After a year and a half of living in the Dominican Republic, I feel elated, accomplished, proud and simultaneously contemplative. When I was first named a PiLA fellow, I felt extremely enthusiastic to live in the DR and do "development work". While I realized that the move would be challenging, and my lifestyle would be different, I didn't anticipate the work itself to be challenging mentally and physically.
It has been said, though, that tough times push us to learn and grow the most. After my PiLA fellowship, I couldn’t agree more with that notion. I lived in Cabarete, DR working with the DREAM Project as a Monitoring and Evaluation fellow. This position enabled me to work on various projects. I concentrated on a holistic youth program called Deportes Para la Vida, which works towards the prevention of HIV/AIDS by educating youth on sexual health through sports activities.
Additionally, I led the research and development of a new project called Luchadores por el cambio, health and gender equality program designed for young men. With the guidance of 2014-2016 PiLA fellow, Madeline Baird, who designed a female sexual health curriculum called Única the year prior, I spent a year researching best practices for educating young men on gender equality, sexual health, self-respect, and consent. After the administration of a pilot program from January -July 2016, my team spent August-December 2016 writing a gender equality and sexual health manual called Luchadores por el cambio. The purpose of this curriculum is to encourage young men to make positive decisions with regards to sexual health, pregnancy prevention, healthy relationships, and consent.
The program also entails preparing young men to share the curriculum. In order for participants to become facilitators for Luchadores por el cambio, they complete two trainings. The first took place in December 2016. We spent 20 hours training, exploring topics such as the definition of manhood and its meaning for each individual; our upbringings and how they affect our development and attitudes as adults; and finally, the treatment of people, male privilege, violence and gender equality.
Through my experiences, I learned what it means to effectively support an international development project. I experienced the nuances of such work, and discovered the need to live, breathe, and collaborate with a culture to create lasting impact. I was able to embrace the complexities of living in a town known for tourism and its effects on locals, and learning that more often than not, we leave with more than what we take. I am forever grateful for an experience that has broadened my perspective, challenged my life, made me aware of thoughts and ideas that I had no idea I harbored. These experiences are pushing me towards writing another chapter of my life, as I now hope to begin a career in social work.
In the end, Cabarete will always be a home for me! Thank you PiLA for providing this opportunity. It has truly been life-changing.