Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hello Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Dominican Republic!

Life in the Peace Corps rolls on... I am now nearly 13 months into my formal service and 15 months overall living in the Dominican Republic (DR). I was sworn in as a Volunteer last November 21, 2008, and will depart just about the same time next year: November 22nd~ish of 2009. Just in time for Thanksgiving!

I have had my share of ups and downs (just as any Volunteer does), but overall I am very proud of my work as a Volunteer and am very happy to be working hard for the people of the DR and serving as an ambassador of goodwill from the USA. This country is not an easy place to live sometimes, and I do miss a lot about my life back home in Seattle, but I am doing my best to do what good work I can in the short time I have left here.

To date my biggest accomplishments have been with the youth of my three rural communities, forming youth groups that learn and teach others about safe sex and the dangers of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, and drugs. My fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and I have been very successful at putting together many different events and conferences to motivate kids to keep working in this area after we leave. Additional educational programs that I´ve started and will continue to do in 2009 include workshops for adults on increasing nutrition, HIV/AIDS awareness, and reproductive health.My second year of service will prove to be much more busy than 2008. In addition to my continued work and events related to my work in health education with the youth groups, I have three big building projects planned that will test the stamina and time-management of my little rural community.

For starters, we are planning on re-building several parts of the community´s aqueduct - replacing broken PVC piping, rebuilding the concrete holding tanks that collect water from the natural spring source, and forming a water board to oversee future repairs and maintenance. Second, thanks to many of you who donated to my special fundraiser on the Peace Corps website, I will also be helping my community build about 40 fuel-efficient and clean-burning stoves to both reduce the environmental impact of firewood collection and reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections in families with small children. Finally, our youth group has been busy working on getting support for the construction of a cement volleyball court at the local school, in order to continue the positive force that having a safe, clean play area can have on kids´decisions to avoid drugs and alcohol abuse. I hope to have all three of these big projects underway by February 2009, and completed about August or September -- well ahead of the time we Volunteers need to start wrapping up our work in our communities: about 3 months before we leave the country.

Besides work (which takes a lot of my time), I keep busy with washing laundry (by hand), cleaning my house, and eating hearty Dominican food.

I have done some travelling since being here, but still have yet to go to any of the pristine, picture-perfect beaches that the DR is best known for. On my budget, travel is often limited to work-related trips to the Capital of Santo Domingo and my site.

Luckily, I will be on vacation within country for the holidays this year and have plans to visit several of my fellow Volunteers (some near the beach) and will be hiking Pico Duarte (Duarte Peak), the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. I am going with two fellow PCVs right after Christmas. At 10,127 feet, they say that on a clear dawn morning, one can see the entire island from the East Coast of the DR to the West Coast of Haiti. It takes two days to summit, and one to come back down, so it should be a great way to close out 2008 and welcome in 2009. Wish me luck!

So, until then, please accept my best wishes for una Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

¡Un abrazo fuerte!

-Tod (Teo)

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