The Dominican Republic, a nation rich in culture and history, is home to over ten million people, many of whom live in poverty. According to UN Women, “35% of the population live below the poverty line and 7.9% live below the line of extreme poverty.” Because of issues like increasing population and natural disasters, jobs are often difficult to find and opportunities for education are limited.
27&Oak partners with Manos Esforzadas, a Buckner project in the Dominican Republic, to empower women with job skills and a steady income. The women who work at Manos Esforzadas make Ezer Bags that are sold in 27&Oak’s online store.
Serena, a nursing student from Dallas, traveled to the Dominican Republic last summer for a medical missions trip with Buckner International. Besides doing medical work and education, she also visited Manos Esforzadas to meet the women and learn about the project. We sat down with Serena to talk about how her time in the Dominican Republic impacted her and why empowerment and job skills are important for women in poverty.
Q: Why did you travel to the Dominican Republic?
A: At the university I go to, they like their nursing and counseling students to go on a “global service learning project.” So I went to the Dominican Republic with my nursing class. It was kind of like a medical mission trip!
We set up a clinic there and worked with some local doctors in a low income area. We worked taking blood sugars and then helped people go and talk to a doctor to get medication. It was something that was very much appreciated there.
On other days, we gave informational talks on issues like diabetes or high blood pressure or hygiene, issues that are very prevalent.
Q: Why is it important for Manos Esforzados to provide women in the Dominican Republic with a steady income and job skills?
A: When we were doing educational talks, most of the people that came were mothers and children. And, while I like to think that there’s a supportive father at home, that’s not always true.
The moms want to do what’s best for their kids. I also think most of the moms there want some independence and confidence. I saw the moms and kids and how much they care. And they need an income to be able to support their families.
We’re talking to them about health and hygiene but they can only afford so much. So having a steady income means they could afford foods that are more nutritious or to even eat at a regular time. Or they could afford some better shoes that would protect them against disease and infection
To have an income means they can focus on other things instead of worrying about hunger or sickness.
Q: What was a meaningful experience you had while in the Dominican Republic?
A: Probably the thing that impacted me the most was going to a children’s hospital and seeing how different the healthcare system is there versus in the U.S. They’re doing the best they can and they work with what they have. But there was so much sickness in that one hospital and they don’t have the resources to take care of all of them.
In the burn unit they have issues like kids playing in stagnant water near a telephone pole or boiling oil falls. They’re just exposed to more hazards there.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you?
A: We had one beach day where we went to a resort. I know that in every country there are places that are taken care of and places that are not. But it’s crazy to me that so much money goes into keeping up a place for tourists. And that resort might be the only area tourists see. They might not see what most of the country is like.
That surprised me and I almost felt bad for being there. I didn’t want to be seen as just a tourist that came and was just enjoying a beach day. It felt like such a contrast from what I had experienced the day before at the children’s hospital.
I had just seen this children’s hospital and suddenly, I was in the complete opposite environment. It was a strange feeling.
Q: How has your time in the Dominican Republic affected the way you live your life at home in Texas?
A: My time there gave me an appreciation for the things I have and also an appreciation for a different culture. People of a different culture are just people. It was so nice to see, ‘Oh! These are just moms and kids.’ or ‘This is just a family. And they just happen to live a different way than I do.’
Editor's note: At 27&Oak we want to connect you with people around the world through the items we sell. As we connect with others, our perspectives shift as we see the world and its people in new ways. Has your worldview been changed by an overseas trip or an encounter with someone different than you? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your story.
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