Thursday, May 22, 2014

when you visit.

I've been on a soapbox for the past six months or so - shouting to whoever would listen about the rules for "visiting" developing nations. I know it's kind of hypocritical - I get that. I am, for the most part, aa outsider living here. I will never be Dominican. But, I do live here and have invested in a life here and it drives me nuts when I read or hear certain things.

"... we drove through the slums of Santiago to reach our destination."
"... the kids were all unsupervised because their parents just don't care."
"... it was in that moment that I knew, these kids were not just materially poor, they were starved for love."

um, seriously?

There are some very unsavory places in Santiago - one might even argue that our school is in a terrible area - but there are very few places in the Dominican Republic worthy of the term "slum." Some people live in shacks. Some people live in houses made of pallets. Others live in unfinished, poorly made apartments.  There are homeless people. Many people live together in small spaces. But, slums are characterized by filth, disorganization and general squalor. They are informal settlements - not neighborhoods with real roads and public utility services.

It might seem nit-picky.
What's the difference  between calling it a slum or calling it the hood? or the ghetto?

It's that by calling our neighborhood or any neighborhood like it a slum is negating that real and terrible poverty that others actually live in. Just across an invisible line that divides the island, there are  slums, a tent city where there aren't even bathrooms or running water. By calling a barrio a slum, it negates the time and energy and effort that many of the residents put in to make their communities work - it negates the organization and working-together that happens to avoid becoming a slum.

And it's that same community work that allows people to leave their kids on the streets - unsupervised. My kids play outside still with the neighbors, and I know that even if I'm not 100% on it, someone else's mom has her eye out the window. In the places where most "visitors" visit, there are tons of kids playing outside. Houses are hot. They are small. There is no internet, no cable tv, no 24 hour cartoon network. There is no air flow. Kids play outside.

Just because you can't see mom, doesn't mean she isnt' there.

And just because the kids are unsupervised it doesn't mean their parents don't care about them. It means they are letting their kids play, like kids do. Or they're working. You know, to put food on the table. And the kids come home by themselves - like many, many children across the world.

While there are many cases of parental neglect - that's not unique to the developing world, I know a ton of people in the "developed" world who could care less about their kids.

Which brings me to my last rant:
just because people are poor does not mean that they do not love their kids. 

This is the commentary that gets deepest under my skin. How dare you, short-term visitor, decide that a child is just "in need of love?" Do you know the family? Do you even know the child? After 3 days of contact, in a foreign language, do you really suppose that you know so much about a person to know if they are loved?


It is easy to jump to conclusions based on our cultural background - our own baggage taints our vision. We are not, and we should not be, carbon copies of each other. The way that I show love to my children may be vastly different than how you do. And we can't even begin to figure each other out - our needs, wants, desires -  in three day trips.

Please, by all means, visit those hard places - but understand that poverty does not negate love, and the visitors are not the only people capable of giving love. an materially empty home does not imply an emotionally empty one. and if you are to visit a real slum, there is love and hope present even in the ugliest shack.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

on getting a passport.

I know that sometimes people stumble across this blog looking for practical information about living in the Dominican Republic. I'm not really that practical. However, today I discovered the secret American Citizen Services on the island.

Why did someone not tell me about this gloriousness before?

I don't have a ton of reasons to go to the ACS department of the consulate/embassy, but it has never been particularly easy when the need has presented itself. There is an office in Santo Domingo - in one of the busiest consulates in Latin America. It is, by nature, crazy. It's hard to get an appointment (it's easier now than it was years ago, but still), the appointments are at 6am - but you are often not seen until 10am. There is a filing process that seems to change every 10 minutes and a security policy that means leaving a cell phone at home - which is fun when you're travelling with a baby, far from home.

When we needed to declare Samil as an American citizen, we went all the way to the capital - just to pick up papers - only to find out that the ACS was not working that day, eventhough there was no mention of this on their webpage and their "working calendar" had them accepting papers that day. When we finally did get the appointment, we were thwarted by one of the strongest storms to hit the island in recent history -- and, of course, on that day, the ACS didn't close. The entire island was closed EXCEPT the consulate. It took some strategically placed phone calls to senators and congresspeople in the States to get us a new appointment because not only did they not answer the telephones (emergency telephone numbers at that!) they also did not respond to emails or faxes.

I had to renew my passport once. It consisted of me leaving two small children - one still almost exclusively breastfed - in Santiago overnight, getting to my (super early) appointment only to sit there until lunchtime because everyone present had an 8am appointment. 

photo from
Amely's declaration was way easier - but by the time she came around, there were no special privileges for American citizens, so we sat on hard plastic chairs in the general, non-air-conditioned room filled with literally hundreds of people waiting for visas. It was loud and uncomfortable.

I can say plenty of positive things about Santo Domingo - the guards are generally really nice and helpful and the consuls are friendly and accomodating. There is even a diaper changing table in the bathroom - almost unheard of in Santiago establishments! Last summer, I needed an emergency passport for Samil because I was not on-top of things. The consul went above and beyond to make sure that I got that passport - even waiting for me to get the correct birth certificate sent down from Santiago (because I forgot it!)

It is that emergency passport that took me back to the ACS offices this morning. An emergency passport is only valid for three months, which means that Samil's passport expired in November. And we're planning to travel in July. After asking around, I contacted the Puerto Plata Consular Agency and got an appointment -- for a week after I called! It was amazing.

Because I had never done an emergency passport before, I had a lot of questions - are the forms the same? (most passport forms are done online now. there was a quick questionnaire, and it sent me directly to the correct forms. I printed when I was finished) do we have to pay? (we didn't! Because it was just replacing the short, three-month passport, the actual book was paid for with the fee for the emergency book) does my husband need to come along? (nope. Again, replacement book - we were just technically adding pages). does he need a new picture? (yes) and, how do I get there?

The woman in charge answered all of my emails in a timely fashion. When I called on the phone, she (I imagine the same woman) was so helpful. Our appointment was for 9am, but we were out of there before 9. I even made it back to Santiago in time for my meeting at 11. It was amazing.

So, all of this rambling and story-telling is to give you hope, dear reader. If you need ACS services in the DR, go to Puerto Plata if it is possible. They are lovely, efficient people. You can reach them at PuertoPlataConsularAgency (at) or call them (809) 586-4204.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Thirty was amazing - I know that a lot of women dread the big 3-0, but I embraced it and celebrated it. Thirty was fulfilling: I started a job that I love, doing what I'm passionate about. My kids grew and became interesting little people, with awesome, little personalities. We began to see change in the education system that looked promising and changes taking place in the country that were heartening.

Thirty-one was hard. That awesome new job presented awesome new responsibilities and some of the hardest situations I've ever dealt with. My kids tested their limits and bounds, and the education that we were working so hard to invest in was not up-to-par. I hate to hear my son and daughter plan and plot to get our of school My dad got sick with shingles and then both of parents were out-of-work -- my mom because of the massive (and disgusting) budget cuts in the School District of Philadelphia. I was far away - and believe me, it's hard to be away from your family when things are not going so great. 

Thirty-two is going to be great.

I can feel it in my bones. I can look back on thirty-one and see how all of the "bad" stuff is just leading up to a lot of good stuff. My job - both of them - despite the hard stuff, is fulfilling and we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor not only in our students, but in their families as well. We have a (tentative) plan to enhance our own kids' education. My parents are back to work (thank God!). And, our family is growing, as we'll welcome a new baby soon enough.

More than anything, I think, I am going into thirty-two knowing that I am not alone. That despite everything - I am blessed with good and faithful friends and a family who love me. It's going to be a great year!

Let's celebrate!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

daily positive: fresh fruit, dirt cheap

I've been trying for the past few weeks to my energies on all things good. It's hard, especially since it's been a rough few weeks. My goal, every day, is to find one thing that makes living in the DR nice. Honestly? This winter, I would just turn on the news or open my Facebook feed to see how much snow was getting dumped on the Northeastern United States each day. Kind of mean to those who live there, but it definitely made island life desirable.

I do miss spring, though - the budding of the trees and flowers, cool weather. Mostly, I miss the gradual transition from cold to hot. Here we just have hot to hotter.

But! Spring in the DR brings fresh fruit in our backyard: guavas, cherries and (most importantly) a mango tree that has produced hundreds of mangoes this year --- and they're the good kind, not too stringy or worm infested.

Our backyard has cherries, limes, sour oranges, guava, canesten fruit, nisperos (loquat fruit), mangoes, avocadoes and coconuts. Amalio has tried to grow some papaya, and I'm happy to say that so far, that hasn't worked out (I hate papaya - especially the smell of the tree). He's also currently trying to grow granadillo - which is either a type of passion fruit (but I don't think so because we call that chinola here), or a kind of pomegranate.

Last week I needed to overload on some fruits due to a little bacterial infection - the doctor recommended the typical cranberries - which were nearly six dollars a pound in the super market since they're imported. He also recommended pineapple, coconut water and drinking baking soda (yuck!). I gave my brother-in-law one hundred pesos (about $2.50USD) - he came home with two 16-ounce bottles of fresh coco-water (because he was too lazy to get a coconut from the tree) and four nice sized pineapples.

Yum yum!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Futuro Lleno de Esperanza 2014-2015 Wish/Needs List

I've spent the past few weeks weeding through our supply closet/library at school, throwing away trash (broken toys, ripped papers, dried out clay, etc...), rearranging shelves and furniture and making lists of things we need.

Luckily, there's not many things that we need. Our needs have been met - and generously. We have a number of things - you know, that kids use and wear out - that we will always need replenished, but we finally have most of the basics: desks, chairs, chalk boards, book shelves, etc...

In the past, a lot of my blog readers have collaborated to get us what we want and what we need so that we can offer a quality education to our students. That's why I'm posting our wish-list here, as well as on our Facebook page.

Crayons          Rulers
Pencils            Felt
Markers         Kid Scissors
Erasers           Yarn
Teacher Scissors
Dry Erase Markers
Foam Paper
Pencil Sharpeners
Glue Sticks (not white glue)
Borders, Name Tags, Index Cards
Board Games - non-language related (or in Spanish): UNO cards, Sorry, Parchesi, Jenga, Connect4, etc...
Spanish Story Books
2 Dry Erase Boards
Bathroom Scale
Plastic Shelving/Crates/Cubes
Used Cell Phone (unblock-able) for the office
Math Games and Materials (like Unit-10 blocks, number lines, tangram blocks, etc...)
Children's acetemetophen (no Advil or aspirin due to mosquito-borne illnesses) and Pepto-Bismol
Hand sanitizer
Plastic Cups (about 60) and 3 solid plastic pitchers (for drinking water)

Craft Supplies - google eyes, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, glitter, etc...
Cut-out (Dye-Cut letters)
Puzzles (wooden and  pieces jigsaws)
Classroom decorations
Reward Stickers
Lacing toys (weaving, big beads, cards)
Staplers and Staples
Puppets (finger/stick/full size)
Dress up clothes
Plastic Storage containers (small and large)
Kid-friendly science stuff (magnifying glasses, microscope, eye droppers, animal toys, magnets, mirrors, etc..)

We have a list on - which is just an idea of what things look like, please, if you can find it cheaper somewhere else (like a consignment/thrift shop), even better. I've hyper-linked most of the stuff on the list to the dollar tree store or oriental trading, since that's where I usually buy stuff (it's bulk and cheaper), but again, feel free to be creative.

Of course, we need to transport stuff from the USA to the DR, so if you're willing to help to pay for shipping, we'd love that. We can also buy many things in the DR - like dry-erase boards - that would be difficult to ship.

Please, please let me know if you would like to help Futuro Lleno de Esperanza continue to offer quality education for our students through our wish-list at futurollenodeesperanza (@) gmail (dot) com or melanie512 (@) gmail (dot) com. Soon, we'll be launching some fund-raising programs to support the school financially - keep a look out on our Facebook page for that!

------------disclaimer: while Fundacion Futuro Lleno de Esperanza is a legal and recognized non-for-profit, non-governmental organization in the Dominican Republic (RNC: 430124062), we do not have 501c3 status in the USA, and therefore are unable to issue tax-receipts for donations. I can assure you, though, that all donations go toward the betterment of our schools and communities.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

and we lost one.

Not too long ago, i posted on my facebook that i'm sick of people making assumptions about our kids and their families. Being monetarily or materially poor does not mean that our kids are not loved. Lacking fancy houses or nice cars does not mean we are in a slum.

And just because our kids are poor, does not mean that they are not loved.

I would venture to say that all of our kids are loved. Deeply and fiercely loved.
Do their parents do it right all of the time? Nope.

But neither do I.
I am mean to my kids after a long day of work, and often would prefer to watch tv or read a book or have a drink with friends than hang out with them. I yell. I get frustrated.
It doesn't negate my love for them.

And being poor does not make parents love their kids any less.

But, our students come with a lot of mess.
They live in a neighborhood filled with violence and drugs and unemployment and more. They have parents who work long hours to provide for them. They have a whole set of low expectations thrust upon them from the day they enter school.

They have a lot on their little plates, and it reflects at school. It reflects in how they interact with their peers, their teachers and with their families.

All of that being said, part of our job is to love these kids, too. To provide stability in a world full of mess. And it's really  hard.

Really hard.

I think that we try to fight for all of them in the beginning. Some of them just pull our heart strings a little bit more than others, and some probably the ones who most need us to fight for them - drive us so crazy that it's hard to keep at it.

We hadn't lost any. We've had kids move from the city, get enrollment in the public school, parents remarry. We've had parents decide that we just weren't offering what they need.

But we hadn't really lost any that needed us to fight for them.

Until two weeks ago.
We've been fighting and fighting for this precious girl. She disappeared right before Holy Week. The other kids told me that she was moving. I tried to find the family, but they were already gone. We prayed. I cried. We could not lose this child.

There is family abuse - intense, serious, physical abuse. There is poverty. There are no parents, just a grandmother who doesn't really want to be the responsible party. There is a lovely little girl dealing with so much more than any six year old should ever have to deal with.

Her grandmother came to see me a few days ago. She told me, matter of factly, that they moved into a new neighborhood and she is just too old to walk the child to school everyday, so she will no longer be attending. She will not find enrollment anywhere else because the school year is just about over, but the poor girl will also automatically fail first grade. She is also being removed from the afterschool program she was in. Taken away from everything she knows and finds comfort in.

It's something that I knew would happen eventually - that we would lose. That we can't save all of the kids who enter our doors. It's been a weird season for me. Sad, but not quite. Disappointed, maybe?

Please keep this little princess in your prayers and thoughts. I don't know what the future holds for her, but I hope that her short time with us taught her that she is loved and valued.

Monday, May 5, 2014

maternal health on international midwives' day

six - almost seven - years ago, i had my first child. i had no idea what to expect. i was living in a foreign land with few female (like-minded) friends. i was determined to not have a c-section, and breast feed: two things that were unheard of here.

after being sent home by a condescending OB numerous times who told me things like "if that little pain is bothering you, how are you going to give birth?" and "now you're just being a baby," we marched up to the hospital administrator office who sent us to another OB. i was deemed incapable of dilating, and had the un-wanted c-section -- luckily, because it wasn't pretty.

i was, however, able to breastfeed -- i didn't have a ton of societal support, though. my husband was 110% on board, as were my in-laws (and my family, too, but they weren't close by). but, for most everyone else i was either silly or an amazing novelty. i became the poster-child for "american mothering," even though we were just trying to get on with our lives. there were also the snarky side-eyes and unsolicited commentary, but mostly, "oh my god, you make your own baby food! in american EVERYONE does that!"

my birth with amely was different in that i was resigned to the mandatory c-section (no vbacs allowed). at about seven days, amely was put in the clinic for 4 days to deal with jaundice. there was no explanation, no reasoning other than "sometimes this happens." we fought with the nurses and staff over the breastmilk and formula. in the end it wasn't terrible, but now, as a more educated mother i know that amely's jaundice was caused by breastmilk and when she "failed to thrive" for three more months - that probably had to do with not enough nutrients as well.

i didn't have any severe complications that "only happen in developing nations" - we had situations that women are dealing with all over the world. rising numbers of c-sections - often unnecessary - are taking over vaginal births and formula-feeding has long trumped the breast. and you know? i don't mind that we women want c-sections and that they are choosing bottles over breast. i don't.

as long as we are not scared to give birth because a catty doctor - who had never had a child, let alone birthed one from her vagina - told her she was being childish or that she wasn't strong enough. and that she couldn't handle the pain.
as long as we are not just being cut as a convenience for the medical staff.
as long as we are not led to believe that our bodies are not capable of feeding and nourishing a child.

a few years ago, i was pretty sure i was done having babies but i was sure that i didn't want any other women to deal with being told that they weren't enough. that their bodies - which have birthed and nourished since the beginning of time - were somehow now not enough. not strong enough, not perfect enough, not productive enough.

and when i started the journey that led to pre-natal education and lactation support, i've met numerous other women - some in real life and some on the internet - who believe that we are enough. that not only are we enough, but we women have more than enough to birth and nourish. and we need to spread the word.

today, on international midwives' day, i choose not to focus on the negative statistics but on the wonderful women and men who are changing the face of birth across the globe. not just midwives, but doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and counselors and advocates.

thank you. the world is a more beautiful place because you are in it.