It has been over a week since I’ve been back in the US. In that time I’ve readjusted to living what to me is “normally” and eating American food. In the mean time, I have been able to actually digest what exactly I saw in the DR and how it will affect me now and in the future.
The reality is that the neighborhoods of Santiago that we visited were low-income to middle class. People are desperate to have electricity but cannot afford it, so they “splice” into the power lines when there is an outage, leading to electrocution being the second highest cause of death in the country. About 70% of school-aged children have parasites and 40% of people live in poverty. Many cannot afford quality medical care, hence G.O. Ministries’ new medical facility.
On the flight back home, I became angry when I saw a commercial promoting the newest smartphone that could control the temperature of your house. I thought, “the Dominicans don’t even have consistent electricity, much less air-conditioning, and here we are spending so much money on the latest smartphone to avoid looking ‘dumb.’”
However, if I look closely and deeper into the problems, I realize that they are not so incredibly different from those we face here, although they are not manifested in the same way. My trip to a developing nation has, in many ways, opened my eyes more to the problems surrounding me here more than anything else. The problems in the Dominican are more immediate, but I don’t think that we should simply brush “first-world problems” under the rug.
For example, one challenge in the Dominican is the access to education. Many older adults are illiterate and it is especially hard for children of Haitian immigrants to receive an education. We heard many times from G.O. Ministries staff that the Dominicans are intelligent, but they often lack the resources that we have in a developed nation—that is why they run a private school where children can be “sponsored” by individuals who pay for their education.
Here in the US, all children have the right to receive schooling through high school. However, that does not mean that all children will receive the same education. For example, living south of St. Louis, I have seen how the St. Louis City Public Schools system became unaccredited and for a time was run completely by the state of Missouri. This year, the district finally earned back its accreditation after years of hard work. The point is that education can be just as big of a struggle here for low-income families.
Obviously, the contexts of these issues are very different and they are on different scales. But for me, this is just the beginning of being able issues such as poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, and education from a different viewpoint. My Dominican experience was one will allow me to see in ways I couldn’t before and impact me for years to come.