Reflections on Life in the DR: Hope in the Face of Challenges

Luisa Nilan
March 27, 2018

It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing 7 months here in Cabarete, working with the Mariposa DR Foundation. I’m saddened by the prospect of having to leave this beautiful place in just 4 months. My time here has been invaluable, as I’ve had so many opportunities to experience both personal and professional growth, to meet so many different people, and to really be convicted about my desire and responsibility to serve.

The Mariposa Foundation operates a supplemental education program for the girls of Cabarete, ages 8-17, Tuesday through Saturday, in an effort to help end generational poverty through the girl. As such, my main responsibilities revolve around teaching classes. I’ve taught a variety of fun classes, from health, reading, and English, to cooking, music, and sports. Working directly with the girls is by far my favorite part of my job, but, needless to say, it comes with its challenges. My favorite days are those when I feel that we’ve managed to have a successful class, that I’ve done minimal yelling, and I’m left feeling energized and beaming with joy. On the flip side, there are days when we’ve had to have difficult conversations with the girls about the racial tensions between Dominicans and Haitians, when my efforts to speak to a girl one-on-one, due to behavioral issues, seem futile, and when I feel that the mindfulness and calming techniques that we teach the girls are more for me than for them! On these occasions, I have to remind myself to be patient, and that it is persistence that helps one win the race.

It is through these interactions, however, that I slowly learn more about the girls, their homes, communities, and the Dominican Republic at large. While here, I’ve had many opportunities to have discussions about heavy, important topics like why 80% of girls in the DR are pregnant before the age of 18, why many only finish primary school, why femicide is a concern, how Dominicans and Haitians continue to discriminate against one other, and the effects of poverty and economic disparities. Sometimes, all of these issues are overwhelming, but then, at the Mariposa Foundation, I’m also able to have conversations with people, locals and visitors alike, who are passionate about helping and fighting to make a difference, and my hope and inspiration are renewed. I witness the successes of the organization, such as how Mariposa has given girls the opportunity to study at prestigious schools, like United World College, when many of them have probably never travelled far outside of their hometowns, and I’m so excited to see where the now 8- and 9-year olds will end up in 10 years! I’m hopeful that their paths will not be the common ones that their society and culture has so often led other young girls down.

During the remainder of my time here, and after my departure, I’m eager to continue to share the mission of Mariposa with others, because I’ve been blessed enough to have real-life experiences that allow me to testify why investing in girls really is worth it. I’m thankful to the organization, to the many beautiful people I’ve met, and to the crazy, hilarious, and loving girls that allow me to be a child and inspire me all the while!