English 102- 0W1
Essay #2 - Explaining
February 19, 2011
The Dominican Republic
Hispaniola is a Caribbean island in the Greater Antilles that contains two
independent states, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Dominican Republic is the
larger of the two states, occupying the eastern two thirds of Hispaniola.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus first set foot on land in the New World welcomed
by inhabitants of the island, the Taino Indians. Columbus named the island, La Isla
Españiola which eventually became Hispaniola. In 1493 Columbus returned founding
the city of Isabella which was the first Spanish colony in the New World. In 1496
Christopher Columbus’ brother established a settlement called Santo Domingo de
Guzmán which became the capital. Santo Domingo remains the capital today. This is
how the Dominican Republic got its Spanish roots.
The Taino Indians were enslaved and the population reduced from 400,000 in
the late 1400’s to 6,000 by 1535 due to hunger, disease and mass killings. In 1501
permission was granted to import slaves from Africa and in 1516 the first sugar mill was
started after sugar cane was introduced from the Canary Islands. The importation of
slaves increased for the next 20 years but slavery was much more deeply rooted in the
western third of the island. The Dominican Republic gained its independence in 1844
from Spanish rule as well as 22 years of Haitian occupation. Although they share an
island disdain between the two states has roots going back hundreds of years and a
vast culture difference exists.
Several years ago my husband and I decided to sponsor a child through World
Vision, by calling a radio station during a drive for sponsors. We did not specify a
country but hoped for a child from a Middle Eastern country. We were randomly
assigned a young boy from Lebanon named Marc. We hoped this sponsorship would
help break down prejudices against Americans but never considered a visit to Lebanon.
This however is how our relationship with World Vision began.
Since we have no children of our own and because of the rewarding experience
sponsoring Marc has been, in 2009 we decided to sponsor another child and went on
the World Vision website. We were more deliberate in our selection and decided to pick
a country that was close enough and safe enough to visit. We decided on the
Dominican Republic and chose to sponsor a girl this time. We chose a 6 year old girl
named Jenifer after viewing many profiles of children in need. I was particularly drawn
to Jenifer because there was sadness in her eyes. Could we really make a difference in
this little girl’s life?
How cool it would be sponsoring in a country where I would actually consider
visiting our child! Within a few months we booked a trip to the Dominican Republic.
Until then we were not aware the Dominican Republic was a popular tourist destination.
We contacted World Vision about visiting Jenifer, but booked our trip last minute so we
were not sure this could be coordinated. World Vision requires sponsors to get
background checks and once that was completed they began to coordinate our visit.
The staff at World Vision was so accommodating doing everything to make our visit
happen on such short notice.
Since we did not know where Jenifer’s community was we ended up booking our
stay at a resort in Punta Cana. It was a long distance between Punta Cana and Loma
de Cabrera, Jenifer’s community. World Vision arranged a meeting at their national
office in Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic and
would be Jenifer’s first visit to the big city. They were handling Jenifer’s transportation
about a 5 hour drive to Santo Domingo and only asked us to pay for gas. They
recommended a trusted taxi driver for us to travel the 4 hour trip from Punta Cana. We
asked if we could take Jenifer shopping for things she needed and then go to lunch.
That was all we would have time for because of our lengthy commutes. Everything was
confirmed before we left Chicago. We just needed to contact the taxi driver upon arrival
Once we arrived in Punta Cana we were welcomed by a warm breeze. What a
treat in December! The airport has open air terminals and visitors are greeted by music
and dancing performed by the locals. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore. The
friendliness of the people struck me. The Dominican Republic is dependent on tourism
and they appreciate the tourists. They get it! Tourism employs countless workers and
the Dominican’s treat you as a friend rather than a stranger. First impressions are so
important and as soon as I got there I was thinking I will visit again and sponsoring a
child is a great reason to do that.
After a crazy drive from the airport on bad roads crowded with people and
scooters some with as many as 4 people piled on, we spent 4 days at our resort before
our visit with Jenifer. Those days were spent enjoying the sun, snorkeling on the beach,
and people watching. The food, drinks and entertainment were good at the all inclusive
resort. There was an open air lobby, beautifully decorated that was nice to just hang
out in to read a book or have a drink. There was a gym, spa services, a doctor and
shopping on the premises. You did not have to leave the resort, but a number of tours
were available for safaris, zip-lining, horseback and ATV riding. The entire time we
were surrounded by beautifully unique looking and welcoming Dominicans. We later
learned that 73 percent of Dominican’s are racially mixed which obviously contributed to
the way the people look.
On day 5 we set out while it was dark at about 5:30 in the morning with our driver
and tour guide, Christian. His English was pretty good and we felt completely at ease
with him. We drove through the neighborhoods where lack of street lights makes it so
much darker than at home. Stray dogs were out and about. You could see a number of
people coming out of the shadows to start the day. It appeared that many people were
laborers because of their casual clothes. It took us about an hour to get through small
villages with colorfully painted homes to the highway because of the poor roads and
traffic. As we drove we saw the area coming alive. There were people making bakery
deliveries by scooter. There were stands along the roads with large pots cooking over
an open flame. Christian stopped at one of these stands to get what he said was “the
best cup of tea”. There were scores of tiny shacks selling 5 gallon jugs of bottled water,
drinks and snacks. There were small colorful structures housing restaurants scattered
throughout our journey. We saw roadside stands with fresh meat hanging that we found
out is sold fresh that day or salted to preserve for later use. As it got lighter and we got
closer to the highway we saw processing plants for various crops grown such as sugar
cane, rice, coffee, tobacco and cotton. Agriculture and service are other sources of
employment for Dominicans. Children in school uniforms began to appear and would
wave and smile at us.
When we arrived at the World Vision national office we were brought into a room
where the staff was singing and clapping. The staff was so spirited and at first we
thought this was just to welcome us and was a little over the top but we later learned
that this is how they start their day in worship. I was a bit nervous and wondering where
Jenifer was. After a couple minutes I looked behind me and there she was. The
sadness in her eyes that drew me to her profile was no longer there. We saw complete
joy and a sparkle. We had to work to keep tears of joy from welling up as we realized
this little girl was real… the picture we had on our refrigerator came to life.
We met for a few minutes with Carolina our visit coordinator and translator,
Jenifer, her Aunt Rosa and the driver from their Area Development Project, Luis. After
exchanging smiles and hugs we gave Jenifer a few toys and treats she seemed to
enjoy. We asked questions that Carolina translated about school and Jenifer’s favorite
things to do. Although she seemed very shy she put her arm around my waist as we
headed to the car to shop.
The most surprising thing about shopping was that Jenifer seemed to really only
look at clothing in the department store. We had to urge her to look at the toys. She did
however seem to have a thing for shoes. The more sparkly the shoe, the more her
eyes lit up but she seemed reluctant to put the shoes in her basket. My husband
gestured to her to go ahead and she put the shoes in her basket with a big smile. It was
quite entertaining. He said “I would have bought her a car if she asked for one”. How
can you refuse when we are making her day? Although I read that Dominican children
lack basic school supplies Jenifer did not need anything from this section. Carolina
explained that supplies were one thing our sponsorship provided.
After shopping we had a little time to visit some spots in Santo Domingo relating
to Christopher Columbus, a very large part of Dominican history. As we drove, Carolina
explained sponsorship allows access to healthcare and nutrition not only for the children
but their families. Our sponsorship helps fund projects like the one that brought an
irrigation system to Jenifer’s community and other endeavors to improve sanitation,
housing and roads. Homes are typically small wooden structures with tin roofs and 3
rooms with living space often extended outside the home. World Vision also has
agricultural programs and farmers are now harvesting rain water and growing plentiful
crops. Information is provided regarding HIV and AIDS to the community in an area that
has a tragically high rate of death in women of reproductive age. Each sponsor is
helping to restore a community. We are making a difference in Jenifer’s life!
We thought Jenifer could decide where she wanted to go for lunch. I was
thinking she may pick McDonald’s or something similar but she did not. It then struck
me that she had never been to McDonald’s. Her family was truly poor. The average
income in their area was between $35 and $80 per month. Eating out was not an
option. We went to a local restaurant with good food that was very reasonably priced.
Jenifer got rice and beans with chicken and we had the same. This was a far cry from
chicken nuggets, burgers and fries. I asked what her favorite food was and she said
that was her favorite. Her big treat was a bottle of Coke. I kept catching Jenifer
watching and smiling as my husband asked questions as we dined. We told her we
have her picture on our refrigerator at home and now we were having lunch with her.
This was pretty unbelievable.
We did not know much about the Dominican Republic, but because of one little
girl with sadness in her eyes, we have since learned a great deal. She is the reason we
enjoyed a wonderful vacation in a beautiful spot, with the friendliest people you could
meet. We were able to share our monetary blessings to provide necessities for her, a
couple toys and sparkly shoes, only at our urging. She was as much of a blessing to us
as we were to her. She was completely unspoiled, a refreshing contrast to many
children and adults I know… myself included.
Wikipedia "History of the Dominican Republic" Wikipedia URL:
Every Culture “Dominican Republic” Every Culture URL:
Time “Haiti and the Dominican Republic: A Tale of Two Countries” Time URL:
Worldpress “Anti-Haitian Bias Rooted in Dominican History” Worldpress URL:
Buzzle “Dominican Republic Facts” Buzzle URL: