Day 7: MUDHA project in the batey


Today we visited a school in the Haitian batey Palmarejo. We interacted with children  through art designing and taught them english. The children ranged from kindergarten to 4th grade. I met some amazing kids. Kids that were very joyful and happy.  Some kids were shy at first, but over time they opened up. Some kids, on the other hand, were very verbal, outspoken, and smart as well. I honestly think this was some of the most fun that I’ve had in a long time. The children think that I was there to teach them, but I honestly feel like they’ve taught me way more. My lack of understanding of Spanish made it difficult to communicate with the children, however through translations and sign language I was able to get through that barrier. I found it amazing that the teachers at this school work for free almost, only accepting donations from different foundations.

It never cease amaze me the resilience, strength, courage and confidence these women in the Dominican Republic have. Due to many Dominican-Haitians not having documentation in the batey, there are not many, if any, schools or medical facilities in a lot of the areas. Of those areas that have schools, a lot of them stop at a mere 4th grade level and the lack of documentation hinders further education for them.  I loved the fact that this school offers opportunity to children who wouldn’t otherwise have it. Can you believe this school was started by two Dominican-Haitian women in the batey? So even though they are considered stateless, they still believed in the universal right to an education for not only their children but future children in the batey.

This was truly a humbling experience that I will never forget. I met  girl named Marielle. A very smart girl who I could tell loves to learn. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget her. It is a shame how education is required and free in America, but people still take it for granted, while children in the batey yearn to learn. Also, the children were so grateful. It’s interesting that in America, we tend to always want more no matter how much we already have. However, children in the batey were grateful and excited for simple things like pencil. People in this community are happy with the little that they have. How is it that there are fortune people that are still unhappy?

Day 7 – Heavy Heart, Hopeful Head

I blog about today’s events with a heavy heart, a mind that’s still processing everything and reflecting, but also with a hopeful, beautiful future…

I started my day as usual:alarm goes off, I snooze ten times before I get up, get cute in the bathroom, have an amazing breakfast from THE best host mom, and rush downstairs to take a daily picture with Phoua as we wait for the taxi.

Although the Batey community is an impoverished area, I noticed was the amount of life there. People up working, engaging with their community, and doing what they can with what they have.

Once we arrived, we split up into teams in order to teach English. I encountered a form of humanity I’ve never been able to witness.

Side note: I’m probably the first Asian they’ve seen in their life or at least interacted with one. And they were lucky it was me! As I entered the classroom, some of the children yelled out, “¡El es Chino” or “¡Chino!”. Chino means Chinese male in Spanish.

We decided to teach some basic English. There was such a willingness to try something new and learn from us. Afterwards, we engaged in some arts and crafts with plastic bottles. Seeing them come from nothing but smile those hopeful smiles, it broke my heart as I couldn’t spend more time in order to be more sustainable for those children. For now, anyway…

Later we learned about MUDHA. MUDHA was created in order to empower Dominican-Haitian women who live in the Bateys. We learned that MUDHA provides education up to a 4th grade level that is supervised by the Ministry of Education but not supported by them. The women that were present show up everyday, work with over 100 students ALL. FOR. FREE. There’s no steady income. They show up with a passion to be an example, educate, and empower.

After the lecture, another group was waiting for us to engage with them! Our group helped with numbers, letters, and phrases in English.

Although people were tired, all we cared about was giving joy to children who don’t have the same joys as we do.

We later said our goodbyes and had some see you laters. Today was serendipitous. It was meant to happen for some of us. Whatever we choose to do with our experience, we’ll all at least had have the experience.

So I end today’s blog with heavy heart, a mind that’s still processing everything and reflecting, but also with a hopeful, beautiful future…This trip has been more than just my eye opening. It was the excursion through el barrios en Capatillo, the humane prison system, the Batey community that not only opened my eyes, but my mind, emotions, and heart that opened. I only hope to have this short trip and it’s experiences diffuse into my life. I hope I’m able to remain as loving and hopeful as the people with whom we have encountered and engaged.

Day 6: Motivating the Incapacitated

The visit to the prison in San Cristobal was nothing short of amazing. I have never visited a prison as heartwarming & effective as this one. I found myself comparing this prison with the prisons back home in every aspect.

A few of the main things I noticed about the prisons here was



3.Artistic Ability

4.Love & Hope.

Openness. The cell doors were open for inmates to walk around freely. There were bars on the windows but they were still able to see the sun and feel the breeze of air that came through. It looked as if the inmates were not put on complete lockdown like animals but instead treated like actual human beings.

Comfort. The mattresses were thicker and actually looked like they were somewhat comfortable to sleep in. There were shower curtains hanging from where the toilets were, which absolutely blew my mind. Back home, inmates have to live uncomfortably using the restroom in front of others without any privacy at all. The inmates were comfortable hugging the guards and speaking to them freely. There was a sense of kindness, and respect amongst all the people in the prison.

Creative artistic ability. The creative artistic ability was shown by the inmates with their pillows and blankets. These things were handmade by each of them with names and designs stitched on them. We were also able to purchase souvenirs from the prison that were handmade by the inmates. I bought a brown & cream bracelet with beautiful stones. The creativity that I saw in this prison was unlike any I’ve ever seen. They were able to decorate the walls and chairs in the prison instead of being forced to stare at concrete walls. This prison felt more like a rehabilitation center instead of a prison. The modeling and dancing that we saw at the prison were very interesting. I could not imagine going back home to a prison in the U.S. and seeing the inmates showing off their talents. This is something that would never be allowed. The fact that the inmates were allowed to express themselves through things that they enjoy made me feel like not everyone in prison is being punished, which is a really great thing. This could potentially be the difference in a high recidivism rate & a low recidivism rate.

Love. The love that I witnessed warmed my heart. You could tell that the authority figures in the prison really cared about the inmates and wanted them to grow. I’m sure that the bonds and the relationships in the prison will last a lifetime because of the excellent treatment that they are getting. The hope and encouragement that I saw made me feel as if we are doing everything wrong in our prisons. Although there is a difference in the sentencing in our prisons. I don’t see why we aren’t as warm and compassionate to our own.

This prison visit definitely changed my life. The experience of visiting a prison in another country was indescribable. I know as an American I was ashamed of our country after visiting this prison. The way that we treat our inmates is nothing short of inhumane. We have prisons where people are locked down for 23 hours with only 1 hour of recreational time, yet we expect these same people to go out into the world an become a new person. Knowing that prisons are operated differently in different countries gives me a little hope that maybe one day we will change the way that our prisons operate for the better. I know that one person has the ability to make a change in the world and that is one reason why I am a criminal justice major. I understand that instead of complaining about the system we should try to do everything we can to change it.

One very important thing I noticed was the lawyers that were at the prison yesterday when we visited the male center. Before we visited this prison I always knew I wanted to become a lawyer but I never thought about being a lawyer in another country. This excursion has definitely had an impact on my life. Who knows, maybe in several years another study abroad group will see me in the Dominican Republic as a graduate of GSU and as an attorney in D.R.

My story is still being written.

Day 4

Today we started off at one of the oldest university, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo with Lic.Carlos N. Mesa. He spoke to us about the criminal justice system in Dominican Republic, which was very interesting to say the least.
The prison system is a little different here, the government as a lot to say when it comes to sending individuals to jail, they also discriminate against race and social economical class. A person is more likely to go to prison based of their race and social class versus the crime that was committed.
The prison system in the Dominican Republic is broken, there is little to no human rights, the prisoners do not have rights nor do they have access to health care. Majority of the crimes committed are robbery, drugs and homicide; majority of the women go to prison because of drugs.
There are over 26000 prisoners in the Dominican Republic, there are 32-34 prison facilities out of the 26000 prisoners there are 8000-9000 in the new system that is now in place. The prisons are overcrowded and to get in front of a judge it could take up to 3 years with the lack of appeal system in the Dominican Republic, is it fair to say that justice is not been served? Anyone can be at the wrong place, at the wrong time but when you do not have a justice system that is willing or have the resources to prove your innocence. How are these individuals getting a fair chance.
Our afternoon started off at Dr Pichardo’s, he took us on a walk around the community “poverty tourism” to see how people live. Out of respect for the people in the community we didn’t take any pictures. There were a lot of health and safety issues that I saw like the loose wires from the electricity poles, the way the houses were built and how close everyone lived with each other. “Unfair distribution of wellness” this statement was so powerful because as much as there are a lot of health facilities if you do not have the money you will not get any treatment, and depending on the amount you have also determines your treatment.
This trip has been eye opening to me, I know there is poverty but I have not seen poverty up close before. My goal as always been the same, to make a difference in my commune and country but there is a lot of work to be done.


We have officially made it to day five! I can say that I finally feel like I am getting the hang of things in the Dominican Republic. Today we visited the school of public health at the University of Autonoma. We had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from the Director of the school of public health, Dr. Pena. She gave us insight into the public health system of the DR. What we learned is that up until 2001 the DR had no public health system. There was no infrastructure in place for community health and wellness. She also shared it took them 15 years to implement and regulate their system to the public. The Dr is in the very beginning stages of creating the public health system the Dominican Republic needs.


After her lecture, we took a brief tour of the rest of the University. Their campus reminds me a lot of the college campuses we have in the United States (but more tropical). There are students all around socializing and commenting to their destinations. What stuck out to me were the many murals we passed on campus. They were all beautifully painted and brought so much life to the school.


This mural, in particular, was my favorite. It is located outside the library building. I loved the contrast of colors and style of painting. It looked like a beautiful mosaic art piece.

Another part of the day that I enjoyed was our walk to Baskin Robins to get some ice-cream! It was fun walking down the street with my classmates. We also tackled a few challenges such as communicating with store workers without a translator and crossing the streets without any DR native guide to assist us. Those two things may not seem like much, but it is much harder to communicate with others of a different language, especially if you grew up in the spoiled United States.Also, the driving in the DR will have you on edge! Their style of driving is more aggressive rather than defensive/passive driving we have back at home, so it was scary trying to maneuver through traffic without being hit by a car. However, we accomplished both tasks gracefully. 


We ended the day with a seminar with the CEO of Esperanza, Alexandra. She was very influential to my classmates and me. She helped identify some hidden beliefs I didn’t know I had. She talked about following her heart and doing what she felt right inside, and for her that was micro-financing.  She works with people on the island to help them extreme highs and lows of income. She also assists with financial education on how to save and generate income by themselves. With her program, she is helping to stabilize many families and businesses. My favorite part of her talk was when she asked us what poverty was to us. We all answered with responses about low income, being homeless, being jobless, being dependent, etc. Then she explained that when she asked a group of people, we would consider being in poverty the same question they responded with answers such as “having no happiness,” “having no joy,” and “being without their family.” That will be something I remember forever. That was the moment I realized that these people do not feel sorry for themselves, and I shouldn’t either. The first few days here I had so much empathy for the people living here but what they have been teaching me is the importance of resilience. The importance of non-tangible value. They are teaching me to hold more value in things that I cannot buy. I cannot buy my family or love. You cannot buy true happiness. They are all things earned and acquired through relationships with others and the relationship with yourself. That is the true meaning of success.

An Unfair Distribution of Wellness

Day 4 of our study abroad trip in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was quite possibly the most life changing day for me so far! We were able to get a really great introduction into both the criminal justice system with Dr. Carlos Mesa and holistic medicine with Dr. Angel Pichardo. This morning, Dr. Mesa explained the differences between the old and new prison system established here on the island. Similar problems in the old system such as overcrowding, lack of access to basic healthcare, and the intentional criminalization of poor people are things that we also see in America today. The oppression of marginalized and lower-class individuals is a global issue, and being able to compare the American prison system with that of the Dominican Republic put a lot of things into perspective.

Our second stop of the day was with Dr. Pichardo at his holistic medicine clinic. Before we even started talking about holistic medicine practices for the community we actually went out into the community to explore in order to obtain a sense of  how the way of life is for people living in the surrounding area. Dr. Pichardo warned us to not be “poverty tourists” so we left our phones in the clinic while we went on tour. I will say that being able to get out into the community to observe and explore was by far my favorite part of the day. Not having access to social media and being able to fully immerse in my experience allowed me to be completely aware throughout the whole tour. The beauty of the people, culture, and scenery was breath-taking. The resilience of the community was astonishing. One of the most important things that Dr. Pichardo mentioned was that there is an “unfair distribution of wellness” in the Dominican Republic. He helps individuals gain autonomy over their own health by using healing that is community based and connected with knowledge. I can see the importance of this as a public health approach because lots of times healing needs to be culturally appropriate and by giving individuals the knowledge to heal themselves from within and to look into their emotions and what has been causing trauma in their lives, we can start to address some root causes of potential chronic illnesses.

So far, this trip has been an amazing experience. As a first time traveler outside of the country, I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to meet with such amazing individuals here in the Dominican Republic. I am learning so much about the culture, different aspects of global public health that I’ve never even considered before, and most importantly I am learning more about myself. Taking risks I never thought I would take, checking the many privileges I’ve never even considered before, and being open to a whole new experience and culture. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the week will bring!

Day 6-Love Between The Walls

Visiting the prison in the Dominican Republic was the number one thing I was looking forward to the most. Driving up to the women’s facility, my initial expectation was that the prison would be dilapidated, old, and dirty. I thought they would all be behind bars with little to no inspiration filled with sadness and little hope. It seems that whenever I am preparing myself for a visit to prison, the only thoughts in my head are the visuals I see on tv. The ones that are shown most.

Once arriving to the facility, I immediately noticed how different, yet similar, it correlated with the US prisons I have visited. There were high stone walls and guards at the gates with shotguns and other weapons, however the front doors to the prison were opened and everyone’s attitude seemed to be calm and relaxed. Instead of only seeing guards at the prison gates with weapons, there was also a statue of what looked to be Jesus. There were crosses all throughout the prison, and guards were smiling instead of looking angry.

The number one difference between the prison here and the correctional facilities within the US is the level of security. Normally going into a prison, visitors are not allowed to have any items with them except for proof of Identification. However within this system, Jonathan notified us that we would be able to take pens and paper for taking notes but we did not need our ID’s. I thought that was very interesting as I was walking off of the bus but I didn’t think anything of it until it was time to enter the prison doors. We never walked through metal detectors, no one patted us down, and none of our garments had to be taken off of us. These are all things that are protocol in the United States, things that if failed to follow will have strict reprimands.

The first area we went to was where the inmates who had a firm sentence and completed trial were held. I have never visited a women’s prison before, but I am almost certain that the prisons in the US do not have as many decorations and freedom as the one we visited today. When we walked into the living quarters, there were many decorations including rugs, curtains, and decorated pillows with names on them. Everything seemed to be color coordinated which was really neat. Outside of each cell, there were the names of the inmate and their classification. There were well behaved inmates and some who caused problems. For those who caused problems, they had less privileges than those well behaved inmates.

I thought it was very calming to have opened windows and the ability to see outside through large windows. Once again that is another difference within the United States. The windows that inmates have in the Us are either extremely small or nonexistent.

There are many programs that the prison offers to the female inmates including beauty salon, nail salon, education, etc. but one thing that stood out to me was the program they had for pregnant women and more specifically women who gave birth. For the women who gave birth they were allowed to keep there baby for two years before the child had to go to a family member or a household outside of the prison. That was so incredible for me because giving the mothers the ability to bond with their children after birth is so important and that is something that does not happen within the United States.

While all of the programs and different operational policies and procedures may be similar or different in their own unique ways, the most important observation that I made was the relationship between the inmates and the guards. They seemed to have a really close relationship, one that allowed the inmate to trust the guard and vice versa. One of the statements the guard made was that they form their system around love and rehabilitation. With the maximum amount of time an individual can spend incarcerated being 30 years, They know that their inmates will be released from prison one day and when they are, they want them to be as prepared as possible so they do their best to give them all the tools necessary so they can be successful.


Day 5

Our first stop of the day was a visit back to the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo with guest speaker, Dra. Escarle Peña. As director of the School of Public Health, Dra. Peña shared some insight into the Public Health systems within the DR.

What many, including myself, found surprising was the very recent development of this system and the shift in the definition of health: from being absent of disease and illness, to the complete psychological, social, mental, and physical comfort of the individual. From it’s early development in 2001, this system has only begun implementation in 2015. In trying to fulfill this new definition of health, the Public health field has started to focus more on collective health and promoting health within communities in the DR. A brief tour of the campus showed a very relaxed atmosphere for the students. There was plenty of beautiful forestry and sitting areas for students to enjoy!

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch down the street. After enjoying a traditional meal of rice & grilled chicken, we held a discussion about our experience in the DR so far. Many spoke about their struggles assimilating into a new culture and witnessing disparities in the community. However, we came back to the reoccurring theme of resilience in the DR & a self awareness of our own cultural tolerance.

Heading back to the school, our break was spent on an excursion to the local Baskin Robins & a stop at a supermercado. After 5 days practicing our Spanish with the locals, we still struggled ordering ice cream. We finally managed to get our ice cream with the universal motions of pointing and headed across the street for the supermarket. Crossing the street has honestly been the most nerve wracking experience, especially with no street lights or walk signals or drivers willing to stop. But, we survived the streets and picked up some snacks, coffee, and chocolate.

Back at the school, our second speaker of the day was Alexandra Nuñez, executive director of Esperanza International. She spoke about her passion for microfinancing and how that provides opportunities to alleviate poverty in the Dominican Republic. With her work focused on Haitians living in bateys, she oversees a program that gives small loans to female entrepreneurs to stabilize the cycle of poverty. From her shared stories of how Esperanza has helped individuals pay their debts and inspired the next generation into entrpeneurship, many in the group were in awe at her work. I, myself, have never thought about microfinance let alone the opportunities it allows for those who want better for themselves. To hear the progress of her work and the impact it’s had on people’s lives was inspiring for those of us trying to do the same thing.

Additionally, what really struck us was when asked about the definition of poverty. Many gave the answers expected but few had considered how those classified as “impoverished” would define that term themselves. It was revealed that their definition of “poverty” was a life witbout joy, family, and love. We found our definition to be shallow compared to theirs: whereas we seek to provide tangible resources to them, their only necessity is emotional fulfillment. This talk once again delved into the resilience of people who refuse to be put in a box as someone living “in poverty.” Instead, they are merely living.

As the day came to a close, we celebrated with a delicious dinner in honor of Bill’s 25th birthday. Happy Birthday Bill!!





Day 1

  1. Hola mi compadres! It’s day 1 of our exciting trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic! So many emotions are rushing through me from nervousness, excitement, anticipation, and etc. I first woke up to mi familias casa and she made us breakfast. I didn’t sleep much the night before because probably like some others it was hard for me to adapt to a whole new environment and couldn’t fall asleep. After breakfast we went on the bus and met with the other students. First thing we noticed was the driving! Definitely has Atlanta beat on the crazy driving! While being on the bus it gave us a change to look at the city, I took everything in. It was so beautiful and different compared to Atlanta. We all met at the International institutional caribe. Louis and Johnathan told us we will be taking a crash course in Spanish. I was excited because my host mom speaks only Spanish and there was a clear language barrier going on. My hopes going into the Spanish course was to learn Spanish so I can be able to talk to my host mom and her niece. In class they divided us into two groups. Starting off we learned the basics (Adjectives, pronouns, numbers.) just when I thought I got the hang of it we then proceeded to do sentences. That’s when I was lost. There was actually a small moment where I got a little furious because I wasn’t keeping up with everyone and was falling behind. However instead of giving up I kept trying my hardest to keep going. What really helped from the course was that the teacher made us give our own examples. I then felt I was getting the hang of it. After class we went to this restaurant. We had classic Dominican food rice,chicken, and beans. I was a little skeptical because I’m a really picky eater but I ended up eating all of my food. After we ate we then went back to our homes. I was so excited to try out the Spanish I’ve learned from the class. Me and my roommate Kayla spent time with our host mom and niece. We just talked about similarities and differences between American culture and Dominican culture. After and an hour or so we then heard loud music and noises from the street. After looking over the balcony we then saw it was a parade! Come to find out it was carnival in the Dominican Republic! We went out and got to saw the parade! That was definitely the highlight of my night. They had music and dancing and colorful costumes! Our host moms insisted we take lots of pictures so we did! We wanted to stay longer but it was around 11pm and we had an early morning to the beach next day I wanted to make sure I was well rested for that. First official day and night in the DR was a success and can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip will bring me!

Day One

Estamos aqui! Our first day of instruction was today, however our learning experiences began as soon as we arrived at the Santo Domingo airport. Upon arriving at the airport we were met with a sea of residents waiting for the arrivals of their loved ones. I thought I was up to par on my Spanish, however when I was trying to ask a restaurant employee ‘what do you like?’ I mistakenly asked him ‘what do you want?’ It was my first encounter with a local and I blew it. Luckily he could tell that I am not from here and laughed it off. In that experience the first lesson I learned was to think before I speak, especially when trying to speak Spanish!

We were welcomed by the beautiful shores of the Atlantic Ocean while we traveled to the Instituto Intercultural de Caribe (the school that is hosting us). On our way I saw so many establishments, mostly for “repuestos” or spare car parts. One thing that was immediately shocking was the style of driving here. There appears to be no right-of-way expectation among drivers. You get in where you fit in, quite literally. Personally, I like the edginess of the roadways. It’s different from Atlanta in that if you cut someone off, you are likely to be met with a series of aggressive honks, however in Santo Domingo it’s like an even-tempered race between all the drivers, and they are all really good at it! Road signs and stop lights are at a minimum here and I still have not seen a speed limit sign, but somehow the traffic flows maybe not seamlessly, but effortlessly to say the least. After arriving at the school, were taught how to make a traditional Dominican dish called San Cocho! San Cocho is a soup containing yuca, plantains, corn, onions, chicken, and pork; It was so yummy!


Fun fact: You do not flush toilet paper down the toilet in Santo Domingo! Instead, you toss it in the trash.

Today we were privileged to have introductory Spanish classes. I have a few years of beginner Spanish under my belt, so I was able to be in the advanced class. What we learned was so helpful. Our “maestra” reinforced concepts like irregular verb conjugations, emotions, and interrogative pronouns, that will help us in communicating with our host families and others we will encounter. Our teacher only spoke in Spanish to us, which further facilitated our learning experience and by the end of it we were all so thankful.