Saturday, January 11, 2014

Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Toursim

This post was originally written to explain my journey with CSE & trafficking... in honor of January 11th International Day of Awareness for Human Trafficking, I've decided to recycle it here...

A "chica brillante" and nina trabajadora (working girl).
These girls are at high risk of being trafficked and/or sexually exploited due to their
vulnerability working on the beaches alone, need for money/food/clothing, and innocence.
Rape and sexual assault plague every country around the world. Arguably, communities, families, and individuals attempt to deal with the consequences of sexual abuses in a realistic and helpful way, but in reality, many victims find themselves very alone during and after abuse. Rape myths are defined by psychologist Martha Burt as “prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists” (1980). As an undergraduate student at Drury University, I began studying rape myth acceptance, reporting tendencies, and the normalization of sexual violence. I found that liberal art’s collegiates accepted rape myth on a much lower scale than the general population but that a majority of victims and confidants were unwilling to report sexual assaults to authorities. During my studies, I focused a majority of my hypothesis on familiar sexual assault, which is the most common form of sexual assault and rape in the United States. My interest in sexual abuses led me to a position with Caminante Proyecto Educativo in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Caminante works to prevent sexual abuse of children especially those at risk of being trafficked into Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

Caminante, a local non-governmental organization, was created in the 1990s by a Dominican nun who was determined to address the needs of working children. Caminante’s mission became protecting children’s rights. I was introduced to Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and tourism at a Midwest Sociological Society conference in 2011. After presenting my own research on sexual violence, I attended a session given by a sociology professor and a retired police officer who “busted” brothels in East Asia by posing as tourists looking to have sex with young girls. The presentation was devastating, but the problem felt a world away. When the opportunity arose to work with Caminante, I was reintroduced to the severity of CSE in the Americas and the urgent need for local, national, and international attention and policy.

UNICEF defines CSE as “the use children for adult sexual satisfaction in exchange for remuneration in money or in kind, paid to the child or to a third party.” CSE can include, but is not limited to, child prostitution, child pornography, and using minors in sexual shows. CSE is committed daily in Boca Chica, a tourist town that gained popularity in the 1980s as a sex tourism destination because prostitution is legal and minors are readily available. Unfortunately, hotels, dance clubs, and restaurants allow tourists to break the law in order to accrue income and perpetuate tourism. Caminante found that in many cases of CSE, sex with minors was traded for food and clothing and that despite the fact that a majority of those interviewed reported seeing CSE, only 15% said they had reported the incident. For these reasons, Caminante and UNICEF joined forces with “The Code” and ECPAT in 2013 to prevent CSE of minors in Boca Chica.

Like most policy change, education and local opinions are the first steps. Caminante will continue to educate the local community, especially parents of exploited children, of children’s rights as defined by the Convention of Children’s rights and the legal obligation to uphold human rights. The new project will begin the process of creating a “code of conduct” and training series for hotels and other members of the tourist economy. Hotels will agree to require all hotel staff to be trained on recognizing CSE and follow a strict code to ensure that minor do not enter hotels and that tourists attempting to purchase minors for sexual uses will be prosecuted. While local steps are necessary, countries with tourist communities need strict policies for parents and traffickers of children as well as the abusers. In addition to domestic policy, the international community must agree on a just way to legally charge abusers of trafficked minors so they do not continue to slip through the system with little or no consequences, only to abuse other children.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

30 Days in 30 Seconds

December was a whirlwind that like the polar vortex, blew right into January! 
Here are some highlights:

Deandra enjoying the La Casona graduation
& final presentation of foods from around the world!
Recorder Christmas Performance #1
"We Wish You A Merry Christmas"
& "Jingle Bells"
Christmas Party & Reflection in Progresso
A beautiful sunset for our Christmas reflection.
Denisse leading us in carols at a Jenjibre (Ginger) Party
Mi Abuela Dominicana enjoying the caroling & hot chocolate!
Marta serving up some delicious fruit cake!
10K for Caminante!
Recorder Christmas Concert #2 
"Street Situations" Christmas Extravaganza included a special lunch,
new clothes, heading to the city, eating ice cream, playing on the Malacon, eating pizza,
AND seeing a movie (with more sweets of course). 
The boys ready to was "Sanky Panky 2"
 And then something awesome happened... I got to change climates and see these special people: 

Christmas Eve
...and this little guy with a HUGE personality!
...and this bride to be!
And then the polar vortex happened and my flight got canceled so... 

we played lots of games by the fire.
and made Nanook some snow boots (which lasted about 3 seconds).
Somehow after all of this crazy fun, the polar vortex, two canceled flights, RUNNING through the Atlanta airport and being the LAST person to get onto the plane... I have made it back to the Dominican Republic. Only to, of course, hit the ground running once again!  

BIG things to come in 2014 so please continue to keep me 
and all the crazy fun loving people who keep me going in your prayers!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November 20th - Universal Children's Day

Yesterday was the United Nations' Universal Children's Day... it was an opportunity for organizations around the world to promote, protect, and educate about all things Children. In the Dominican Republic, Caminante was invited to several different activities around the Santo Domingo and Boca Chica areas. The team split forces to make as many events as possible!

While Denisse and a majority of the staff participated in a local "lanzamiento" or project launch for Caminante and Children International's programming in the Boca Chica area, Olga and I headed out before the sun to a prayer breakfast in Santo Domingo. The breakfast was to for "prayer and action" specifically focusing on violence prevention and elimination.

The breakfast was held in the "Hotel Embajador" and was attended by many different religious leaders and organizations... it truly was an ecumenical event including people from the Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Islam, Judaism religions. While we were treated to a delicious breakfast, we heard from World Day of Prayer and Action, Coalition of NGOs for Childhood, CONANI, and Global Network of Religions for Children. In addition international organizations such as Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, and UNICEF were in attendance. I especially enjoyed a musical presentation (who performed at the breakfast then magically performed at Caminante 30 minutes later). A group of youth also presented the program "Joven C Plus" a innovative education program working to "learn to live together."

Check out Manny Rosado singing: "La Paz Retornara" 

CONANI and Global Network of Religions for Children each presented their findings about violence against children and adolescents and their plans for prevention and elimination. CONANI is the government organization protecting children's rights in the Dominican Republic. GNRC is an international organization that has been present in the DR since 2010. They work to create a network of religions, NGOs, Communities and Government to create a better world for children.

We closed with an interfaith prayer with religious leaders, children and adults each participating.

For More Information:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 Ways to overcome Boredom

Being away during the holidays is especially difficult, any missionary will tell you one of the greatest challenges of the lifestyle is loneliness. Not loneliness in the traditional form, but the kind that you feel with out your family and friends, the long term, do anything and everything together, kind are difficult to make. In my case 100% of my friends are work related... nothing wrong with that except that you usually don't want to hang out on the weekends and evenings with the same people you hang out with all day. On top of all that, Caminante has been doing some minor construction and painting which means practically no space and terrible smell/sounds... so, lots of "work from home" time in the mornings and not so much work to do. So, in order to overcome these bumps in the road.

10 Things that make each day go by a little faster:

1. Coffee - Especially with Pumpkin Spice Creamer

2. Fall (and Halloween) decorations lovingly sent from home

3. Hulu, Netflix, and "Megashare": the amount of TV and Movies I have watched lately is for sure unhealthy, but it passes the time.

4. Cooking, trying new recipes, and going out to dinner

5. Going on walks and/or playing on the beach with the dog

6. Endless pinterest lesson planning for my music class and homework rooms

7. Reading any and every blog on the internet about international living

8. Applying for Graduate School

9. Trying to be better at following international news

10.  Counting down the days until I submit myself to freezing cold air and the warmest welcome I can imagine! Only 36 more to go!

Thursday, November 7, 2013


This blog has been in the back of my mind for months as the topic of hair comes up about 5 times a day in my office... my coworkers are about 50/50 on the natural/straightened debate and due to the separation, talk about hair a lot. I have been known to protest that I too, have "natural hair" although this seems to fall on deaf ears as it usually comes after some comment about my not so great hair doing skills and/or tendency to wash my hair daily and/or use of dry shampoo (you fine hair blondies know this is KEY to looking good after a long day!)

Hair straightening with super high heat, rollers, and Tuvi
Hair in the Dominican Republic is important, like really really important. In general, looking nice, clean, and put together daily is the norm. Hair and clothes (and big gold jewelry) are the main two outlets of style and fashion... and as such outlets also give hints to class. Most Dominican women hit the salon 2 or 3 times a week to get their hair washed, dried, and straightened using chemicals and/or heat. It is a long process but compared to US prices is fairly inexpensive, a wash/dry/style costs about 300 pesos in Boca Chica or around $8. In addition, a trip to the salon probably includes: shaving ones eyebrows and getting your nails done. I have been dragged to the salon under the pretenses of, "we are girls, this is what we do on Saturday" exactly 2 times... and they were the longest 5+ hours of my life. This cultural norm is not limited to women, men too hit the barber at least 2 times a week if not many more for a shave (beard, mustache, eyes, forehead and neck) and once a week to keep their hair short, a requirement for school and many work places. 

Natural Hair gals
July (in the front) recently took the final step of the "big cut"
But, the point of this post is not the long salon process nor the frequency of salon visits... it is the debate between natural or "afrodominicana" and chemically/high heat straightened hair. The number of women and teen girls who have gone for the "big cut" or are planning to do so has grown exponentially even in the years time I have been in the DR. This "big cut" is when women cut out all of their chemically straightened hair, this typically happens after a period of growing out your hair... a difficult time because you have half straight-half curly hair! Two friends recently just had the "big cut" and their reactions have been very interesting... while both are totally rocking their new short afros, one is much more comfortable in hers. My other friend, is constantly in need of reassurance that her hair is cute and can't wait for it to grow out. Unfortunately men/boys seem to make a huge difference here... I have been told on numerous occasions (once even my a 7 year old) that cutting your hair is like giving up on all chances of finding a man. Really guys? In the US, we love a long hair doo, but we also think short pixis and bobs are mature, elegant, and sexy. Many young girls will tell you that straight, long hair is most desirable and that they can not achieve the look they would like... to me this is heart breaking, to have accepted that you are not and will never be beautiful! When ever anyone, especially a young girl, tell me my skin or hair are beautiful, I quickly say thank you and tell them I like their hair and skin color too and how I wish I could have a FRACTION of their volume and curl, let alone the vast number of style options for kinky-curly hair: twists, little/big braids, afro, curls, and the list goes on!

July looking professional and beautiful after the "big cut"!
But the hair debate has gone way, way further than pretty or not pretty. The racism toward darker skin and dislike of natural kinky-curly hair has entered into the public schools and "professional" community. I have heard numerous stories, including from one of Caminante's board member. Her daughter has been sent home from school on numerous occasions for wearing her hair curly to school. The principle argues that having "wet" hair is not allowed in the dress code, but her hair is not wet, just covered in conditioners to give her a curly but not frizzy look. In the Dominican it is typical for young girls to wear several braids with beads off the top of their head until they are 13 or 14 years old. When they reach an appropriate age they can begin to wear their hair out of braids...and most begin using chemical straighteners at this time. We know using chemical straighteners and colors quickly damages and kills hair particles slowing growth. For this reason, many young women in their 20s and 30s are making the cut and encouraging others to do the same. Many of my coworkers are part of communities of women who meet to share styling and healthy hair tips. 
Many pro-women and pro-afrodominicana groups are advocating for young girls' rights to go to school with natural hair. A popular campaign has popularized the phrase, "a la escuela voy como yo soy: por que MI escuela valora MI identidad" (I go to school how I am: because MY school values MY identity). The organization called El Árbol Maravilloso visits schools to present a show "María Palito y Otras Divertidas Princesas" to build selfesteem and teach children and teachers/administrators alike about the importance of embracing diversity and eliminating racist practices in school's rules and regulations. (find out more from the AP here)
Caminante staff showing off their "afrodominicanas"
Caminante also works to help girls and teens become comfortable in their own skin with "Chicas Brillantes" an educational program to increase young girls awareness of powerful women in their culture, embrace racial, cultural, and religious differences, teach about the importance of self-love, education, and sexual health. In addition, the several staff members of Caminante proudly wearing "afrodominicana" walk daily into public schools, meet with government officials, and families slowly creating a greater acceptance of natural hair! Everyone, straight, curly, long, and short can learn from the lessons of El Arbol Maravilloso and Chicas Brillantes... we are who we are and we SHOULD be comfortable wearing our own skin and hair the way it came to us. Everyone has good hair days and bad, but we should always feel safe to rock our own look no matter where or how old we are!         

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Racism and the Law

A report and summary of 3 documents from the religious community of the Dominican Republic written for Global Ministries about the recent passed, racist and demeaning, law. This law has the ability to affect almost all Dominicans, as most have a parent of grandparent who comes from Haiti, Spain, or any other country! Unfortunately, it was written with racist intent and will mostly affect poor, Haitian families.
Written By: Ashley Holst

On September 23rd, 2013 the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic passed Judgment No. 0168-2013 that will strip people, who were previously legal citizens of the Dominican Republic, of their citizenship based on heritage. The court decision refers to those born after 1929, most of who are of Haitian decent and whose families were trafficked to the Dominican Republic to work in sugar cane plantations and/or construction industry. The court decision defines 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation children of Haitian decent and residents of the Dominican for up to 80 years as “in transit” back to their “native country,” Haiti. Those affected were born in the Dominican Republic and have spent their entire lives with Dominican birth certificates and passports.  They will be stripped of citizenship and nationality, resulting in civil rights violations of crisis of legal identity and the loss of opportunities to study, work, travel, marry, and move freely. With decision 168-2013 the Dominican Republic violates international agreements. Caminante Proyecto Educativo and Director, Denisse Pichardo is standing with the religious communities in defense of a historically oppressed group of people.

CONDOR, a conference of religious leaders in the Dominican Republic wrote a press release on October 9th, 2013 stating its “unanimous condemnation” of the decision that strips people of basic human rights based on racist sentiments. They also shared sympathy for and solidarity with those who are affected by the judgment. CONDOR’s statement quoted Pope Francis’ message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees to be given on January 2014, “Here we find the deepest foundation of the dignity of the human person, which must always be respected and safeguarded. It is less the criteria of efficiency, productivity, social class, or ethnic or religious belonging which ground that personal dignity, so much as the fact of being created in God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27) and, even more so, being children of God. Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ!

The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) also released a letter to Dominican President, Danilo Medina Sánchez on October 22nd, 2013. The CLAI represents 20 Latin American Countries and in the DR alone represents two Global Ministries Partners: Iglesias Evangelica Dominicana and el Servicio Social de Iglesias Dominicanas (SSID).  The CLAI stated their refusal of court decision 168-2013 and reminded the President that in September 2005 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights found the Dominican Republic guilty of an illegal attempt to strip the rights and nationality of two Dominican born girls of Haitian decent. The council respected the Nation’s ability to write migration law, but confirmed that it is inhumane and illegal under the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to refuse nationality of those born in the Dominican solely based on the foreigner status of their decedents.

In a third response from the Christian community, a Coalition of Catholic Priests reminded the nation of three separate laws in contrast to the newly decided 168-2013: Article 18.2 of the Dominican Constitution states that nationality and legal protections are determined at time and place of birth. The Constitution also states that it is illegal to increase the vulnerability of the poor (Article 74.4) and to create retroactive laws that revoke previously given rights (Article 110). The priests strongly stated that affected people are, without doubt, brothers and sisters in Christ and equally part of the Dominican people. They finished by saying that it is the duty of the Christian Community to enforce justice and brotherhood and to uplift the poor and the oppressed, “God upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry… the Lord lifts” (Psalm 146, 7-9).

The religious community of the Dominican Republic will stand in opposition to racism and the violation of human rights. They will continue to protest court decision 168-2013 while working to protect and support those affected by the decision. Caminante Proyecto Educativo, as a Christian organization, will continue to promote, educate, and protect the internationally given rights children regardless of race, religion, decent, nationality, or lack of legal status.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Indulging in Cuba

Indulgence, one of the deadly sins, is next to impossible to avoid in Cuba. Havana city built its history on delicious food, flowing rum, tobacco, and Afro-Cuban music. Today all continue to strive despite oppression and poverty. Locals and tourists alike flock the streets and parks to enjoy local musicians and a cocktail. The communist leadership and extreme oppression of Cuba are heavy and hard to understand but I will share more about my social and political observations in a post to come...  


In Havana small family or private restaurants are popping up all over the city. If you enjoy "plated" meals and don't mind limited options, these restaurants offer delicious food and a fun experience. Most include a drink (or two), appetizer and/or bread, soup, meat of your choice, sweet potatoes/plantains, veggies, rice, AND flan! We also enjoyed dinner at Los Nardes, one of Havana's most popular restaurants  loved by Cubans and tourists alike! And I know why, the food was delicious (and HUGE portions), the sangria perfect, and the deserts a perfect end to the night! We waited about an hour in line OUTSIDE and spent easily 3 hours indulging! We also ate at the oldest restaurant in Havana, "Dos Hermanos". 

Shrimp Creole
Delicious Roasted Chicken at Los Nardes!
Leg of Lamb at Los Nardes
We also had a Cuban birthday celebration at "The Lotus" in Havana's Chinatown, another famous resturant with huge portions and great prices. Jeanette was so surprised, especially since she didn't even know it was her birthday! But the flaming flan and serenade was enough to justify our little white lie.     

Flaming Flan at "The Lotus"

The girls and I followed Cuban tradition by enjoying our fair share of mojitos and daiquiris around Havana. Both were "invented" in Havana and made famous by Earnest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote, "My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in la Floridita" These drinks are especially tempting as they run less expensive (and certainly more delicious) than a coke or water in many places! 
Earnest Hemingway's "Floridita"

Cuban Daiquiri
The Bacardi building stands tall and beautiful above Havana but today, sits empty as the company moved its empire to Puerto Rico. Instead, today "Havana Club" runs the scene in Cuba, its factory and parent store located in Old Havana and its labels plastered on restaurants and bars around the city!  
Cristal - Cuba's (one and only) Beer

While I must admit, not a single one of us smoked any cigars during our trip, we decided to tour the "Partaga's La Casa del Habano." The different types of cigars vary by length, fatness, and the ratios of types of leaves. The leaves have differing flavors and strengths based on where they come from on the tobacco plant and where the plantation is located. The rolling specialists are trained in every type of cigar but once they become professionals they make just one type of cigar for quality control, size and ratio of leaves in each cigar, so one "roller" completes the entire cigar making process. The cigars go through quality control when testers smell, taste, and measure the cigars. Lastly another department and color specialists match cigars by color so that each box has a unified color. Each employee gets to keep 10 cigars each day for personal use. When you complete the tour, you can purchase these cigars directly from the workers... in my opinion this was a fun way to help the individual employees and "chose" a special cigar. 
Fresh off the presses... literally. 
Music & Dance 

Salsa is king in Cuba but the Afro-Cuban rumba is queen. Live music and dancing are everywhere, an outstanding number of people make their living as musicians and/or dancers. The constant pressure to give tips to people on the streets to whom you kindly said no thank you is a little much, but in restaurants and clubs the live music is a nice touch. 

We visited two music/salsa houses during our stay in Havana. Hotel Florida, a popular and small salsa club full of dance teachers and their tourist dance students. Dancing here was fun because the Cubans were used to dancing with learners and there were enough bad dancers to make you feel comfortable with your not so amazing Cuban salsa skills. A couple of the girls and I headed to the "Casa de Musica" for a Mikael Blanco concert. In this venue, those not dance teachers or advanced students were shamed to swaying in front of the stage or sitting in the back. We gladly watched Lenka dance her shoes off and fended off the Cuban dance teachers.   

Casa de Musica - Habana Centro