September 15, 2002 - Personal Web Site: Tootsie Bookman worked in Information Technology (IT) in the Education sector in the Dominican Republic

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Dominican Republic: Peace Corps Dominican Republic : The Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic: September 15, 2002 - Personal Web Site: Tootsie Bookman worked in Information Technology (IT) in the Education sector in the Dominican Republic

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 14, 2003 - 11:46 am: Edit Post

Tootsie Bookman worked in Information Technology (IT) in the Education sector in the Dominican Republic

Tootsie Bookman worked in Information Technology (IT) in the Education sector in the Dominican Republic

The Place and the People

* Place
* People

The Place
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island, named by Columbus, Hispañola. The rest of this Caribbean island is shared with Haiti. There are over 8 million Dominicans, though one million of them live in the States, mainly in New York City. It's a very crowded, in your face, noisy culture, but also very open-armed and friendly.

I was originally assigned to Montecristi, the provinicial capital city of 30,000 people. It is the most northwestern town in the Dominican Republic and is situated 2km from the Atlantic Ocean. The region is very dry and the earth does not soak up water, therefore there are many salt flats and mangrove swamps mixed with cacti.

After eight months in Montecristi, I was compelled to move for safety reasons (long explanation). I did not want to leave the region and lose contact with all the relationships I had developed, so I moved 30km away to the little town of Manzanillo.

Manzanillo is actually the name of the bay that the town is situated on and the town is officially called Pepillo Salcedo. It is tucked into the corner of the Dominican Republic, with the ocean on one side and Haiti on another. I always like to say that my house is three blocks from the beach and five blocks from Haiti. Manzanillo has a small, but deep, shipping port as well as a small boat harbor. Every week 2-3 shipping container type ships come in, sometimes to drop stuff off, but mainly to take bananas and melons to the States and Europe. There is not too much small boat traffic, unless you count the local fisherman. The town is unlike any other you will find in the country because it is a pre-planned community built by Americans in 1947-1950. The Grenada Fruit Company built the entire town, the port, the banana plantations, and the railroad tracks that connect the farms directly to the ships. Construction was done using the local rock, instead of wood or cement, as you will find in the rest of the country (and the new parts of town). The Grenada Company shipped fruit from here for 10 years until, under pressure from Trujillo, they abondoned the town to a Dominican company. That company is called El Proyecto de la Cruz, Manzanillo and they are still a bit like big brother around here. Back in the day, the Americans had all their regular ammenities; water, electricity, swimming pool, golf course. Remnants still remain.

The three electric generators that the Americans left behind have all broken. The majority of houses in Manzanillo have electric lines running from the street, but, only about 10-20 volts enters through those lines. That is not even enough for a lightbulb. The situation with running water is very similar. Most houses have at least one water tap in the backyard, but water hasn't flowed though the tubes in over 2 months and before that only once a week for half an hour. The water pumps that pressure the water to come from the (very dirty) river are broken. Now, everyone must buy their water from a truck that goes around town filling up buckets. If you can't pay, you suffer.


The People
Dominicans are a very noisy people, and they enjoy the bulla. If you are on a bus that doesn't have music blasting bachata or merengue, they will actually complain. No one seems to mind the incredible quantity of motorcycles without mufflers or the huge 6 foot speakers mounted on the back of trucks making announcements. You can go to the smallest campo here and someone will have a radio, and rum. This is a sugar producing island, and therefore, by default, a rum producing one as well. Drinking and machismo are a huge part of the culture, but so are family and food. Visiting on Sundays to family and friends is a long practiced custom. In my particular region people celebrate by cooking a goat, although a sancocho stew is more traditional. The typical food, and a Dominican will not be satisified unless he/she can eat it at least once a day, is rice and beans with a little bit of meat, usually chicken.

Soraya, and her mother Angela, were probably the closest people to me when I lived in Montecristi. At their house, I frequently received meals and family-style love. I briefly played on the women's softball team with Soraya, but even she doesn't play anymore since she is expecting her first baby in February.

In Manzanillo, I have enjoyed getting to know my neighbors and the people in the community. My neighbor Manuel, who works for the SEE, has been most helpful since I knew him before in Montecristi. Other important people professionally and personally have been Radhames and Yslandys. (You'll note that they are all men. The women either marry young, or are in the cities studying. Once they are married and have children they don't have time for friends or work.)

The Primary Project

* Background
* Training
* First Year
* Second Year

The Information Technology (IT) project in the Education sector is new in the Dominican Repbulic. The orginial 15 volunteers of my training group, including myself, assigned to this project are the pioneer (read experimental) group in this area. The 1996-2000 government, under President Leonel Fernandez, implemented an amazing plan to put computer labs in every high school in the country. Unfortunately no system was established for the training to use, nor the maintanence of, the computers. After coming into office in the summer, the new Secretary of Education, ordered a report from USAID in the fall of 2000 to evaluate the effectiveness of the Ten Year Plan from 1992 and the state of education in the country. The report was not very complimentary to the educational system and made some very difficult reccomendations. At the same time, Peace Corps Dominican Republic received a new director who, in working with the head of the education sector within the office, saw the potential value to education of placing volunteers in communities with computer laboratories. In December of 2000 the director put in a request to Peace Corps Washington for IT volunteers and my group arrived in country the first week of February, 2001.


The difficulty in training our group came mainly from a lack of experience and a lack of expectations. It being a new project, and they being a new government, no one really knew what the role of the volunteers would or should be. Since our role was undefined it was extremeley difficult for the trainers to anticipate the practical knowledge we would need. It was also hard for us to visualize where and how we were expected to work. By the end of the 12 week training period there was a general goal presented, apparently based on the recommendations of the USAID report and other sources. "Computers should first be used as aids to teachers in class preparation, didactic and pedagogic development and related applications."* The first objective to obtaining this goal was to give basic computer training to the teachers.

The normal process of volunteer placement into sites begins with a private institution expressing interest in a volunteer for a particular locale. Instead, in this case, the requesting institution was the government and the locale was the entire country. Somewhere in the process it was decided to initialize the project along the border with Haiti, where statistically the Dominican population is more disadvantaged. Unfortunately, the site selection was then determined almost entirely geographically, instead of on the willingness and readiness of the community to work with the volunteer. This has caused several working problems for the volunteers of this first group. (Subsequent site placemenets for ITVs were made with more community evaluation.)


The First Year
With my limited spanish and development concepts, I set out to Montecristi in May 2001 with the first objective on my mind; to teach teachers computers. By mid-June I had developed a curriculum for a basic course and was already in the school teaching. Over the following year I created three different levels and gave a total of 9 courses to anyone employed by the Secretary of Education. I found the work completely frustrating at times and very slow to develop.

The physical infrastructure of the Dominican Republic, in terms of electricity (and water), is not reliable enough to handle computer laboratories. Computers don't work when there is no energy, and are negatively effected by frequent power outtages. While most computers were outfitted with a Universal Power System (UPS) to provide the necessary energy to shut down properly, the labs as wholes were not provided a source of power. I can't tell you how many hours I have sat with my classes, just waiting for the electricity to come, or to come on stronger. So many cancelled classes.

Another huge fundamental problem is the inability of the government to maintain these labs. On a more general level, any report on the state of education in this country will reveal that it is far too centralized. With reference to the computer laboratories this fact exagerates the problems of maintanence. All repairs have to be done by technicians in the capital city (5 hours from my site) and to receive any part, no matter how small, out of storage the requistition must be signed by 24 people! The main laboratory I was working in had several non-working computers and small things would break all the time. We had/have no support from the government which contributed to my frustration, and that of the teachers as well.

By defining the goals of the project so narrowly, a couple fundamental development issues have arisen. The first problem, and probably most detrimental, is the loss of focus on the general development process and the idea of sustainability. By making the objective of the volunteer to "train teachers in the use of the computer," there is no reference to how exactly that will effect the quality of education or how the training will be sustained after the volunteer departs. I remember asking the Peace Corps Program Director for Education in my first month if the normal schools (teacher training schools) would be offering similar courses to the ones I was giving so that all new teachers would arrive pre-trained. The answer was very unclear, which in Dominican means no, not really. There exists no plan that I know of for Dominicans to continue the training process begun by volunteers. Essentially the project does not grow over time and worse still, it is not sustainable.

The other development issue is that there is no system of use. For example, ask a typical teacher that attended and graduated from my course in the summer of 2001 how to save a Word document and they probably won't be able to tell you. It's not that they didn't learn how during that brief period, but that they have had no opportunity to practice their knowledge since then. The large majority of people in these communities do not have personal computers in their homes, the laboratory is their only source, but there is no system for use outside the few class hours the computer teacher is supposedly giving to the students. Why should I, or any volunteer, continue to train the teachers, and why should the teachers learn, if they will never be able to use their skills?

All of this work took place in Montecristi, but Manzanillo is an even more extereme case than the one in Montecristi, where 10 new computers, a printer, and a satellite server have sat in a room, in boxes, for three years, because the electricity was never connected into the laboratory. No action was ever taken to install a transformer on a pole in an effort to connect the room to the electricity in the street because of a lack of initiative and bacause no one thought it worth the effort since there is only 20V flowing through the lines. No student or teacher has ever stepped foot into this laboratory.

Despite all the above points, I continued with the objective to give basic computer training to the teachers of Montecristi in the constantly diminishing laboratory. We frequently had to cancel class due to the lack of electricity and/or broken equipment. Yet, I perservered for a year because it seemed to me I had been told that this was my work.


The Second Year
In early May, 2002, Peace Corps Dominican Republic presented a new format for the Annual Work Plan that each volunteer is supposed to fill out. It came with the goals and objectives for each sector already provided and I noticed that the IT project had changed slightly and broadened over the year. The old objective is still there, but there are now objectives referring to training "how to optimize and maintain IT hardware and software"** for teachers and youth groups. While I do know various things about computers, I am not a computer technician and don't feel qualified to implement this type of training. The benefit of having to fill out an Annual Work plan though, was that I stopped to analyze the previous year. I realized everything that I have detailed above and decided to reevaluate the objectives in relation to the overarching goal. The project purpose is: "To improve the availablity and quality of eduation in rural and marginal urban schools through training teachers, students and other community members in how to use information technology (IT) to teach and learn more effectively, as well as eventually generate greater income for themselves."**

At the same time I was rethinking my objectives, Luis Rodriguiz was advising the Secretary of Education (SEE) to decentralize the laboratories. He advocated community ownership of the labs so that maintenance can be local and a more productive system of use can be established. I think that this helped remind me what Peace Corps development work is really all about; helping the community help itself in a sustainable manner. The Dominican Republic is full of people who can adequately train teachers on the computer and has a growing private sector of computer technicians. This is not the type of training we as volunteers should be giving. Instead we should be empowering the community to take charge of their laboratory and look for local resources.

Having talked to several graduate students from the Kennedy School, and done a little research on the Web, I have come to realize that developing community interest and committment is the first step recommended by all organizations developing similiar projects. Sometimes I wonder why it took us so long to come to a conclusion that is already widely known and accepted. If you are interested in development in regards to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), in particular reference to education, I would like to recommend the following websites: World Links, Schools Online, and TechKnowLogia.

My work with the SEE is now centered around forming Technology Committees; one to get the laboratory in Manzanillo up and running, another for the Proyecto AVE in Dajabon and a third for the high school in Dajabon. I hope we can form an Initial Action Plan as well as a Plan of Sustainability in each laboratory so that when I leave here next year, the IT initiative will continue to progress without my presence.

I also have the pleasure of working with a non-profit called EnerSol that has several projects under the title EduSol. They enter communities that are small, approximately 50 houses, that are far from the electric grid, but have a 1-2 room school house, and install a simple solar panel system and 2 laptop computers. The computers are not connected to the Internet, but they are used to enhance learning and skills. I am currently traveling an hour each way, twice a week, to a little campo called Los Amaceyes to instruct two teachers and 40 kids and to help organize the community committee.


* The Future of Education in Dominican Republic: Oppourtuniies and Challenges; Sanuinetty, Jorge A. and Fernandez, Jorge Max; DevTech Systems, Inc. for the United States Agency for International Development/Dominican Republic, October 2000.
** Annual Work Plan - IT Education Sector; Staff; Peace Corps Dominican Republic, April 2002

Photographs on this page courtesy of Mark Lopes, 2002.

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Dominican Republic; Information Technology; Computers



By samtito ( - on Tuesday, December 04, 2007 - 9:31 pm: Edit Post

Hi Ms Bookman,
I read with interest your summary regarding Montecristi et al. I lived in the fincas (farms) c.1950-60. Now live in NYC
Would very much like to contact you regarding your work in the area. A bunch of us recently spent one day working in Walterio, and are designing a project to continue & expand service to the poor in the fincas and other communities in the area. Please contact me. Sixto Medina

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