During Spring Break of my junior year, I participated in the A.C.E.S. Bucknell Service Trip to the Dominican Republic. The experience was truly eye-opening as it was the first time that I had witnessed extreme poverty firsthand. Some of the areas that the Bucknell group visited were more developed, especially the Colonial District and places closer to Santo Domingo. However, other small villages were extremely poor. The communities where we did the medical clinic and the food drive were rather shocking to me.
The medical clinic was set up at a school and all the participants, including doctors, nurses, and our student group, were volunteers. Many people, both young and old, came seeking medical attention. I remember being in the “dentist” classroom and seeing the instruments lined up on a table. Some volunteers were sterilizing them in bowls of soap and water. One part that I will never forget was holding up a young girl’s head to support it while she had a tooth pulled. She sat in a wooden desk chair and no Novocain was used. I had to look away when her mouth began bleeding and I sensed that she was in pain. After, all I could do was smile and tell her that she was very brave. I recall thinking to myself, “Wow, this is their health care.”
The village where we handed out baskets of food was no different. I remember that we had to take off all of our jewelry – necklaces, bracelets, earrings – on this day. We walked around and saw the makeshift houses that were more like tiny dilapidated structures with barely protection from the rain. Many of the people we saw were barely clothed and the children ran around without shoes. We handed out the food from a fenced-in area because these Dominican people were very poor and would do anything for food. I remember seeing a man without a hand. We were told that he was known as a thief in the community and he had it chopped off when he tried to steal food from someone.
Despite, all of the extreme poverty that I saw during the trip, I was most amazed by the spirit and liveliness of the Dominican people. They were alive and vibrant, especially the children. They were very open to interacting with us and always smiling and singing. It was also refreshing to see that many of the medical clinic volunteers and the food distributors wanted to help their own people. They didn’t have very much to give, but they saw an opportunity to lend their services for the greater good, so they did.
For me the Dominican Republic was an awesome place to visit and it helped me to be more grateful for all that I have. It opened up a whole new world for me, including new perspectives, new values, and new appreciations. I know that if I ever make a lot of money someday in the future, I want to return to the country and somehow use it to support children’s education there. I think that education is the most viable way to enhance the country’s economic development and the standard of living of its inhabitants.
In researching think tanks, I was pleased to see that various organizations, such as the Center for International Development at Harvard University, have taken initiatives to help the DR’s economy become more competitive. The CID, in particular, is working with the Dominican government to revitalize the Dominican economy, promoting inclusive growth and sustainable human development by 2030. Their growth strategy for the country focuses on education, exports, fiscal reform, financial architecture, infrastructure development, tourism potential, improved governance, and a revised tax regime. These changes hopefully will ultimately foster overall economic growth and job creation.
According to the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, as of late, wide-ranging reforms have been enhancing the Dominican Republic’s overall entrepreneurial environment and a relatively high degree of openness to global trade and reasonable tax rates have aided the ongoing transition to a modern and competitive economic system. However, despite these improvements, substantial challenges remain, particularly in implementing deeper institutional and systemic reforms. For instance, the protection of property rights and freedom from corruption are below world standards, and the legal framework is still weak.