Development in the Dominican

By Sara Hanson

While the Dominican Republic may be one of the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destinations, it is also one of the western hemisphere’s poorest countries.

Later this year, four University of Calgary graduates will travel to the Dominican Republic with Canadians for Organized Relief Effort–a five-member non-governmental organization incorporated in 2006–to complete the NGO’s first development project in the small farming village of Bejuco Alambre.

During their trip to the Dominican, CORE’s members will outfit twenty-five of Bejuco Alambre’s one hundred homes with biosand water filters to provide clean water and solar panels to provide a reliable and sustainable source of electricity. CORE president and U of C electrical engineering grad Justin Cloutier explained the entire village currently shares one electric grid, which poses problems for citizens.

“The electricity in the area is very unreliable,” he said. “People also don’t have the resources to get lighting, so they try to connect illegally and that has caused a lot of injuries in the past.”

As the equipment for the project could be purchased in the Dominican, Cloutier explained the members have already secured it with their own money. However, to cover the costs of the equipment, CORE is holding a fundraiser titled “Dominican Night: Beyond the Beach,” which Cloutier noted alludes to the North American perception of the Dominican.

“A lot of people know about the Dominican Republic from all the all-inclusive resorts,” said Cloutier. “They go to the beach, however, they are sheltered from the country’s poor.”

CORE director Donna Code Castillo–who spent a year building homes in the Dominican–said tourism is a vital part of the country’s economy, which is something Dominicans all understand and respect.

“The tourism industry is a good thing,” she said. “Dominicans recognize this, so they treat tourists very well, versus Mexico where tourists are often swarmed by beggars and vendors.”

Because the Dominican is located on the same island as the war-torn country of Haiti, it may appear to be relatively developed to tourists. Code Castillo said when flying over the island there is an obvious difference between the countries, as the rainforests in Haiti have been cut down, uprooting the top soil, and making agriculture unsustainable. While agriculture in the Dominican is much more sustainable, Code Castillo stressed the country still faces challenges.

“The Dominican is much more prosperous than Haiti,” she said. “However, in our terms, it is still quite poor. It’s considered a developing country, but they are trying to get free-trade agreements with North America.”

Although CORE has covered the start-up costs for the program, the village will be responsible for raising money to outfit the remaining homes. However, CORE treasurer Cristina Amaro said they will not completely abandon the village once their work is done.

“We have someone who can oversee the programs after they’re implemented to make sure they are running accordingly,” she said. “That’s something we really needed. If we work in the community, we like to have a long term relationship with that community, not just do a project and then leave. That’s the main reason we chose this for our first project.”

Cloutier also stressed the importance of implementing a program that is self-sustaining.

“We are also looking at getting a recycling program going with the batteries, versus just going down there and installing the equipment and going on to the next project,” he said. “We’re going to a lot of effort to make sure it’s full-circle.”

Both Amaro and Cloutier said they hope the success of this project will inspire others to volunteer for CORE in the future. While their first development project may be limited in scope, Cloutier stressed CORE’s members will be happy with any positive impact they make on the village.

“Any change is good, even if it’s on a small scale,” he said. “Where the satisfaction comes in is when you actually see the results and you see the difference. Change will breed more change.”

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