch.  It was loco!  Two bowls of rice and chicken, lots of sweat and a couple drinks of water later, it was down to Eddie and Freddie (aka Big F).  In the end, though, Eddie got a little sick…and it was Big F who took home the title and was carried down the main street of the Batey!

Julie told us later that the competition was the most fun the guys in the Batey had had in a while, and she was sure it would be talked about for years to come and go down in Batey Libertad history!

After all that excitement, we got to relax a little with Suzanna and Rebecca, two Yspaniola workers, and some of the children from the Batey.  Prior to the trip, some of us prepared three lessons to do with the kids that Suzanna and Rebecca worked with.  The lessons were focused on body parts, fruits, and food.  We originally thought we would be teaching it to a class, but we actually got to do some one-on-one tutoring since the kids were at all different levels.  It was amazing to me that some of the these children didn’t know the alphabet even though they were teenagers.  It was definitely enlightening.  It made me realize how important education is and the significance of what Suzanna and Rebecca were taking the time to do with these kids.  I really hope they are able to use some of our lessons in the future!

Around six, the tutoring ended and we all headed back to our respective host families to enjoy dinner.  Diane and I also experienced our first bucket shower…we basically stood in a big tub in the kitchen and used a pitcher to pour water on ourselves.  It honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and much more economical than showers or baths here.  Although, it was pretty dark by then, so I had a little difficulty seeing everything!

We then all met up with the guys from the Batey and headed over to the Play to hang out, talk, and play what became one of our favorite games, ¿Quien Falta?!  The guys really got into it and it was funny to listen to the nicknames they came up with and watch them try to trick people!

Overall, it was a really exciting first day in the Batey.  I learned so much about the community here, not only from the rice field tour, but also from the tutoring and just hanging out and talking with the members of the Batey.  They don’t have much in a material sense, but today I saw how rich they are as a family and community and how they take care of each other.  Although the conditions are exactly luxurious, I am really looking forward to my next few days here and getting to know the members of the Batey even better!

Laura Kouroupis ’13

Julie purchased some sugarcane in the Batey for all of us to try.

A bird’s-eye view of the competition shows that the 25-lbs of rice was no joke!

We spent the afternoon at the Yspaniola house, tutoring the children in English and Spanish literacy, based on their age and level.

Day 3: Market Rush

Monday, March 26 

The space is designated for the sale of goods on market days (Mondays and Fridays). The photo was taken on Sunday when the group visited the Hatian border.

In the morning, we knew we were going to the border in time for the opening… but I don’t think we realized how crazy it was going to be! Even before the border opened, the line on the Haiti side was about 20 feet wide and half a mile long. And then when it did open it was like a track meet had begun with people sprinting down to the market place. We were standing at a spot which was (thankfully) out of the way, but also perfectly situated to see the border patrollers perform their jobs. They were poking at bags that looked suspicious and bringing people aside if they needed to. But there couldn’t have been more than 5 patrollers for this entire swarm of people which makes their job very difficult and overwhelming.

We then made our way into the marketplace which was a lot of fun. I’m sure not many Chinese people frequent these markets so everyone was trying to get my attention by yelling “CHINO!” but I digress. They had absolutely everything for sale in this marketplace from pots and pans to bread to fruit to sneakers and clothes. They had pineapples as small as your hand and bananas which were even smaller.

They day prior, I had made a comment at dinner about how all the soldiers had different guns and was encouraged to go up to a soldier and ask. While I think that was more of a joke than anything, I did go up to a soldier in the marketplace and asked why he was only carrying a stick instead of a gun. He said that they weren’t allowed to have guns in the marketplace which surprised me a little bit but it made sense. Their job was to ensure that nothing went terribly wrong in the market and they couldn’t do this job effectively if everybody feared them if they carried guns. Everybody seemed to respect the uniform so this wasn’t an issue.

The gate to the Dominican-Hatian border opened at 8am, bringing in the crowds of men, women, and children looking to sell their goods at the market in Dajabón.

After the market we met up in the park and went to lunch at the same place as yesterday. However, today we saw one of the border patrollers at lunch with us! I asked him if he remembered me and he said “Yeah, you were the guy with the camera.” I guess I stand out. He sat down with us and we asked questions about his job. He told us that he checked bags and containers which looked suspicious and that he was more concerned about drug and firearm trafficking than anything else. When asked about whether or not he thought his job was important he said that he felt a good deal of pride in his job and his role in protecting his country.

Then, somehow, the conversation digressed into Chinese people eating rice and I was challenged to another eating contest which didn’t happen but seemed to be a trip motif for me…

We then took a long bus ride to the Batey Libertad where we passed by very beautiful fields and mountains but it was really hot and I was really tired so I didn’t get many pictures. When we arrived in the community though, we were like instant celebrities. We played soccer, Frisbee, and just ran around in the “Play” which is what they called their soccer field. I was actually slightly shocked on how similar people in the batey were to my community back home; all the little kids were excited and full of energy and the exact same games I play at home I could play here to the same effect.

In the night, the older guys threw us a welcome dance where they played music and we learned to dance a little bit and just in general had a good time. It was here I learned that Julio, from Santiago, had called ahead and the eating competition was already set for the next day. At the time I realized that all of these kids were absolutely enormous and I knew I was in trouble. And now writing this in retrospect, to this I say “Oh goody…” haha but that’s a fun story for a different day.

-Eddie “Arroz con Pollo” Qian ’12

The ladies charged up for the market rush by drinking some Dominican coffee.

All bags, buckets, and baskets of items were carried over the border in wheelbarrows, carts, in arms, or above heads.

A few raindrops fell after we arrived in Batey Libertad, and severl took cover at the Yspaniola House.

Our Dominican friends welcomed us to the batey with a “fiesta,” where we learned to dance merengue, bachata, and a variety of other latin rhythms.


Day 2 in Dajabón

Sunday, March 25

We started off our day around 7:15 with a nice breakfast spread of scrambled eggs and toasted bread.  We also had a special treat of assorted pastries from an American man who was visiting “The Hub,” the place we stayed at Saturday night.

After breakfast, Rafael loaded up the van and we piled in for our trip to Dajabón.  The drive went smoothly except for a flat tire. Rafael pulled off of the highway and began to work on the tire.  Luckily, some home owners nearby helped out when the tire jack was broken and soon we were on our way again.

We dropped off our bags at Hotel Bonanza in Dajabón and then went to see the new and old border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  On the walk to the border crossing we stopped for lunch at Doña Pura’s and had a great meal (rice, fried plantains, chicken, vegetables, beans, eggplant, and fresh juice).  We enjoyed the interesting types of juice, which included pinapple, cherry, and avena (oats).  After our meal we continued the walk to the border, first to the new crossing and then the old one. It was an interesting experience to see the border and observe its fluidity.

On our way back to the hotel we came across a huge rally for Hipólito (Llegó Papa), one of the candidates in the presidential election, which will be held in May.  The main road in Dajabón was so crowded that we tried to take a detour to avoid the mass, but we ended up walking through the rally anyhow. Back at the hotel we spent some time by the pool playing cards, journaling, and reading.

Later in the evening we ate dinner at a small kitchen on the main road and Julie told us about our host families in Batey Libertad.

Sarah Thorne ’10

At the border

Julie and the group along the bridge separating the Dominican Republic from Haiti.


A view of Massacre River (Dominican side of the border), the site where an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Haitians were slaughtered in 1937 on the orders of the Dominican dictator Trujillo.

At the “comedor” of Doña Pura, who provided an assortment of traditional Dominican cuisine at Julie’s request.

Day One of the Dominican Adventure through the Eyes of Kisha

Saturday, March 24The eight of us arrived at the JFK airport around 4:00 am, four hours prior to our flight’s takeoff.  After successfully checking our bags and going through security, we sat around and tried to fall asleep.  For some of us it was easy to fall asleep right away.  Others found it a little but harder, probably because they couldn’t contain their excitement about the trip.  Prior to our departure we had weekly assigned readings relating to the culture, people, and history of the Dominican Republic and meetings where we were able to discuss them in further detail and ask questions.  We also talked a lot about Yspaniola, the organization we would be working with during our time in the DR.  This was a great way for us to be prepared for what we were about to experience, firsthand.

Our plane landed in sunny Santiago just after noon.  Within ten minutes of getting off the plane it finally hit me that we were no longer in an English speaking country.  I would no longer be able to quickly and easily communicate with people like I am so used to.  I would have to think back to the years of Spanish I’ve studied in the classroom and actually apply them.  “Is this real life?” was the constant thought that was running through my mind.  We got our passports stamped and it wasn’t until someone dropped their coffee right in front of me that I snapped back to reality and really tuned back in to what was actually going on around me.  We were greeted outside of the gate by the smiling faces of Julie Gladnick, our local Yspaniola program director and our awesome driver, Rafael.  The boys loaded the bags on the top of our van and we were on our way.

Trying Dominican cuisine for the first time, upon our arrival at the “Hub.”

On our drive to where we were staying, I noticed the political propaganda everywhere!  Elections are coming up in May and there are huge issues that are at stake for the people.  It is hard to go anywhere in the Dominican Republic without seeing some sort of advertisement advocating for one political party or the other and it is a big topic of conversation among the people.

We arrived at the “Hub”, the place we would stay the night in about an hour.  We unloaded our things and had our first Dominican meal complete with chicken and plantains – it was delicious!  We then had a group discussion time about what we would be doing over the next few days and what Yspaniola was currently working on with the people of Batey Libertad.  Afterwards, we walked just a few minutes up the road to the “Monumento de Santiago.”  The dictator Trujillo ordered the construction of this beautiful monument in 1944 in his honor but to the Dominican people it symbolically represents their freedom from the Haitians.  The inside of the monument is complete with spectacular Dominican art and history.  We climbed the stairs to the top where we had a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding mountains.  After taking in all of the views and art, we headed back down and walked around the city for a while. We stopped at a small grocery/convenience store and got Dominican snacks and water bottles.

The group gathered in front of Santiago’s central monument.

The next destination we visited was El Centro Leon, a beautiful art museum you could explore for hours.  The exhibits were colorful, elaborate, and historically relevant to the Dominican culture, which made it really interesting. On our way out of the museum, we saw a wedding party getting pictures taken out in front of the museum.

For dinner we went to Kukara Mukara, a western themed restaurant where the waiters dressed up like cowboys.  There we met Mayra and Federico, two of the Yspaniola scholars along with Jimmy and Julio, two other students from the Batey.  We had a great time conversing with our new friends and even with the language barrier; we were able to find a lot that we had in common.  The food was delicious–I had the best chicken fajita I’ve ever had and several of us tried “chinola” or passion fruit smoothies, which were amazing! 

This dinner was a great way to end a long but incredible first day of our journey in the Dominican Republic.

Kisha Oister, ’14

Eddie and Sean with the University students, including one of Yspaniola’s scholarship recipients.

Julie, the UD ladies, and one of the University scholarship recipients.