Excitement and anticipation was high Sunday morning as team members moved into final preparations for the community meeting and celebration. Kaveh Sadegehian and Taylor Hurst left the hotel at 9 am to travel to the community for final preparations. The rest of the team spent the morning sorting and counting pills and preparing medications to dispense at the clinic. By 2:30 pm, we all were in the community, moving through in a wave of blue scrubs; some, making new acquaintances; others, renewing warm and close friendships. We found Kaveh and Taylor sitting in the road with children from the community, playing a local card game and chilling.
The celebration started slowly with shy and reticent children offering wan smiles in exchange for balloons, frisbees, hacky sacks. and invitations to play. The tribe would not be deterred: they charmed the children (young and old) to increasing levels of engagement and participation: face-painting, coloring, keep away, and dancing. By 5:00 pm, we had made the transition to a community meeting, which began with a prayer led by the president of the junta de vecino (neighborhood association). We did not anticipate that representatives from the mayor’s office would attend. Esfuerzo is, by our best assessment, a very small and among the poorest of sub-communities of Paraiso, which, in turn, is among the least prosperous of many communities that comprise Villa Mella, which in turn is part of a collection of large regions that make up Santo Domingo Norte — which is the mayor’s jurisdiction.
SOMOS team members took turns, in Spanish and English with Spanish translation, describing the project’s mission and goals and summarizing the results of research over the past half-dozen years. Each presentation was followed by respectful and appreciative applause. Our portion of the meeting culminated in a presentation of our findings on what appears necessary to implement and sustain a regular trash collection effort: access to trash bags, a truck to collect the bags on a dependable basis, and some local organization to ensure participation. We had not anticipated that the government representatives (including the director of community relations) would use this opportunity to deflect responsibility for the lack of trash collection to the local junta. Community residents were not entirely prepared to accept that definition of the situation. The government representative insisted that trash bags and a truck would be provided if only Esfuerzo and its junta de vecino would organize itself properly. Esfuerzans responded that they’d heard that before and were told that THIS is a new government and it will provide.
We will talk tomorrow about our role in facilitating rapprochement between community and junta, junta and government, and government and community. It is messy work, contaminated by the inconvenience of realities. Still, we are guided by core principles, foundational concepts, and systematic empirical research.
Meanwhile, a first-year participant has brought sunshine, new perspectives, and a new set of skills to our efforts. Jess Sunshine Lucia (’97) is a photo-journalist and looks at our efforts through a revealing lens: undergraduate pre-med; audiologist by training; parent of young children; and quasi-outsider. There is so much to understand: how is the community organized? how is the government organized? how can entrenched problems of poverty and powerlessness be changed? Her photographic eye is keen and aesthetic; her analytical perspective is incisive and revealing. We have every reason to believe that the record she will create will tell a compelling story.
And so the day went: mixtures of light rain, dark clouds, and bright sunshine: a lovely metaphor.