Not just a tourist.

Sugar production is one of the key industries in the Dominican Republic. (Bumping into oxcarts with full loads of sugarcanes on our way to bateys.)

“Can you take my baby to the United States?” a teenage mother in Batey G asked me in simple Spanish since her native language is Creole. I explained with my very limited Spanish that I could not and then left.

We look different, but there are similarities we share: We both try hard to learn foreign languages that would promise more opportunities in the era of globalization. We both hope that our next generation can enjoy a life better than our own. I might not have another chance to see her in my life, but from now on, whenever I see news about the Dominican Republic (DR), I will think of her and will consider her rights and benefits when hearing international policies related to her country.

I spent my Spring break of 2011 in La Romana, DR. As a volunteer at the Hospital El Buen Samaritano, I participated in their projects in bateyes. Bateyes are villages around sugarcane fields that were built by Central Romana Corporation, the largest sugar producer in the Dominican Republic, for their workers. Most bateyes have poor housing conditions. Take Batey G as an example, every two houses share one toilet, and four hundred people share only four sinks. Besides, many batey residents are undocumented Haitians without basic legal and medical rights in the DR. I helped patients in the hospital and went to bateyes to assist de-worming treatments for children and to help maintain water filters in households.

After completing the coursework and qualification exams in the first two years of my Ph.D. program, I went to the DR with the hope to gain some first-hand experience in the field of international development. From this trip, I witnessed that the international development work does not only physically provide for people in need but also connects different people together and develops relationships which can last.

Different counties are just in different stages of the development process, and people in developed countries shall never take what we have for granted. I also realized that for the teenage mom in Batey G, although today I could give her medicine to cure her baby’s sickness or give her a lesson for birth control, the poverty and health problems in her batey require more fundamental changes in government or international policies. The experience in the DR confirmed my long-lasting enthusiasm for works aiming to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of people in developing countries. As an economist, I hope one day I can utilize my quantitative and analytical skills to make a bigger impact through research and policies.

Many other volunteers told friends in La Romana that they will go back to La Romana again. I did not make a similar promise since I am not sure if I could indeed keep my words. What I know for sure is that I deeply appreciate this opportunity of being in La Romana. I am indebted to Fred, Alice, Moises, Kristy and other friends, who helped me in various ways during the trip, and I have to give special thanks to Tim, who helped me make this trip possible. I still do not know whether I will be back to La Romana or not, but I know I will not forget the valuable lessons I learned from this trip. I wrote down these words in memory of not only the incredibly blue sky but also the lovely kids in La Romana who were kind to me and tried very hard to communicate with a person who did not even speak Spanish.

by Yu-hsuan Su, May 16, 2011 (edited by Admin, May 30, 2011)

- Yu-hsuan Su holds her M.A. in International & Development Economics from Yale University and is currently in the Ph.D. program in Economics at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

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