Friday, January 7, 2011

The second half of 2010 and then some

Time flies! The last six months of year flew by. So much has happened, here is a review of the second half of 2010, starting after my trip back home:

  • Mesa de Honor:  The day after I returned from California, my town had a graduation ceremony for the graduates of the local computer training center.  To begin the ceremony, graduates took photos at the computer center, where everyone met up that afternoon. The parade began, where they marched around town until reaching the community center where the actual ceremony took place.  I suspect I may be asked to give a speech, since the computer training center staff assisted in the enrollment and publicity process of my Construir tus Suenos youth entrepreneurial business class. Also, a couple of the first classes were held at the center. To be sure I ask the day before, but am assured that I will not be making a speech. Of course, right as the parade begins I am told I will be sitting at the mesa de honor or honorary table on stage and will be expected to give a speech about the CTS class, etc. I run home to change out of my jeans and come back to the parade arriving at the Community Center, with people filing in. I am pretty nervous as the room fills with some 200 plus people and I have nothing prepared. Someone whispers to me that I should read the first and last names of the 21 youth that graduated from my CTS class, a list that I do not have on me and definitely do not remember off hand. I struggle to remember at least the first names of each, especially Fulano’s name that is escaping me. I am sweating bullets as every mesa de honor member goes to the podium complete with their prepared speech in hand. Three hours pass, the graduation happens, the crowd gets very anxious, and ultimately I am never called up to the podium. Although I was confident that my ad-lib speech would have run smoothly I had to laugh at the whole situation after and was honored to be seated at the mesa de honor.
(photo: Villa Fundacion, the view from my roof)

  •  The Cooperative’s Peace Corps Partnership’s grant got filled, thanks to donors Steve and Nancy Hopkins, Ryan Hopkins (on behalf of himself and Steve, Scott and Kevin Hopkins), Brianna Russell, Rod and Sally Marquardt and the UPS Foundation, Ltd. The grant will cover the cost of the accounting program Monica 8.5, Fair trade certification, a quality domestic blender, redesign and printing of labels and other promotional materials. 
  • At the end of July/beginning of August four youth and I headed to Neiba for Celebrando el Sur, a youth conference celebrating youth diversity of the southern regions. The volunteer organizaed conference took place over two and a half days at an ecological center in the mountains of Neyba, complete  fun and games, charlas on diversity, a world trip to the seven continents, health, etc.

    •  I bought a bike! My neighbors graciously took me to the town next door to check out used bikes. I sat in the back of a tinted van as they got out of the van an investigated the non-Americana prices. I bartered down to about 50 bucks for a used huffy beach cruiser with its original tires. Now that I have replaced one of the tires I have a maroon bike, with a black tire, a green tire, pink and grey handle bars. Nothing short of awesome. So far, I have been on a few bike rides out of town to nearby beaches Palmar de Ocoa (10 plus kilometers) and Los Corbanitos. No easy task on a one speed, but well worth it!

      • My friend Christina came to visit in September for some Campo, city and beach time. We had a wonderful time and narrowly missed daytime rain in Cabarete in the north, Playa Grande and Samana Peninsula at Playa Rincon.  (Below: Playa Rincon in Samana)

      • Once a year, cooperatives have to hold a General Assembly to elect new leadership positions, as well as provide reports for what has happened in the year to cooperative members, etc. (Below: Directing the meeting, members participating in the General Assembly

      • Big news for FRUTICOOP, INC. in September, when a grant was a approved by Mission Taiwan to fun new industrial gas dryers, various training, operational costs, industrial cutters and peelers, and much more over the course of three years. The grant was written by an engineer working for the Secretary of Agriculture who has been involved in the project since its inception in 2004. (Below: FRUTICOOP President Maria Castillo, my project partner accepting a check from Taiwanese Ambassador at a publicized event at the Secretary of Agriculture)

      • Construir Tus Suenos 2010: Build Your Dreams Competition took place at the beginning of October. Two groups from my class and three kids submitted plans, both were accepted to compete. One youth submitted a business plan for an internet shop and two sisters submitted a plan for a fruit shop. Both plans were excellent and they put in a lot of hard work! The competition was a great experience for the youth to get to know other ambitious kids from around the country, learn about locating seed money to fund their business even if they did not take home the prize money (three prizes of up to 70,000 pesos each to fund the full budget of the winners). All the groups did an excellent job, the competition was fierce, and in the end all were winners. The fruit shop took home most innovative. 

      • For the first time since 2006, the women of FRUTICOOP got paid! For years they have not had the resources to pay the women for their work in fruit production, but now they are paid to date. Of course this has rejuvenated the work force and generated interest in more women becoming involved in the operation. 
      • IDECOOP, the national institute that supports cooperatives set up a jornada educativa for the cooperative, giving presentations on entrepreneurial spirit, business management, etc. One of the trainers who showed up is the daughter of my host family in Pantoja, who I had not seen in a year. It was good to reconnect.
      • Just two days earlier, I reconnected with my other host family in the campo outside of Altamira when I went up to give charlas on Organizational Diagnostics and Leadership to the new business training group. I left Santo Domingo at 7 in the morning to get to my host mom's house by 11 AM in Los Claveles, where I had my training a year ago. My host mom was happy to see me and expressed her disappointment that I was only staying for lunch and not for the whole weekend. After saying hi to some of the neighbors I headed down the hill with the others, gave the charlas and then got a ride with the technical trainer to Santiago where I would catch the bus to Santo Domingo. My stomach was rumbling and I knew something was up. The next three hours seemed endless as I held back projectile fluids coming from all ends. I managed to make it to the bathroom to projectile vomit, and camped at the back of the bus until I was able to get to the Caribe tours bus station to take care of other business. This was by far one of the most uncomfortable bus rides of my life and (there have been worse believe it or not) luckily there were no sharts involved (in this case it would have been far worse...). By the next day I felt better, I thought for sure I had giardea but luckily I didn't. Not sure what it was that made me sick, something I ate at lunch I guess!
      • After receiving the money from Mission Taiwan, FRUTICOOP opened two checking accounts, one for themselves and one to manage the grant money. If you can believe it, due to the overly complicated bureaucracy of the banking system here this process has taken months. Next step, internet at the office and internet banking! We have now begun the planning and budgeting process.
      • Funded by the PCPP grant, we purchased the accounting program Monica 8.5. This month four women and I went to the capital to receive an initial training on the program and we are now holding individual training sessions at the plant.
      • Cholera outbreak! The cholera outbreak in Haiti prompted an emergency and mandatory cholera training session at the training center in Pantoja. From there all of the 517-09-02 group boarded a bus to head down south for our OYA One Year Anniversary in site. The party bus did not disappoint and a good five hours later we arrived in San Rafael after sunset. The next day we boarded the back of a truck for the three hour bumpy ride down to the southern point of the Dominican Republic to a remote beach called Bahia de las Alguilas. No easy task to get to but well worth the trip.  That night we had a Halloween celebration and all headed back the next day.

      (Above: sunrise in San Rafael; Below: View from San Rafael) 

      (Below: Bahia de las Alguilas, Pedernales)

      (Our group at Bahi de las Alguilas!)


      • This month began with an end of the season, hurricane. Due to the hurricane’s unpredictability, most of the regions where called to consolidate in our respective consolidation points (also known as nice hotels). I hurricane proofed my home, putting books in bags, moving items away from doors, and then headed into the capital for five nights of buffet food, h-o-t showers, cable in bed and a view. 

      (Above: photo of men working construction from the Barcelo)

       (Above: View across Maximo Gomez)

       (Above: View down below)
      • The last training for cohort 517 09-02 took place over three days in Santo Domingo where we shared our successes and lessons learned, and planned for the second year of service. We spent some quality time complete with a trip to the play to see a local baseball game. Good times. 
      • Thanksgiving followed, with the annual brunch at the Arroyo Hondo country club. A delicious lunch thanks to a group of volunteers gracious enough to cook mashed potatoes, sweet mashed potatos (yum!), turkey with gravy, salad, stuffing, and an array of delicious pies. All this followed by some poker, Presidente, an endlessly entertaining talent show and a debaucherous evening of dancing at the after party in the colonial zone wrapped up a wonderful and satisfying Thanksgiving.   (Below:  Kaitlyn, who helped organize the event and me at Arroyo Hondo Country Club, thanksgiving)


      •  We had a short taller at the Institute for Innovation and Technology in the capital to test out some equipment that will be similar to the fruit dryers we are getting at the end of January. The tests for dried pineapple and papaya came out well, now we just have to wait for our dryers to get here so we can get moving! 
      • California!! Half way through the month I headed back to California for nearly three weeks of family and friend time, and got in my fill of winter apparel and hot showers. I was back in the DR in time to head back to the campo and then out for New Years in the capital where I had a late dinner of traditional sancocho soup right before midnight with Gabriel and his family. We then went out for some rooftop dancing afterwards to bring in the New Year.


      • Now I am back in the campo and was surprised to find that it was actually kind of comforting to come back. Everything is calm, slow, and not too hot. It gives me time to process my trip home, the last year and my service, and just breath! I also now do not have a working inverter  anymore so that means no electricity when there is no electricity. Back to candlelight and lamps for me in the evenings like most other people. I did some heavy duty cleaning to eradicate and rat proof my house and have killed an enormous tarantula in my silverware drawer, an entire family of rats (including a baby, I'm so soulless now), endless cucarachas and a scorpion. Yes, I am back, and this year will better than the last.

      Canning Workshop January 6 2011

      I am back in the campo and fully recharged from my lengthy holiday vacation to California. The first event of the year was held this Thursday at the FRUTICOOP, INC. plant (and in the first week of the year, impressive since it is usually a no work 'flojo' week here). Peace Corps trainers came out to hold a canning workshop, using imported bottles located the capital (finally!) to can fruits and marmalades. This is a big step for us!

      Here are photos of the 15 women and Peace Corps counterparts that participated in the workshop:

      (Preparing pineapple for canning and for pineapple marmalade)

      (Canning pineapple marmalade using Bano Maria)

      (Sealing after Bano Maria, pineapple slices and marmalade)

      (Leaving the office....)