Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!

I am still on my leave in the states for another week and just discovered a great surprise. While checking on my latrine grant today, I discovered that the grant is fully funded! Thank you so much for your help and support for such a pressing issue. When I get back I will start construction and keep you posted with pictures and information. Because of your generosity, we will be changing these family’s lives.

I am very excited to return to the community to share the news!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Latrines for Christmas

Making 10 latrines was clearly not enough for the 28 families here without a bathroom. I applied for a Peace Corps Partnership grant to make at least 13 more. Its finally up on the Peace Corps website with a link so anyone can donate for the project.

The project needs 3000 USD total. This will be enough to make at least 13. I do have some materials left over from the first 10, so this may be able to stretch to 14 or 15. That’s 13-15 families that have never had access to a bathroom of any sort. My community members use the sugar cane fields and the hills around the community to defecate. They have been doing this for generations. Not only does this habit affect their health, but it is also detrimental for the entire community. Feces contaminate water sources and are a serious health threat. If cholera reaches our providence, without latrines the community will not be able to avoid a devastating outbreak.

It is my Christmas wish this year that, those of you who can, make a charitable contribution to the latrine project. All donations are 100% tax deductible, and the donations can be anonymous or attached with a name notifying me who the gift was from.

I made a short PowerPoint presentation about the project, with lots of photos, that I will send to potential donors. Please leave your email address below in the yellow comments section, or email me at and I will send it to you. My mom presented it to her school’s Key Club in order to earn donations; and, I think it is helpful and informative for anyone considering donating to the project as it discusses my community, what latrines are, and how they work.

Please consider making a charitable donation to this very worthy mission.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homemade faucets

While my mom was here we taught the women in my Healthy Homes group how to make homemade hand-washing stations with easy to find recycled materials. In Spanish they are called “llaves caseros” which translates more directly to homemade water faucets.

Hand washing is a habit that is not at all commonly practiced, thus the need for health volunteers to at least try to confront this in their communities. After I received a very gracious gift of nice soaps from Dr. Duffy and his wonderful office I decided it was the perfect time to make the hand washing stations that we learned about in training. The women were absolutely ecstatic about the soap, especially when I told the group it was from a dermatologist in the states.

The model is very simple. You need a large plastic soda bottle, string, soap and water. Since we had the mini soaps, my mom and I creatively decided to cut up a couple of shower loofas and tie them on the bottles with the soaps inside. This allows an easy way to lather up and it lets the soap dry in the air instead of sitting on a wet tray.

I was surprised, as usual, how something so simple can make these women so excited. Seeing them wash their hands on a more regular basis now is definitely a nice payoff too. Their only complaint is that they need to refill the bottle with water too often since their kids wash their hands too much.

Latrine photos

One of the latrine recipients

Putting rocks around the hole to make a sturdy base for the floor to rest on

Putting the cement on the floor

Adding the final touches, sturdy and durable corrugated metal sheets

Sunday, October 9, 2011


We broke ground on a latrine construction project on October 28. After soliciting funds and waiting about four months I received a grant though a local Dominican Bank to fund the construction of nine latrines. This is still far from enough, since there are still around 25 families without a latrine or bathroom of any sort and 5 more with latrines in poor condition, but for now this is a good start.

In order to involve the most marginalized population in the latrine project of Casa Colorada, I decided to have a Haitian, Creole/Spanish-speaking, mason work alongside a Dominican mason during the project. Since several needy Haitian families do not speak Spanish, I felt that this would be a good way to gain their confianza (trust) and participation in the project since I would have a mason that was culturally and linguistically sensitive to them. I do not speak Creole yet nor do I have much Haitian culture experience, so I alone have not been able to penetrate this extremely marginalized and needy area of the community thus far in my service.

I chose the Haitian and Dominican masons based on recommendations from my Hogares Saludables group. The group had already voiced the need to build latrines in the more “Haitian” area of the community so they were supportive of the idea to have a Dominican-Haitian duo as the skilled labor.

So even though I thought this idea was great, it was very challenging to find a Dominican who was willing to work beside a Haitian as an equal and received equal pay. Most men I talked to did not like this idea. Race is a truly sensitive issue here in the Dominican Republic, and this project has only made this more clear to me. Haitians are regularly paid less than a Dominican worker in any type of agricultural work, even if they do the exact same thing. They are also regularly disrespected and gossiped about by their Dominican neighbors.

Finally, the president of the community neighborhood organization of Casa Colorada, La Junta de Vecinos, agreed to do the project, saying that it was a service to his community. He did however put up a good fight beforehand. He argued that the Haitian man that agreed to do the project, Leonardo, should be his helper and be paid a half-day wage instead of a full-day wage. He also attempted to spread rumors about Leonardo, telling people he was a bad person and a bad mason, which was even more frustrating. At this point I really started to believe this plan to challenge the social norms and include both races in the project was backfiring.

The Junta de Vecinos president eventually agreed to do the work after I explained that the grant would not allow me to pay the two masons different pay. After this initial stress, I am happy to say that the two masons are working great together. There have been no issues since the start of construction. Now we are almost done with these first nine and I expect to be completely done this Friday.

I am putting up a Peace Corps Partnership grant on the Peace Corps website so that I can fund raise with my mom's key club back home to make more latrines. It should be up in the next week or so. Anyone else will also be free to donate on this website. I will put the link here once it comes out.

Monday, July 18, 2011


My kitchen counter

Here I sit trying to press and stir the lingering powdered milk bits into my coffee. I don’t really have a good excuse for the hiatus I took from writing. I am still here, living in the community of Casa Colorada, currently trying to bear the heat of summer. 85 degrees, 95% humidity were the numbers last time I checked. I finally bought a fan. Since the only way to bring items back to my community is on a motorcycle, I had to bring my brand-new standing fan stretched across my lap between myself and my neighbor who drove me to the store. Welp, he was obviously not accustomed to a long object on the back of his motorcycle and my poor fan hit a tree coming home. I was worried, since I’m pretty sure there is no insurance for objects broken while driving home on your motorcycle. Thank goodness it works still.

I graduated my women’s nutrition course and now we are working through a more general health manual learning about chronic disease prevention, infectious disease prevention, reproductive health, and sanitation. In addition we have started a small business, making floor cleaner. The women love it. We make about 80 bottles a week with chemicals I buy from the capital and recycled soda bottles found around the campo. The women sell them fast! Simultaneously we created a directive to confront our lack of a water system. For now 100% of the money we make from the floor cleaner goes to a fund to pay for a water system. I hand delivered a letter to the local mayor to see if he would help with the project yesterday. I will keep you updated.

My youth Escojo Mi Vida group is finally taking off. I realized this when my kids surprised me with a skit on abortion during our last meeting. They know the themes for our meetings ahead of time and, without my knowing, they organized a very well done skit about the weekly topic! I was shocked and relieved to see that they are finally taking the course seriously.

I have not announced it to them yet, but I just received my very first grant. A group called Kids to Kids has given the Escojo group 500 USD to construct a volleyball court and to buy 5 nice outdoor balls and a pump. The money is also to put on a 2-day volleyball camp for the younger kids, to get them using the court and promoting healthy lifestyles. We will also include HIV/AIDS education through a program called “Deportes para la vida,” a program that teaches about HIV/AIDS through sports. All very exciting!

Let me show you my house and other fun pictures that I have not had the chance to share:

My neighbors and a donkey we use to bring water up our hill

My house!

The latrine

My compound, I live here with my Dominican parents Develsa and Papito

English Class

Hand-drawn instruction materials for my nutrition class

My kitten little, Maorisio

Teaching about the immune system in my house during a weekly Healthy Homes meeting

A baby goat!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mas zapatos que pies!

I’ve been so busy starting up my work here that I have completely neglected this blog! Where to begin? About a month ago I presented my community diagnostic to the rest of the Peace Corps health volunteers as well as our coordinator Miguel Leon. I went with Dominga, a member of my community, and we gave a fantastic speech about Casa Colorada.

Just this week I presented it to our Junta de Vecinos, the local neighborhood association. At the end of the presentation I have a section about plans for the future. Together we decided that our priorities for the rest of the year are to build latrines and develop youth activities. Thanks to the diagnostic study, I know that we have 28 entire families without a latrine or bathroom of any kind. They are using what we call the “monte” or the sugarcane fields, “la caña”. I wanted to do a latrine project from the moment I discovered this startling statistic but I’m very satisfied now that the entire community also sees this as a priority. With the community’s blessing I am now looking through different grant options to get the funding for at least 25 latrines.

As far as youth projects... I have started teaching a very comprehensive youth sex education class. More comprehensive than anything I received! Its called Escojo Mi Vida, I choose my life. The course includes charlas (informative, interactive talks) on values, planning for the future, self-esteem, drugs and alcohol, the reproductive system, HIV/AIDS, STIs, family planning ect. The goal is that after the 2 months, I will be able to select a few youth that are especially dedicated and train them to become multipliers of the information. They will then go on to create their own youth group, teaching the charlas themselves this time.

Our “primary projects,” as Peace Corps health volunteers is the course described above as well as a Healthy Homes course for women that focuses on improving child and maternal health. I have started this as well and now have two groups up and running: one from the La Mina neighborhood and the other in the center of town, Casa Colorada. Our first theme to tackle is nutrition.

Today my group from La Mina, basically all of my direct neighbors, came to my house to practice cooking with local green leaves. What all health volunteers struggle to teach to their communities is that the dark green leaves from the yuca plant, sweet potato plant, and pumpkin plant found in almost everyone’s patios can actually be consumed. Plus, they are very rich sources of vitamins and minerals, MUCH more so than the tubers they produce. For a population that seriously lacks vegetable consumption, these leaves offer an easy and FREE way to complete their diet. I say that we “struggle” because eating dark green leaves from the patio is greatly against the norm. No one has ever considered eating these leaves before so there is a lot of convincing that needs to be done and activities to normalize the concept.

The first day I introduced this I made a big batch of carrot bread. I gave it to everyone to eat while I was introducing great leaves. The bread was a hit. They absolutely loved it. I had never seen people so enthusiastic about any sort of bread before in my life actually. I assume this is because desserts are a luxury here and they aren’t made often, additionally people don’t cook with ovens because it uses too much gas. Anyways, needless to say, they were very impressed. I finished my explanation of green leaves, about the vitamins, what the vitamins do for the body, about how to use the leaves, what leaves are toxic, which aren’t ect. Finally I asked, “Have any of you ever eaten any of these green leaves??” All of them shook their heads no. Then I responded, “Yes you all have! They were in the bread!”

After 3 weeks of learning about these leaves, we got together today to cook with them. We made banana bread in my house first, sprinkling in a cup of green leaves cut up in tiny pieces and a grated carrot! Next we separated into two groups. One group made corn cakes, and the other fried carrot dumplings, both with green leaves. Everything was very tasty!

As for the title of this blog… While cooking in my kitchen, my neighbor Toña, noticed my tennis shoe collection, all of the three pairs I had lined up on the wall. Tennis shoes are hard to come by and expensive so people here rarely have more than one pair at a time. After someone else commented, “Alyson has a lot of shoes,” she responded “mas zapatos que pies!” More shoes than feet!