This past summer, I spent time in the Dominican Republic with the Social Enterprise Institute. SEI runs two dialogue/ field study programs every summer and I was lucky enough to participate in this one. I arrived “en la Republica Dominicana” on May 4th (having laid over in Miami on the 3rd) with the uncertainty of what the upcoming month would bring. The DR reminds me of Jamaica, my home.
For the first two weeks of the trip, we had the opportunity to do field research for a microfinance institution called Esperanza International. A non-profit that is, like most non-profits, susceptible to fluctuations in funding. Carrying out research on a large scale, as we were able to, is often challenging for them. Having understood this, I felt less that our work was a social activity to quench our thirst to “do good” and more impacting than I originally expected. We measured Esperanza’s client retention rates and presented our findings to their executive/ administrative team.
The following week, we worked with MBA students at PUCMM University in Santiago and learned more about the country and its culture. The final week, we spent our time developing projects in extremely poor communities that would hopefully attend to their most desperate needs. I found this week to be the most challenging. This was the week that we had the opportunity to, in some way, change aspects of community members’ lifestyles. To say that we were able to change the community and better the lives of its members would be to take credit for far more than we were able to do. Social work is not made up of quick fixes; it is successful through small, impacting changes that lead to significant long- term fixes.
I would not trade this experience for anything. They asked us at the end what our biggest surprise was and what our biggest take away from the trip is. I said that my biggest surprise was that we were able to go into communities and be in such close contact with Esperanza’s clients, despite the fact that we were a large group and relatively “foreign”. My friend Dan said that his biggest take away was the “30 new friends” he gained. I have to agree with him on this. Traveling with people and going through all the challenges that accompany this type of work puts you on the fast track to getting to know them. Finding people that share my passion was irreplaceable. I am eternally grateful to the SEI team and my 30 new friends.
Ali Matalon, Political Science & International Affairs