Friday, May 15, 2009

Please help our summer camps!

Dear Friends and Family,

I send you all "abrazos fuertes" from la República Dominicana!

Life here in the Dominican Republic (DR) marches on for your favorite Peace Corps Volunteer. With a little more than 6 months remaining in my service, I am keeping busy with preparations for a summer full of activities and special projects related to youth development and education. As many of you know, one of my main projects here is HIV/AIDS education for high-risk youth in my community. As part of this effort, I am working with my youth group (now 30+ strong) and with other Peace Corps Volunteers and their youth groups from around the country to organize three very special summer camps designed to give kids an opportunity for creativity, sharing, and fun... but we need your help to make them a possibility.

Please take a look at the descriptions of each event below, and if you can, please make a contribution to our work here in the DR using the electronic links attached. As always, 100% of your donation will directly benefit the program - not one penny is taken for overhead expenses.

If you have any questions about any of these programs, please feel free to e-mail me. Thanks for your support of our efforts to educate Dominican youth and provide opportunities for growth and fun.

1. Girls Leading Our World - Campamento "Estrellas de Hoy"

This is a weeklong summer camp for girls only. Girls will have the opportunity to hear and talk openly and honestly about life goals, life planning, safe-sex, healthy relationships and much more. With information and hands-on activities as diverse as HIV prevention, self-esteem, sports, art, music, and nutrition, the camp will be life-affirming for all our participants, and a much needed respite from the social and economic pressures faced by many girls in rural Dominican communities. Unfortunately, many young women in the DR have children and are married or otherwise involved in a domestic partnership far before age 18. Our Camp aims to try to break this cycle by reminding girls that they have the power to make healthy choices and take control of their lives.


2. Boys' and Girls' Sports Camp:

Following the success of last year's volleyball camp for girls, I have recently volunteered with other Volunteers to help organize and run a second 3-day sports camp for both boys and girls. Appropriately named "Jugar para Vivir" (Play to Live), the camp will teach younger kids (10-14) skills and sportsmanship in Soccer, Volleyball, and Kickball while also focusing on themes and activities to teach skills for healthy development: HIV and unwanted pregnancy prevention, ways to avoid alcohol and drug abuse, and incorporating sports, excercise, and nutrition into a an overall healthy lifestyle. Yours truly will be heading up the volleyball portion of the camp and teaching swimming lessons. Should be great fun and lots of learning for both boys and girls...

Please donate to SPORTS CAMP:

3. "Celebrando el Sur" Cultural Conference:

Celebrando el Sur (Celebrating the South) is a three-day conference focused on diversity and cultural understanding here in the southern region of the DR. The South is the least developed region of the country and youth throughout the area face great economic hardship and a lack of opportunities. I will be bringing three young people from my community and together with the 60 other conference participants they will participate in a variety of challenging cultural talks and activities, broadening their perspectives to the experiences of others around them and people throughout the world. Dominican youth living in rural communities rarely get the opportunity to travel outside of their own community, and this conference is an amazing chance for them to meet other young people from the South in a positive, stimulating environment.

Please donate to CELEBRANDO EL SUR:

If any of the above links should not work, you can access the Peace Corps' main donations website through this link: and follow the menus to Dominican Republic and then look for the names of the three conferences.

As always, thank you all for being such great sources of support, freindship, love, and advice during the past two years of my service. Although I am loving my work with the Peace Corps, I miss you all very much and am looking forward to coming home soon!

Best wishes for a wonderful summer...


Saturday, March 14, 2009

March-ing on

Hola amigos y amigas de los Estados Unidos,

Okay, so febrero is over, and the relatively new month of marzo is rolling right along. Gracias a Dios, my attitude is much better as a result.

First off, a very big "Gracias" to all of my readers who expressed their concerns about how down I sounded in my last blog entry. With not many positive things to say, I thought that by writing a "random numbers" and facts format, it would make me sound less negative. However, that backfired when I ended my list with those items broken or lost during Peace Corps life. Yikes!

Oh well, don't worry about me -- just like life in the States, I have my ups and downs here in the DR as well. The biggest difference is that both the highs and lows seem more extreme here because of the distance and solitude of Peace Corps life.

I'll fill in some of the details in a later entry. Today I need to get some major errands done in Santo Domingo, then head back to my site.

Un abrazo fuerte...


Monday, February 23, 2009

Random thoughts during a February Slump

I truly hate the month of February. No offense to any of my readers who may happen to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries, or other special events in the second (and shortest) month of our year, but in my opinion, and through years of a long-going hate-hate relationship with this particular month, February really stinks.

Life here in the DR during the month of febrero is no exception - I am still not fond of this month and have been in a quiet, yet seething funk for a few weeks now. So, rather than ruminate on the negative and describe everything that has gone worng or just proven difficult this month, I thought I'd post another short list of factoids about my life here. Hopefully yours truly will be in a better mood come March, so please stay tuned...

Random Facts:

SEVENTEEN - Months I've been in the DR

FOURTEEN - Months I've been an official Peace Corps Volunteer

NINE - Months I've got left in my service -- I come home November 20th! Woo-Hoo!

SEVEN - Number of items from the United States that have either been lost or broken during my stay here. Items include: 1. Leatherman pocketknife (lost on a bus), 2. battery-less flashlight (accidentally broken by a muchacho from my site), 3. emergency radio (broken by a fall to my concrete floor), 4. hiking boots (ruined by mud and constant rain), 5. black dress shoes (worn out walking around Santo Domingo), 6. brown dress shoes (rotted out after being wet for nearly 10 days straight), 7. iPod earphones (wires sliced by being crammed into my backpack).

Un abrazo fuerte desde la RD...


Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year, New Adventures!

Hola Mis Queridos Amigos y Amigas de los Estados Unidos...

Feliz Año Nuevo - 2009!! Happy New Year, Everyone!

I know that I have been rather flojo about posting to my blog - my resolutions for 2009 include more frequent postings and more communication with friends and family back home. To start off, here's an update of all that's happened in the last few weeks...
Christmas and New Year's Vacation:
My Christmas and New Year's vacation was spent here in the DR, hangin' with fellow PCVs and seeing some of the most exciting sites the DR has to offer: Here're the details and some pictures...

December 23-25th - Santiago

Started my vacation off with a trip up to Santiago, the DR's second-largest city and one of the most progressive cities politically and culturally. My friend Espie's birthday is the 25th, so we spent Christmas Eve cooking delicious vegitarian fare topped off with a decadent chocolate ice cream cake for her birthday. Feliz Cumpleaños, Espie!
December 25 - 29th - Pico Duarte

My fellow PCVs Jenn and Kim joined me for a wet, muddy trek up the Caribbean's tallest mountain, Pico Duarte (Duarte Peak). The view from 10,127 feet above sea level is amazing, although my boots definitely paid the price...

Tod and Juan Pablo Duarte, chillin' at 10,127 feet

Jenn, Kim, and Tod with West DR and Haiti in the background

Tod catching some sun after a muddy descent

Our boots and shoes, post-Pico (can you guess which pair is Tod's?)

December 30th - Marathon in La Vega

I attempted (but did not finish) the only full 26.2-mile marathon offered in the DR. An out-and-back course between La Vega and Moca (two smaller cities in the DR's central valley), the 4:00pm start time didn't allow me to make it to the cut-off point in time, so I was pulled from the course after running about 14 miles. Guess you need to be at least a sub-4 hour marathoner to run a race in the DR... Bummer! Still, I was proud that I was able to get past the half-way mark more or less on my pace, considering the total lack of training, diet, and having just summited Pico the previous day.

December 31 - January 2nd - Juan Dolio Beach

Fourteen other PCVs and I meet up in Juan Dolio, a funky beach community just east of Santo Domingo on the DR's South Coast. We stay at a funky hotel with kitchenettes, allowing us to prepare more delicious homemade vegitarian fare, drink cheap wine, dance to bachata, salsa merengue music until midnight, and top it all off with a bottle of champagne and a midnight dip in the Caribbean Sea. A few of us brave souls get up early on the first day of the new year to see the first sunrise. Then a warm, sunny day of sun-bathing, swimming, and frisbee.

January 3 - 6th - Santiago and
Los Marmolejos

Final few days of vacation are spent back up North, first in Santiago at the HUB - a home-away-from-home for PCVs living up North. Fellow PCVs from all over joined up for a night of sushi, popcorn, and competetive board games. Next day it's off to Los Marmolejos, the small campo community of my fellow health PCV colleague, Maryam. We spend the next two days visiting her neighbors, going to the río to cool off, practicing guitar (which we both need to work on), and making easy-to-make Trader Joe's Indian food (thank God for care packages sent from the USA!)
For now, I'm in the Capital (Santo Domingo), catching up on e-mail, blog-postings, and pictures. I'm back to my campo tomorrow, and back to the work-a-day world of the Peace Corps Volunteer.

Best wishes to all for 2009! Take care, keep in touch... y como siempre: un abrazo muy fuerte desde la República Dominicana.


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)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hanna, Ike, & One Heck of a First Year

Hola mis queridos amigos y amigas de los Estados Unidos,

First off, thank you to all who wrote to me and to my family expressing your concern about my safety during Hurricanes Hanna and Ike. The DR in general - and my community in particular - were indeed hit hard by the storms, but, unlike what I saw in the news about Houston, my community only received damage to roads, bridges, and water systems caused by heavy rain. We got no wind from Ike and only mild gusts from Hanna, so any damage we incurred from the back-to-back storms can be repaired over time and with minor effort. Unlike Tropical Storm Noel that hit the DR last October 2007, no additional homes were lost in these storms, thank goodness.

My personal experience in the storms was somewhat typical of most Volunteers: Due to the lack of reliable transportation and continuing heavy rain even after Ike's trip through the island, I was trapped in my community for a few days with no way to get out. However, I was not worried as my house was well stocked with food, water, and reading material to see me through the storm. As the storm raged outside, I was actually very cozy in my little house, wrapped up in a blanket, sipping hot tea and laughing to myself as I read through a book of short stories by David Sedaris.

In the morning on the third day of Ike, and once the rain had let up a little, my neighbors and I took to surveying the damage and making repairs as best we could. Last week was spent clearing branches and debris from the roads and from neighbors' yards, making provisional repairs to the three small bridges that were washed out, replacing damaged pvc pipes in our town's water system, and checking in on friends and neighbors in the community to see if anyone needed assistance.

After a few more days -- and once the three battered Land Rovers that serve as our communication with the outside world started arriving through the mud and puddles -- we were more or less back to normal. Well, as normal as life can be for a tall, bald, gringo Volunteer in this remote mountain community of the DR...


Other News: Believe it or not, yesterday (September 13, 2008) marked the one-year anniversary of my arrival here in the DR as a Peace Corps Volunteer in childhood nutrition, women's reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. I am stunned to think that a full year has passed by in what seemed to be such a short time. To paraphrase a saying I've heard several times about Peace Corps life: "the days can drag on forever, but the months and years just seem to fly by."

There have been a few bad times here and there, including some times when I thought about quitting and heading home to the U.S., but overall, I look back on the past year with a deep sense of pride at what I've been able to accomplish with the support of my community.

Here's to a great first year, and looking forward to continuing through the second year and finishing strong in November 2009!

Best wishes to all of my loved ones back home...


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another Busy Month

Hola mis queridos amigos y amigas...

Sí, it seems that once a month is about all I can handle on the blogging front. I would like to apologize to all of my readers for the radio silence on the blogg-o-sphere, but for those of you who know me, you are probably not at all surprised that I am so flojo (lazy) when it comes to keeping up.

In any case, estoy muy feliz to report again that, at the 11-month mark of my Peace Corps service, my life and work are continuing at a healthy pace this summer and that my spirits (and health) remain high. Julio and agosto were (and have been) busy months for me and my HIV/AIDS youth group. The jóvenes are out of school for the summer here as in the States, so we had several youth camps, conferences, and many other fun outings for the kids these past few weeks that have kept me busy and traveling with kids in-tow.

Julio in particular was a banner month for my work here with the youth group. My community of M----- A---- in Ocoa hosted a regional "summer camp" for kids from my town and from other towns around the three southern DR provinces of Ocoa, Peravia, and Azua. In total, 42 kids were there from 10 different communities along with seven of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers from around the region. The 3-day camp was based around a series of informational charlas about condoms, sex, HIV/AIDS, and teenage pregnancy. For fun, we also included workshops on art, a workshop on making and selling cleaning products locally for funding group activities, an activity that talked about the importance of taking care of the envorinment, and a training session on CPR/1st Aid.

When not learning about health, the muchachos y muchachas had lots of time to swim in the río, play basquetbol and voleibol, and learned the very American tradition of roasting marshmallows over a campfire and trying their skills at making S'mores. Remember that Peace Corps is as much about teaching other people about Americans and our traditions as it is for teaching proper health practices.

Besides having the kids learn and enjoy themselves, what was most fun for me about this event was seeing the enthusiasm of the local community in putting all this together. We had a team of local volunteers who cooked and cleaned for us during our event, donated food, beds, sheets, pillows, and transportation. All in a town that does not have electricity and where most people live day-to-day off what they can gather in their small plots of land. Once again, I am thrilled to be working in a country where the people are so giving of so much, when they have so little for themselves.

I am loving my work here and can't wait for the next big project to begin... Stay tuned...

Un abrazo muy fuerte desde la RD...