When you think of the Caribbean, you probably think of beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. That can be found in the Dominican Republic, but you can also find an entire world that most do not know about. Thursday, we were able to experience the poverty within the city of Puerta Plata first hand.
First, we got acquainted with Dove Missions and heard how it was started. The founder, Liz Rooney, began her journey in 2002 when she first visited the Dominican Republic. She visited from the United States and instantly felt a connection to the children here. For about five years, she took annual trips abroad to the Dominican Republic, and in 2007 she took the bold step to move here. She came with no money, not knowing the language, and with no place to go. She built Dove Missions from the ground up and now serves over 200 children in the area. She teaches them English in hopes of ensuring them a job in the port city and, most importantly, to keep the kids off the streets at a young age.
Rooney shared stories of some of the children she has helped through the years, including a young woman moving to Canada to attend medical school. The children in the Dominican Republic have to help support their families from a very young age. Some children shine shoes, sell fruit, and recruit tourists for businesses. Unfortunately, many are forced into sex tourism. Families who cannot afford uniforms and school supplies are unable to send their children to public school. Dove Missions helps supplement what the children would have been making in return for regular attendance to school and the center.
We viewed the neighborhood where many of the children from Dove Missions live. We were able to talk to the locals and attempt to understand their way of life. As we were walking through the neighborhood, fresh laundry was hanging on lines, cactus, and fences. Dove Missions Operation Manager Martina Hiresova told us that it had rained for nearly three months, and everyone had to take advantage of the sunny day to get laundry dried. We met up with a woman with a severely infected surgical incision, who told us that she barely had a roof and had to find places to stay dry.
We experienced typical Dominican culture and cuisine. For lunch and dinner we enjoyed rice, beans, and chicken. We also had fried plantains, pasta noodles, and mixed vegetables. Maneuvering down the highway was nerve-wracking as we flew over speed bumps and watched overloaded mopeds speed past us.
Our first day here is done, but more adventures and experiences await us!
By Brittany Copeland, Senior Gerontology Major/Social Work Minor, and Gloria Casarez, Junior Nursing Student
(Follow the experiences of our students as they have been serving in the Dominican Republic during spring break. Visit the blog at the Barton College School of Nursing.)