Posted by: Lydia | October 14, 2010

BV Cibao 2010!

We just had our regional Brigada Verde conference and although it was no Slow Foods tour, a delicious and educational time was had by all.

This year’s conference took place at the same center run by Plan Sierra (a Dominican environmental NGO) at which I had my 3-month in-service training high up in the mountains, smack in the middle of the country. Fun fact: the nearest major pueblo to the center, San Jose de las Matas, receives the most remesas (money sent to this country by Dominicans living and working in the United States) of anywhere in the Dominican Republic. All of this extra cash exhibits itself in architecture that has an eerie similarity to much of that found in certain parts of Long Island (i.e. lots of columns with fake gold leaf, lawn art, “fancy” metal grates over everything… you know what I mean, Strong Islanders.

Doing youth-related work here in the Dominican Republic is incredibly different from and much, much easier than in the United States. Perhaps it’s that the kids we work with here aren’t all automatically from terrible backgrounds and are in our programs either for therapeutic reasons or to keep them off the streets. It could also be that the complete lack of litigiousness in Dominican culture allows us to have a lot more fun without worrying about getting sued by someone’s parents. However, more than anything I feel that the poor quality of the Dominican school system actually (and tragically) works to our advantage. Dominican kids go to school at best a few hours of the day, most of which are filled by the teachers just trying to keep the kids under control. For volunteers, this means that any kind of educational activity we try and do with youth is met with their rapt attention. I am constantly surprised by how enthusiastic my Brigada Verde is to simply go around the room and read to each other out of our handbook. I mean, can you imagine a group of American adolescents fighting over who gets to read more passages about global warming on a Saturday night? At the end of our conference, we were all surprised to hear that the only negative criticism our youth had is that they wanted MORE lectures.

As part of our “sustainability” themed conference, we took a tour of an organic coffee farm named KARMOA Cafe run by a Danish guy and his Dominican wife. Although the fact that this farm is foreign-owned and that it employs mostly Haitian labor is a sobering reminder of the Dominican Republic’s constant struggle with truly domestic economic development, it was great for the youth to see that it is possible to run an incredibly successful not only organic, but also contamination-free farm. This operation makes all of its fertilizer with lombriculture utilizing the coffee pulp to feed the worms. It also roasts the coffee and does all the on-site cooking with biofuel made from waste from coffee processing and, get this, excrement from the workers who live at the farm. Talk about a zero-waste operation. As part of the tour we feasted on delicious pastries and drank ridiculous amounts of gourmet coffee, and although it may seem like a terrible idea to give 28 adolescents as much coffee as they can drink, that kind of thing is pretty par for the course here. Speaking of which, at my nutrition class last week I saw a woman give her baby hot coffee, which it drank with gusto.

Anyways, after the tour it was back to Peace Corps Reality with a vengeance, as we had a 2 hour ride in the back of a pickup truck on one of the worst roads I’ve had the privilege of using, in a torrential rainstorm. Luckily the kids were in an enclosed guagua (minibus), so spirits remained high despite the fact that one girl had a sudden onset of appendicitis and had to be rushed to the hospital (yes, she’s fine, and she also has a brother living in Babylon, Long Island so medical expenses shouldn’t be too much of an issue either). Just your average weekend in Peace Corps DR Environmental Sector, folks!

Here are some photos from the weekend:

Giving an AIDS charla with Claire (why are we giving a lecture on AIDS at an environmental conference? Because it was funded by a PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) grant.. that’s why!). In case you can’t see it, the slide reads: Sangre, Semen, Secreciones Vaginales y Leche Materna. Now you know the four bodily fluids that transmit AIDS… in Spanish!

Fun with worm ranching

Recycled art. The girl on the far left is from my community, and she received a special award for leadership during the conference. Que orgullo yo tengo!!

Turns our my kid Chulito (his nickname) is a great artist.

There can never be enough arts and crafts time.

Almost forgot. My kids gave their first in-school charla last week. They planned, organized, and presented the whole thing themselves, I just provided the materials and used my “important foreigner” status to get the teacher to allow us to take class time.

System for making liquid fertilizer from coffee pulp

Macadamia nuts! My fellow fronterista (border-land resident like myself) Andrea making the weird face.

Guess which kid has the most relatives who live pa’lla (in America)? Yep, you are correct, the one in front.

Also, our garden is finally starting to produce something other than lettuce. It looks like all that backbreaking labor trying to turn a kitchen floor into an organic garden is actually going to pay off with veggies that I can eat raw without soaking them in bleach first.

First cucumber. Interestingly this is one of the plants whose stem broke during a hard rainfall, yet managed to heal and keep growing and now looks like it is going to be our best-producing vine. I had heard that gently breaking a tomato plant will cause it to regrow stronger and produce more, but never had the nerve to try that myself.. so who knows, maybe it works the same way with cucumbers:

Okra plants in bloom



  1. Bravo again, Sis! I am so proud to tell of you guys and the great works you are doing for the common people of the D.R.!!

  2. Goddamnit, why does google have to sleaze EVERYTHING up.

    “Ads by Google
    Exotic Dominican Wives
    100s Hottest Dominican Women Dreaming of Love & Family Happiness”

    You think it’d be bad enough that Facebook tries to get me to join Christian dating websites while suggesting I look at pictures of my ex-girlfriend.

    Good job like helping children and stuff, BTW.

  3. Relatives in Babylon?!!! Babylon!!!???
    Too funny. They’ve probably spotted you on the LIRR….

  4. Just had a moment to catch up on your blog. Are you pretty fluent in Spanish now? Did you give the lecture on AIDs in Spanish? I assume so.

    Leave are finally tunring here — how is your weather? I will think of you when the snow arrives.

    See you in December.

    love Sue

  5. I am pretty much fluent in Spanish now.. but it is Dominican Spanish, a very special and grammatically flexible language. I want to use Spanish professionally after my time here so I will probably need some remedial courses to fix my accent (I talk like a caribbean redneck now) and learn non-Dominican vocabulary. And yes, all of the lectures I give are in Spanish.

    Our weather is getting pretty fresco (for this country) out in my site. I actually have to use a blanket at night which is a nice change.

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