How are community projects related to the academic program?
Community projects are a key element to our academic program – i.e., the community is our classroom. We begin this process by incorporating a series of dialogues, meeting with local organizations, groups and individuals, such as, women’s groups, campesinos (individuals farming the land), local schools, youth groups, environmental groups, Haitian Immigrants, community elders, artists, etc. While relevant and meaningful, these dialogues provide a first hand perspective of today’s global community, allowing students to explore the interconnections between the Dominican society and the United States, specifically the political, historical, economic, social and cultural realms and the forces that have impacted and continue to impact the lives and destinies of those within these realms. Through these dialogues, we intentionally make explicit the possibilities that we have within these spaces – as a collective and as individuals.
To realize these possibilities, our DR partners have defined four broad areas of community collaboration allowing students to apply what is learned during the dialogues and to test and build upon the theory learned in class. The four broad areas include a family literacy program, organized with local schools and villages, a curriculum development project, in collaboration with local non-profits and the Ministry of Education, social histories through art, in collaboration with one of the largest art collectives in the Caribbean, known as MARHMI, a group that has painted over 300 murals and an environmental justice project, working directly with local villages and groups on water projects, sustainable farming, preservation of and river clean-ups and reforestation. Further details on these projects can be found on the “What are the community projects?” page. Each semester the pages are updated by the students from previous groups, what they did, what they learned and what they recommend.
Students enter these projects at different points depending on what the community defines and how the student chooses to participate. At times, students may combine these four areas into one main project and work either in teams or individually, with or without local translators. For instance, an environmental group working with a small community outside Villa Tapia plans to document the life of one of the DR’s largest rivers, a river that passes near their village. They plan to document what the river was like fifty years ago, how the families have and continue to rely on it, how the river has changed, why, what efforts are being made to protect it and what is the current status of the river. To assist in this, community elders and families living beside the river will be interviewed. Their interviews will be transcribed and as a curriculum development project their narratives will be co-constructed into small picture books and possibly made into a small documentary, later used in the family literacy program, held in or near this area. Like all projects, this is an organic process and can expand in many directions, depending on the groups and individuals involved and what they bring to the project.
Why community projects?
Through these projects, students will develop valuable leadership skills – while also developing the personal skills, insight and theory on how to cross borders (be it class, race, ethnicity, gender) or geopolitical borders –with the end goal of creating an inclusive, vibrant global community.