martes, 27 de mayo de 2008

La Pijamada

So, I haven’t written a blog in a while….but in my defense I have been sooo crazy busy. My new schedule keeps me occupied. Up by 6:30 am to run/work-out, then I take a bucket-bath and make myself a strong cup of Nescafé and am out the door by 8am to make my morning commute to La Victoria. The commute can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how lucky I am in catching a gua-gua (translation: bus, the best option because I only have to take one bus for 17 pesos but does not come very frequently) or my other option which is to take two carro publicos (translation: public taxis, 12 pesos for the first one and 17 for the second, carros publicos are much more frequent). My days at the orphanage go by fast with mornings usually spent doing office work, planning with Maria Elena, meeting with Lawyers to discuss our contracts for purchasing the new home, going to parent-teacher conferences (note: I am the parent in these meetings!) and generally taking care of business and taking advantage of the fact that the girls are away at school. Then at around 12:45 the girls arrive and chaos generally ensues. I help serve la comida which is usually la bandera (translation: the flag), aptly named so because it is the traditional Dominican meal of rice, beans, meat and sometimes salad. Then I have a descanso (nap) and I usually really need this nap and pretty much pass out. The afternoons are spent tutoring, doing homework, teaching English, arts and crafts projects and taking the girls out to play. Then at around 5 or 6 pm I usually make a break for it and take care of some errands (grocery shopping, other random tasks) before returning to my house. In the evenings I like to just relax, but usually I’m writing emails on behalf of the orphanage, working on my projects, writing grants, etc, there is always so much work to do! I am usually so exhausted that I have a hard time keeping my eyes open until my bedtime which is generally 9:30/10:00.
So I think I have a good excuse for not keeping my blog as regularly as I would wish. But, I am going to try and be better about it because I like blogging and I want you, my wonderful readers, to read my blog.
So, recently I hosted a sleep-over at my new place to celebrate the birthdays of 3 of the olders girls whose birthdays are close together, Evelin, Jessica and Gaby. The girls were really excited about the sleep-over. I prepared for the event by gathering girly teen magazines, nail polish, arts and crafts supplies (plenty of glitter!), chick flicks, preparing a merengue and bachata, heavy on the Aventura, playlist on my iPod, and filling the pantry with yummy munchies like chips and dip, popcorn, I made a cake, and pancakes for breakfast. Then I decorated the house. Since I am a poor Peace Corps volunteer I could only afford to buy 2 colors of balloons and streamers, pink and green. My host-bro helped me decorate and he blew up so many balloons! I kept telling him I thought we had enough but he didn’t want to stop. The finished product, thanks to the sorority-ish pink and green, officially looked like a collegiate-rush event.
I think that the event was officially a success. The girls loved being away from the orphanage for a night. The night went pretty much as I thought it would. We read magazines, listened to music, danced, took a tour of my neighborhood, flirted with boys at the colmado (colmados are like convenience stores/hang-outs), well they flirted shamelessly while I tried to make sure that none of the girls ended running off with the boys. It was all-in-all a success. I know this because the next day none of them wanted to leave and they were all asking when the next pijamada (sleep-over) would be.

visiting the campo.....

So I wish I had been keeping a blog early, I think it is a really good way to keep in touch and give people a glimpse into my life here. It is also a good way for me to reflect. So anyways, now I want to share a little bit about the situations that some of the girls who live in the home come from.
One of the projects that Maria Elena wants me to work on is connecting the families of the girls to the home more. Some of the girls are orphans, but most have some sort of a family. The reason that they are living in the home is that for some reason or another they cannot live at home or their home is unsafe. All of the girls come from situations of poverty, some more extreme than others. Many of the girls were born to young mothers who were unable to care for them. I will share a few stories and pictures with you from recent visits to some of the girls’ families.
Jerdalin, 5, and Yomaira, 12, are two sisters who live at the home. They both have very sweet dispositions and I love to be around them. We went to visit their family in the campo (country). The reason that Jerdalin and Yomaira are in the home is that there family lives in a situation of poverty and because they are way out in the campo the girls cannot attend school if they live at home. It was obvious during our visit that the family was very loving and that were it not for the their situation that the girls should live at home with their family. Jerdalin’s feet never even touched the ground when we were there, her dad and brothers took turns carrying her around like a little princess.
While we were in the campo we visited another family that has 2 daughters and wants help from the home. Like Jerdalin and Yomaira’s family the family was living in poverty and the girls were unable to attend school. The sisters were 7 and 5 years old and were very sweet. I sat down and began to Nayeli, the 7 year-old. Before I knew it a small group of children from the campo had gathered around to listen. They were eager to listen and I though what a waste, all these young minds yearning to be nurtured that are wasted because they can’t go to school…. Maria Elena wanted to accept the girls into the home but we were faced with a problem. The girls’ parents were Haitian and neither or them had birth certificates. Maria Elena does not like to take children without birth certificates because declaring children later on can be difficult. Without a birth certificate a child cannot go to school past the 8th grade. Additionally, being Haitian was going to make getting the birth certificate even more difficult if not impossible (talking about being Haitian in the Dominican Republic is enough for a whole other blog entry)

viernes, 28 de marzo de 2008

I have a new home! Alleluyah!

I am still a little dumb-founded by today's events. For months now (7 to be exact, or ever since I got here) I have been dreaming of the day when I would be free of the donas and live in my own little casa. At the end of February was when Peace Corps would allow us to find our own houses in our communities, no more homestays. Well, I began looking mid-January with Maria Elena for a home here in La Victoria. We looked and we looked, we roamed the streets like the streets dogs and....nothing. Absolutely nothing that:
a) was safe
b) was within my Peace Corps budget
There are some quite nice apartments being built here. They are being built by my old host family in fact. They are the kind of apartments that I would want to live in in the US...and so they are very expenive. Well, not really that expensive, like US $250 per month, but on Peace Corps stipend that is all I get a month. There is no way I could spend all of my stipend on rent. Then another little casa was being built, but the same story, US $250 a month. If I spent all that on rent I would have no money for food, transportation or the occassionally trip to get together with other volunteers or to go to the beach. Plus, it really wouldn't look good for the Peace Corps volunteer who is supposed to be living humbly to live in a place like that.
So anyways, at the end of January, frustrated with my living situation and wanting a change I made a decision. I decided to live in the girls' home until I found my own casa to live in. Maria Elena was really struggling at the time. The two helpers for the home had left (the cook and another women who helped clean, do laundry, and spend the week nights at the home to help out). She needed help and I felt that I should at least have the experience of living in the home for a little while with the girls. I decided that it would be a temporary thing, just until I found my own house and that it would be mutally-beneficial for the girls and me to live together. Little did I know how hard it would be though.... I had gone from being a free-woman with few responsibilies other than for myself to being a mother of 21 girls. I began to resent my situation. I wanted to do something, I wanted to make a change and better the lives of these girls, but I was not ready to be a mother, let alone a mother to 21 girls!
My spirits began to drop. Although Maria Elena gave me plenty of time to "descansar" (rest) I found it hard to rest or sleep in the home. I was constantly on edge, just waiting for a little voice to scream "Molli!" or a knock on my door. I was feeling trapped, imprisoned in the home and resentful. I finally broke down and told Maria Elena I wasn't sure how much longer I could take it. Being the incredibly undertanding woman that she is, she told me not to worry, that she would find a solution. Little did I know it would come so quickly though!
This morning after I came back from exercising she sat me down. She told me that a friend of her's had found a house in Villa Mella (a larger suburb about 20 minutes from La Victoria). She said it was very nice and that we would go visit the house and see it. It is a very nice house, three rooms, a living room, bathroom (with running water!) and kitchen and almost always has electricity. So, 30 minutes after looking at the house and discussing it, we gave the money for the deposit and ya! All my misery and anxiety was cured, just like that. That is what is so amazing about this country. You never know what will happen.
Even though I will be living there with Liliana (Maria Elena's friend) and her son, that really doesn't bother me at all. I will go to the girls' home at 9am and return at 5pm. I will have a life. I am very happy about all of this :)

domingo, 23 de marzo de 2008

The founder and director of the home, St. Maria Elena Beltran (I added the saint part)

Hola! I know I just wrote the other entry, but I'm on a roll (and I have a few hours to kill and a good internet connection here) so I thought I'd write another. This entry is about Maria Elena, the director and founder of the home. In short Maria Elena is as close to a saint as I have met here on this Earth. She is amazing and I think everyone should meet her. Here is her bio:
195?: Maria Elena is born. Neither she nor her parents are sure of exactly the date. Her parents did not declare her when she was born (that is very common here, it is estimated that !/2 of the population are not declared). When she later declared herself in order to go to school they put down her age as 53, so she thinks she's 53-55 years old. Her real name is also not Maria Elena but actually Sentola. She did not know this either until she tried to get her papers. It is common here for people to have 2 names, the name that their parents give them that is on all their official documents, and the name that everyone calls them, or their apodo, nickname. However, the apodo, unlike the nickname Bobby for Robert, Maria Elena has nothing to do with Sentola.
Maria Elena was born in a campo (rural-country community) called El Ceibo outside of La Victoria. Shas 13 brothers and sisters. They all lived together in a 2 room house with a zinc roof, dirt floors, and no runnning water or electricity, and the slept on the floor on palm tree branches. They struggled just to have enough food to eat. Her mother bought chickens from the country to sell in the city and her dad helped harvest sugar cane.
Maria Elena always knew that she wanted more in life. She decided that she would not have 12 children the way most of the women in the campo were doing at that time. She convinced her father to let her go into La Victoria to go to school. She worked hard and studied by candle-light during the dark nights in the campo without electricity.
Maria Elena wanted to do something with her life to help people and she felt a strong calling from God. She thought that this meant that she should be a nun, so she went to two different convents. She soon realized though that she did not want to be a nun.
She then got married and was making a life for herself by teaching sewing. But the married life wasn't for her either. She wasn't happy, she knew that there was something that she should be doing with her life but she didn't know what. She stayed with her husband only a year before she left him.
Then one day two little girls came into her life. Their mother was unable to care for them and Maria Elena felt compelled to offer to take care of them. That night she had a dream in which the Virgin appeared to her and told her to take care of these children. She asked the Virgin how she was supposed to be able to provide for them and the Virgin said that God would provide. This was 13 years ago and the very beggining of the home. Maria Elena took in the two girls plus many more. In the 13 years girls have grown up and left the home and gone to the university, gotten good jobs, are married and have children, and new little girls take their place in the home. There have been times when it looked like the home wouldn't make it, there wasn't enough money, but somehow they always make it through.
There are now 21 girls in the home and they are ages 4-16. They live in the same home that Maria Elena started the home with.
Maria Elena is the kindest person I think I have ever met. She has endless patience (like during the first month when I was constantly breaking down and crying,,,,I would have gotten sick of me but she never did). She is the most selfless person I have ever met, she is always thinking of others and putting them in front of herself (she gave me her bed when I moved in the home. I tried to tell her not to give me her bed, but she refused and insisted that I take her bed. That is just the kind of person she is).She is endlessly energetic. I am exhausted at the end of each day at the home but she is always still going; she is up from 5am and goes to bed at 11pm, sometimes later and sometimes she doesn't sleep at all. My admiration for this woman is endless. I can only hope to be like her some day and to learn as much from her as possible.

sábado, 22 de marzo de 2008

A typical day in the life of Molly.....

Hola! So I have decided to start a blog. Well actually I started one before I left for Peace Corps but I never kept up with it, and I forgot my password and everything, so I have started a new one for a fresh start. I have been here in the DR about 7 months now, but the first 2 months were training so I am only 5 months into the 2 years of service meaning I have 19 more months of Dios quiere. Anyways, I thought I would fill everyone in on what a normal day is like for me living in the girls' home, so this is what my average day looks like:

6:30-6:45 am: get up and go work out with Angie and Mercy, two American missionairy women who are here with their families. We do a different workout every day from jumping rope, sprint intervals to exercise videos.
7:45am- The girls pray and then go to school. Almost all the girls go to school in the morning from 8-12:30. We send them to a school about 20 minutes away because the quality of the education is so much better there. However, we do not have a bus to send them in so we have to pack 19 girls into a tiny van.
Photo: the clown car goes to school

8:00 am- Return from working out to find my coffee waiting for me, thank you Katy :) Fill buckets and trashcans with water so we have water later on. Take a bucket bath and wash clothes in a bucket by hand.
Photo: hand-washing my clothes in a bucket

9:00-12:00pm: The majority of the girls are in school from 8-12:30.Depends from day-to-day, usually I work in the office on PR stuff, calling people to become sponsors for the home, responding to emails, etc. I also often visit the girls' school, go to parent-teacher conferences, help Maria Elena go shopping for food/supplies and I tutor Carolina, 9 years old, and Reini, 4 years old, who go to school in the afternoon.

12:45pm: The girls return from school. They change out of their school uniforms and eat lunch. I eat lunch lunch too and then take a nap/relax for an hour in my room.

Photo: la Comida

2:00-3:15 pm: I get ready for "Sala de Tarea". Sala de Tarea is a kind of tutoring/home-schooling program. The girls only get about 3 to 4 hours of school a day, which is obviously not enough (not to mention that although the school we send the girls to is better than most, it is still lacking in many ways). We use Sala de Tarea as a time to do their homework (usually only the older ones have homework) and to supplement their education, especially in reading and writing. I teach the younger girls first, the 5-9 year-olds. We are working on basic things, such as the alphabet, writing, and addition/subtraction. Some of the girls are really behind. (Photo: teaching the Sala de Tarea)

3:30-4:30 pm: I get the younger girls ready to go and we head over to La Solanita to play in their yard. The home we are currently in has no yard or space to play. I try to get the girls to run aroud as much as possible and play games; it helps them to sleep better at night if they get some physical activity.
Photos: La Solanita, where we take the girls to play, and where we hope to move to later this year!
5:00-6:00 pm- We return to the home. The girls have some free time and I take a little break.

Photo: me in my room

6:00-7:00pm- The girls eat dinner

Photo: the girls playing in the sala6:30-7:30pm- The girls get some tv time.

Photo: Ana Deisi and Carolina

7:30-8:00pm: I read to the little girls.
Photo: the girls' bunkbeds

8:00-9:00: I hang out with the older girls and help with homework.
Photo: Jessican chats on the phone
9:00pm: I retire to my room, write emails, chat, read and I am usually pretty exhausted! Photo: Me in the pantry!