Learning with Children in the Dominican Republic

This summer, we will feature guest posts from students who received a Dingman Center scholarship to participate in the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC). They will share their experiences learning about social entrepreneurship while consulting with local businesses in Latin America. Learn more about MSEC here.


by: Shelby Pittman

The past few weeks I have immersed myself with Dominican culture, something that is brand new to me. I am only halfway through this journey, but along the way I try to act as a sponge, soaking up the mannerisms, problems and the language of the people. During this eight week program with the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps there are 22 students which are split between two cities, Ojeda and Los Blancos. I was placed in Ojeda, where I mostly spend time with my welcoming host family and their friends.

desconocido.jpgDuring our fist week living in Ojeda, our group just talked to the people in our neighborhood about anything and everything, as the neighbors were just as curious to learn about us as we were to learn about them. At night you could find many of us in front of a house, talking to new people under the stars, sharing jokes and laughs. At first, I was nervous about holding conversations with people that solely speak Spanish, as I have never taken a Spanish class before this program. But I soon learned that patience goes a long way, and that smiles and lots of pointing can help too.

What I noticed during these nights is that many people, including teens and children, are out during the nights. Coming from an economically privileged household in the United States, my mindset was that it was dangerous for kids to be out at night without their guardians having direct supervision over them, especially when sometimes the power is out and there are no working streetlights, so it’s very dark and difficult to see. Coming into this program, I learned that the Dominican Republic’s education system could vastly improve, as some children do not go to school, and some children do not know how to read. Also, I noticed youth did not have much to do. It was either talk outside, or play a game with friends. Again being privileged, I am used to many entertainment options, like going to the movies, shopping mall or eating at restaurants. I would see myself getting bored here at nighttime and would sleep early, like around 10 p.m.

So after a week or so, our Ojeda group divided into four committees, each focusing on one main area. It was instinctive for me to choose the “Los Niños y Jóvenes” committee. I have a lot of experience volunteering and working with kids, and I genuinely like kids. I truly believe that childhood is the foundation of a person’s life. Through my observations, many people’s main problems in life stem from something in their childhood.

desconocido_2.jpgSo far I am excited to work in this committee to help aid youth development. We want to have clean-up days so that the children have a safer and cleaner place to play and hang out with their peers. One day we will be cleaning the areas around the community center and water tank. And another day we will be cleaning the beach. Also, our committee is working on creating a concise but thorough sexual education curriculum, which is very important—as youth need to know what changes are taking place during puberty, and how to be responsible when engaging in sexual activity.

The community in Ojeda is supportive of their youth. At one of MSEC’s community meetings (a charla) the adults were very much proud of their children. I have already seen promise, as when we talked to the youth they were very motivated to start a secular youth group of their own. Also, the teens have been the most helpful and insightful so far, as they come to many of MSEC’s other meetings as well. The kids in this neighborhood are always on the move, but are so intrigued by the students in MSEC. The kids will always want to talk to us, asking us numerous questions, playing jokes on us, or dragging us to take pictures. I have still have a lot to learn while being part of this incredible internship, and I think learning a thing or two from the youth is a great place to start.

desconocido-1.jpgShelby Pittman is a senior at the University of Maryland. She majors in Criminology & Criminal Justice and minors in Arabic and General Business. When she is not studying she takes part in Phi Alpha Delta, Prelaw Fraternity and Kappa Lambda Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. on campus. She also works at the University Of Maryland Police Department as a security operations monitor. In her free time she likes learning foreign languages, dancing, and reading. She has interests in becoming a lawyer, and eventually working within the Intelligence Community, focusing on white collar crime.

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