Saturday, November 3, 2012

Life in the DR!

Well, it’s been a little over three weeks since I landed in the Dominican Republic, and plenty has been happening! Here in the Dominican, I’m working for an organization called ENDA-Dominicana (ENDA stands for Environment and Development Action, and is an international NGO based in Senegal). After landing in the country, we spend the first couple of days reviewing the documentation of the projects so that  we could figure out what kinds of things we were interested in doing. There was a lot to go through, and it still feels like there’s tons to learn. ENDA-Dom has been working in the country for over thirty years, so the full scope of their involvement in the Domincan Republic is something that only a few people are really aware  of.


I also spent a good portion of the first two weeks figuring out my living situation. I’m living with another intern from the Falls Brook Centre, Elisa. Since our internships are based around the town of Cotuí, we’re primarily living at the apartment that our director rents there. The apartment, I should add, is a palace compared to our digs at Falls Brook. It is huge, has all the amenities one could want, and is in a brand new building. It is also right next to one of the most happening nightclubs in Cotuí, the De Melissa Car Wash – so named because it is, in fact, a car wash during the day. Many nightspots are similarly repurposed during the work day, which helps to explain why a town of 17 000 people has three massive car washing establishments. We’re also renting a (far more humble) room in Santo Domingo because our work requires us to spend a day or two every week in the capital at ENDA’s main office. The lady of the house has rented to interns before, so she knows what to expect from us.

The main ENDA project that we’re working with is super interesting, and a little controversial. ENDA has partnered with a large Canadian mining company, Barrick Gold, to carry out a reforestation and ommunity development project in the area around the Barrick mine, near Cotuí. The project itself is pretty extensive, as the area stretches from the Pueblo Viejo mine all the way to Los Haitises National Park, on the eastern coast. The idea is to encourage landowners to plant trees on their land for the purpose of either having managed woodlots or agroforestry systems. This would allow people to obtain an economic yield from the trees they plant, either from timber harvesting or the sale of fruits such as cocoa, plantain, or citrus. Naturally, since the major corporate partner is a giant mining company, controversy has followed – more on that later.

Delivering trees in Jobo

Those same trees one week later, with treekeepers

We’ve also been shown around some of the other ENDA projects in the area – they’ve been supporting a bunch of small woodworking businesses and sawmills, with the goal of increasing local production. While the Dominican Republic has incredible forest resources and an advanced management system, it still imports something like 90% of its lumber because the local industry has not been able to match demand. Many of the difficulties that local industries face is due to the extremely stringent laws surrounding the right to cut down trees for lumber, which have been in place for over 50 years, since the Trujillo dictatorship. Ironically, the result of these environmental protection laws is that lumber is imported from countries that suffer from overharvesting, such as Honduras and Brazil.

Over the last week or so, we’ve been figuring out where we interns fit into all of this. Our boss in Santo Domingo has urged us to get to work on spreading the word about the project, since there has not been a lot of publicity since the planting started last year, and the project staff have not had time to publicize their  results. In addition to the promotion/website work, we’ve been accompanying the technical staff of the project into the field to help with surveys and follow-up with project partners. These visits also help us to gather information about different experiences that people are having, in order to spread information and suggestions related to the project. Also, we’ve been finding that there’s quite a network of interns in the area who are working on similar projects, so there’s plenty of opportunity for collaboration. We’re also trying to find ways to make our work sustainable, so that the website updating and promotion can be done on a continual basis, rather than relying on interns to come along and start from a basic level each year.

And that’s not all! We’ve also been meeting amazing people. Our co-workers in the Cotuí and Santo Domingo offices have been amazing friends and supports over the last weeks. We had two very memorable couchsurfing experiences with wonderful, generous hosts while we were finding places to stay and becoming acquainted with the Dominican life. The project partners that we have met in the villages around Cotuí have been incredible and welcomed us into their homes from the beginning. We’ve also met some international interns from Canada and Korea, and have heard of others from Japan and the United States in the area. All in all, I think we’re in for a really wonderful few months!

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