In August last year I left Scotland to teach English for a year in the Dominican Republic. Nine months in, this a brief update on my time here.
I have been working for the NGO Accion Callejera in Santiago, in the north of the Dominican Republic, working with street kids in the school programmes, which are in 14 communities around the city.
Here the children learn Spanish and maths and have somewhere to do homework. This is important because children here only attend school for half the day, so without these centres they would spend the other half of the day on the street or at home.
I teach English to pupils aged between six and 17, and I also have adult classes. I work in a different community every day and this means I get to see the variety within the city.
A lot of the youngsters I teach come from very poor backgrounds and, in a country with one of the lowest education budgets in the world (2 per cent), education is not a priority. Saying that, I find my classes to be attentive and the majority of them are well motivated.
Using art and interactive games in my lessons helps motivate them – it’s a change from the usual lessons these kids receive – hours of copying from the board.
I also help out at the main Accion Callejera centre in the middle of the city. Here, I play sports and serve breakfast and lunch to the street boys who attend the centre. It’s great fun and I believe it’s through sports that the boys really shine – we have some unbelievable basketball players!
These boys have had a very difficult upbringing and the majority of them work long days in the city shining shoes, so coming to the centre gives them a chance to relax and get a good meal. I find the work very rewarding and the organisation itself is forever expanding and innovating – it really is an incredible service they provide.
My Project Trust partner Ben and myself also volunteer twice a week at a Children’s Hospital in the city as a secondary project.
Outside of work I am embracing Dominican culture, going to Salsa lessons, rooting for the city’s baseball team, partying down at the world-famous carnival and of course sampling the islands beautiful beaches. I live in a house with three other international volunteers and this gives us a great deal of independence. Cooking my own food is something i have grown to love; highlight so far has to be the famous “Bandera” - chicken, rice and beans - the trademark dish of the D.R.
When I first arrived it was a shock to the system to be thrown into a bustling Spanish-speaking city – the polar opposite of my hometown of Galashiels. But as time went on I became more and more comfortable and now the city is like a home.
Although I am missing the rolling hills of the Borders, I find the cultural interactions I have with people fascinating. For example, I’ve recently been playing guitar with a friend; he teaches me Latin American songs and I teach him Scottish tunes – playing Scocha’s Braes o’ Gala Hill in the Caribbean is something I never thought I’d be doing. It’s this kind of cultural exchange which is priceless in my opinion.
When I return to Scotland in August I know I’ll be a changed person to the 17-year- old who left home all those months ago. In what way I’ll have changed is a harder thing to answer.
Experiences like this are unique and I am eternally grateful to everyone who made this crazy idea a reality.
All the people who donated and attended fundraising events – this adventure is just as much yours as it is mine. However, I’m not home just yet! Another three months to go and I plan to live every day to the full, experiencing all this colourful part of the world has to offer.
In September, I start my studies in Social Anthropology at St Andrews University.
If you want a more in-depth account of my time here, visit my blog: www.dylanhowel.wordpress.com
Project Trust is an organisatio n that specialises in sending 17-19-year-old school leavers overseas for eight or 12 month volunteer placements in Africa, Asia or the Americas. For more information go to: Www.projecttrust.org.uk