Since 1962, approximately 4,800 Peace Corps volunteers have provided development assistance to the people of the Dominican Republic. The 180 volunteers currently serving work in six sectors. Regardless of sector assignment, volunteers are trained and expected to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.
Community Economic Development: Volunteers in this program partner with farmers' associations, artisans, tourism service providers and community-based groups to improve organizational capacity, business skills and financial awareness.
Those who attended the 50th Anniversary celebration and conference and took the "Tour de Chocolate" in El Seibo saw a wonderful example of successful volunteer work in this sector. Over the years volunteers have worked with a cacao cooperative and a community farm demonstration. Another project, now in its fifth year, is the national youth business plan competition called "Construye tus Sueños ." Local NGOs and private sector donors provide support for this program. Like many of the major Peace Corps projects, the Build Your Dreams initiative was an idea developed and implemented by volunteers. Michael Rothstein is the Associate Peace Corps Director for the Community Economic Development program.
Healthy Families: Volunteers working in this sector focus on nutrition, maternal child health and HIV/AIDS awareness. Support from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) enables volunteers to train youth as peer educators to reduce HIV/AIDS infection among young people. "Somos Mujeres" a country-wide initiative that volunteer implement. Miguel Leon is the Associate Peace Corps Director for the Healthy Families program.
Appropriate Technologies (AT): Water, sanitation, and energy are still major challenges in Dominican communities. Volunteer projects in this sector not only ameliorate health and environmental problems but also improve living standards, raising both economic and educational productivity. Volunteers work help their communities with potable water systems, latrines, cement floors, home water filters, as well as solar lights and ovens. 123 aqueducts for 150 communities have been completed over the last 10 years. Peace Corps tells us that communities need to raise approximately $25,000 to $30,000 for each water system. The FDR Community Challenge Fund (CCF) grants help with these projects. There is currently no Associate Director for the Appropriate Technologies sector.
The clean water projects have three phases: 1) development of infrastructure (construction), 2) education (behavioral change), and 3) community organization (strengthening water communities). The water systems stay in the hands of the water committees, which administrate, maintain and operate the systems. The beneficiaries are responsible for 40% of the costs, including labor, equipment and small, upfront payments in cash. The other 60% comes from outside sources such as Friends of the Dominican Republic.
Community Environmental Development (CEDE): During the 50th reunion, some participants took advantage of the "Tesoro del Este" or "27 Charcos" tours. "Tesoro del Este" is an eco-hike up the Seibo River valley, led by PCV-trained eco-tour guides giving charlason the environment of the valley along the way. "27 Charcos (waterfalls)" in the mountains south of Puerto Plata is now a national park. Both are examples of volunteer projects in conservation, environmental education, and ecotourism. In these projects, community environmental education occurs with the community's development of an "eco tour" and the specific training of individuals as the tour guides. The development of eco-tours generates income for the community. With tourism, agency, and hotel contacts, the eco tours bring tourists off the beaten path to appreciate the bio-diversity of the Dominican countryside. Income generation in itself is a strong incentive for environmental stewardship.
Another project of Community Environment volunteers is Brigada Verde (Green Brigade) youth groups. Fifty Brigadas now train community members in principles and practices of environmental conservation. The youth groups promote volunteerism through community clean-ups and tree planting, and Brigadas have planted thousands of trees throughout the country.
Alberto Rodriguez, who joined the staff in 1983, is the current Associate Director (APCD) for Community Environmental Development sector. His role as APCD is to guide volunteers, providing them with objectives and project plans, as well as technical and moral support.
Youth, Families, and Community Development (YFCD) volunteers work with marginalized youth to promote healthy physical, social, and cultural well-being in both rural and urban communities. PCDR is expanding this work to meet the demand for support of children and youth with extreme needs. Youth volunteers often work creating libraries; training youth as peer educators to reduce HIV/AIDS infection; and, empowering young boys in the weeklong summer camp Campamento Superman and young girls in the program Chicas Brillantes. Both programs seek to promote gender equality and encourage youth to think outside of traditional gender roles.
Education: We learned at our 50th Anniversary conference that Dominican students perform below norms on standardized student tests for Latin America. Improving quality of education and functional literacy remains a major need. Education volunteers work with educators to integrate effective and sometimes innovative teaching practices in the classroom. Equally as important, they focus on getting parents and the whole community involved in literacy and education promotion.