Thursday, July 5, 2012

Traveling to the Dominican Republic

Posted by Deborah Held, USNO Board member

I'm here in this seaside hotel that was once someone's private house, now converted to a country hotel on a lush green hillside cascading into the Caribbean Sea. Last night we had great discussions over dinner about how the people of this beautiful country are working to overcome their social and economic issues and how Plan's programs are designed to be “sustainable”.

Yesterday a group of us from the Plan USA board and several Plan Dominican Republic staff were driven from Santo Domingo west along the coast for three hours to this rural/crowded section of the country to see Plan programs. The community leaders were having an awards ceremony for the village people, all volunteers, who were now qualified to work with the rest of the community to ensure better access to water and education. Loud applause, flashing cameras and friendly hoots and comments could be heard from the audience as each graduate was presented with a certificate. There was a sense of pride and hope.

At our next stop, a children's school where Plan sponsored supplemental education programs help kids at risk learn to read, a middle aged woman in a lime green shirt with the energy of a twenty year old conducted the reading class. The kids were at their desks in a semicircle and we filed in and stood behind the desks. They looked at us shyly and answered the teacher’s questions quietly. One little guy was apparently uncharacteristically quiet. His face lit up with an infectious smile when his teacher asked what happened to his voice.

The principal greeted us warmly. She says the tutoring program has been 100% successful so far in getting the failing kids to pass their grades.

Back in the van to our last program of the day, I'm a little wilted from the midday heat and the demands all these new experiences make on my attention. We walk a few feet from the main road, across the white dusty earth and suddenly there is a cool shaded village by a clear pond. Boys are diving and swimming and shouting. We are here to visit a community savings and loan cooperative, initiated by Plan, run by the people of the village.

The heat in the community center was relieved by the ceiling fans above us. The people of the village had built the center with money raised by their savings. They didn't need a bank; they had created their own bank. It was quite impressive. Plan had started it off ten years earlier with a small amount of seed money and helped set up the model for the people in the co-op. The people had made it work for them.

One of the men in the group, friendly but direct, stood up and addressed us. The translation was easy. He asked, “We have had a lot of visitors travel from far away to our community center asking us questions about our savings and loan. Can you each tell me why you came?”

It was a good question. Why was I there? I stood up to answer the man. “I want to see for myself if this is a good way to help you help your children achieve their potential.” And, I thought, to share what I see with people back home that care.

We saw many more programs in beautiful Barahona, Early Childhood learning centers, other micro finance and savings and loan programs, a community/Plan built school... We had the great pleasure of getting to know some of the Plan Dominican Republic staff: Country Director Brechtje Van Lith, young Dutch mother of three children, the deeply dedicated Dominicans who work there: Ara Martinez, expert in gender issues and Olga Figuereo, Program Unit Manager. We asked these experts anything and everything that occurred to us and they were happy to answer our questions, explore our suggestions and give us great confidence in the work they do in the Dominican Republic. And I can report: Yes, what Plan is helping these parents and children do is a good way to help the children achieve their potential


  1. I think if we are able to help those children , we must give them a hand . It's really important.

  2. Being Human and raise your hands to help these childrenc.Thanks a Lot.. Kokoda Maps

  3. What a lovely greeting before you take a long bus ride! This guy is making a good name for himself in the Customer No-Service Industry.