Posted by Plan International USA board member, Georgiana Gibson
How many times have you heard that parenting is the hardest job? Also the most rewarding, but certainly difficult, time consuming, fulfilling and joyous. Parenting is the only job in which the goal of the job is to make yourself obsolete.
Imagine yourself a parent in a place where the educational system is so overcrowded that in the public school system your child only goes to school for a few hours a day to allow other children to be “educated” in later shifts. There are no playgrounds, and at a brief recess the children play on concrete or dirt with the very few toys they have.
The schools are surrounded by high, cinder block fences with large rolling gates and concertina wire on top of all the walls. Electricity is sometimes on, other times not. There are few supplies, books, libraries, extra-curricular activities, or enrichment programs. Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?
I saw all these things in the Dominican Republic. However, I also saw so much more. I saw active community volunteers throughout the southwestern part of the country. I saw a volunteer teacher with a group of “at risk” third and fourth graders in an after-school tutoring program, with involved parents who showed up to meet us on a hot afternoon. I saw an adorable group of three and four year olds in a pre-school, whose stations reminded me of similar classrooms my own children attended at the same age. These classrooms were also staffed by volunteers in this Plan DR sponsored program. I saw rooms in small communities set aside for use as pre-schools in a country where pre-school is the exception, not the rule. I saw people, old and young, discussing the need to improve the educational opportunities for their children, grandchildren, or children not yet born. I saw a presidential campaign in which education improvement is one of the most prominent issues.
In short, I found a country in which education is prized as a way to build the middle class the country is sorely lacking and without which improvement seems impossible. I found people grateful to Plan DR for planning assistance, resources, encouragement. But I also found a people with a strong understanding of the need to build sustainable programs.
When we arrived in the DR, the Plan DR staff presented a succinct summary of their structure of community volunteers, trained by Plan DR, as the cornerstone of community involvement. These community leaders return to their towns and cities and establish committee structures, prioritizing with their friends and neighbors their own community needs. They are given support from Plan DR, both financial and logistical, but these committees are in charge of their own destinies. They understand that they must build and sustain these programs themselves, and plan for the time when Plan DR moves on to help in other communities. Many of the volunteers articulated their understanding of such sustainability, beginning sentences by saying, “when Plan is no longer here”. I was very impressed with their education of these volunteers, stressing the need for eventual independent functioning of these committee structures.
So I must amend my earlier statement, that parenting is the only job in which the goal is to make yourself obsolete. Plan DR understands that sustainability is the only way their programs will succeed in the long run, so that each community will rely on itself and its members rather than on the organization itself. In turn, Plan stays able to continue expansion, to continue using our resources to include other communities and other areas of the country, and to effect long lasting change that will hopefully lead to a stable, productive neighbor and an example to the rest of the Caribbean.