Post by Georgiana Gibson, member of the Plan International USA Board of Directors
Where are all the Women? I found myself asking this question as we spent our first day in the fascinating city of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. We began our visit in the Zona Colonial, the oldest part of the city, which in the 1500’s was the Spanish capital of not only this country but the Spanish possessions in the New World. Everywhere in the narrow streets were men – old, young, hanging around corners, sitting in chairs, riding motorbikes. But very few women were to be seen. The women I did see were in motion – carrying food or packages, herding a child – or working in stores.
As we travelled the next day into the southwest portion of the Dominican Republic the same pattern held – we sited mostly men from our bus windows in all the towns and cities we passed through. However, when we attended a graduation for volunteers trained to be community leaders through Plan DR the women were front and center, as numerous as the men in the room. I was surprised at the number of volunteers who had completed the program – 40? 50? individuals as varied in age and appearance as could be. They were united by their obvious happiness and pride as they were called to receive their certificates and have their pictures taken.
Women were once again very prominent at the school in the small town of La Penuela, which we visited the next day. To enter the school we went through a door next to a large metal rolling gate, with walls surrounding the entire school topped with large rolls of barbed wire (to protect the school from theft or vandalism I assume). The principal greeted us as we entered – a beautifully groomed, lovely woman, wearing a suit and heels despite the heat and humidity (I was very impressed!). She walked us through a well-maintained series of three open air cinder block buildings as children and teachers waved and watched us walk to a classroom near the back of the school. In this classroom a group of children and parents waited for us patiently, a group of 3rd and 4th graders identified as “at risk” by the school. These children are enrolled in a totally volunteer driven Plan sponsored program of tutoring to help them with school work. The teacher(female) was a volunteer, and a community volunteer(also female) from the local committee - started with help from Plan DR - was also present.
The children were asked various questions – how old are you, what grade are you in, what do you want to be when you grow up. Most of the children in the program were boys, but the one girl answered that she wanted to be a “doctora” when asked to name her possible career choice. As we left, I spoke briefly with her to encourage that dream and told her she had made a great choice.
It seemed that wherever we went, there were women – friendly, committed, caring, intelligent, some of them even fierce. We visited a preschool sponsored by Plan DR (preschool education being more unusual than usual except for those with financial wherewithal) with numerous female volunteers. We visited two savings and loan groups, one well established while the other was brand new. Women were not only well represented but integral to both the formation and governance of these developing institutions. Youth are an important part of these village savings and loans, as many young people are attempting to save money to attend university. One young woman stated her desire to be president one day.
Before I went to the Dominican Republic, I was unsure as to the role of women in that culture – would they be heard in a traditional, possibly patriarchal society? Would they be involved? Perhaps that is why I found myself wondering early in the trip where all the women were. Now, having seen and spoken with many of them, I can unequivocally state that they are active, strong, and vested in changing the cycle of poverty and poor educational opportunities if given the chance. And that is what Plan DR seems to be all about – giving women the chance to change life as they have known it for the generations to come. If we can help with the plan and the resources, they will change their world for the better.