NHtortuga's Blog

February 15, 2010


Filed under: DR-2010 — nhtortuga @ 10:27 am

Sunday and Monday, February 14-15.

Re-entry:  I have been dreading today (Sunday, first day home).  I know to expect some re-entry blues but I am struggling to understand why I thought it would be worse than usual and whether I have created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because it seems much worse than I remember.  I have been reflecting and talking to Dennis about it and I think there are several factors involved.

Obviously there is sadness about leaving friends I am not likely to see in at least a good long time.  We felt so loved and valued; we enjoyed the folks at the ILAC Center very much.  Leaving was hard—I don’t cry very easily any more (not sure why) so there is a tension in addition to sadness and I feel like at least that tension would not be there if I could cry.

Another obvious thing is the life of “luxury” and challenge.  Someone else did all the cooking and cleaning; other people kept the grounds absolutely beautiful; all we had to do was wash our own clothes and come when the dinner bell rang.  At the same time the constant challenge of Spanish and of the project kept my mind stimulated and excited.  Very tiring but I love challenges!  And I/we got daily praise about our work, our Spanish, and the ways we worked with people.  Positive reinforcement feels SOOOO good!

We were treated with great respect and deference—I think that has to do with a culture that has a strong class system based on both wealth and light skin color, as well as social position based on occupation and age.  As older, white, upper-middle class, college professors, we had a lot of characteristics that Dominicans highly respect.  Sometimes I felt overwhelmed, even irritated by the privilege given us—mostly I felt humbled and deeply grateful.  I think we both tried to express our gratitude as often as possible which seemed to be appreciated.

Another re-entry factor that I became aware of in talking to Dennis today is that I many things I had not wanted to deal with got easily put on “the back burner” to be addressed when I got home.  Well, I’m home!  There are some messes in the house that I just ignored before I left—“I’ll deal with that when I get back!”.  There is work to do for the NH Public Health Association (I admit—some that I just don’t want to do) that needs to be on a fast track to get done.  I need to put renewed energy into finding a job (I didn‘t look really hard before, figuring most employers would not want to hire someone who would be gone for 6 weeks right after starting!).

And, of course, the “project” is far from over.  So I am trying to take today to unpack—both my suitcases and my emotions.  Dinner with Jeff and Alyson tonight.  Alyson left Misha (dog) here last night to greet me and I have her and Dennis today for comfort.  All will be well but right now…

Monday morning—a nap yesterday; suitcases put away; laundry done; a lovely dinner and evening with Jeff and Alyson; and a winter storm on the way!  Life is good and I feel much better today!


February 14, 2010

Some excitement…

Filed under: DR-2010 — nhtortuga @ 1:59 pm

Some excitement one can do without.  (Juli and I decided to hold this post until we got home.  I wrote it Tuesday, Feb. 9)  On Sunday, Juli and I took a long walk in some of the nearby neighborhoods.  We got back on the main road to the Center well beyond where we had left it.  In walking back, we came upon a place where the road was practically closed with stones and tree stumps.  We asked a guy standing nearby what had happened.  He told us people put the stuff there to stop the dust.  That really did not make much sense though we thought maybe it slowed down traffic which would decrease dust.  Almost all the way back to the Center there were stones and garbage and large tree branches in the road.  We saw a couple places where it was clear that a tire had been burned.

Some grounds people from the ILAC Center clearing a section of road in front of the compound.

Garbage and a street sign between the ILAC Center and the main road

Back at the Center we asked around and got a variety of stories—or maybe it was one story and we couldn’t understand very well.  It boiled down to a strike against some government entity somehow related to the road.

Monday afternoon things got a little crazy.  A group burned a tire in front of the Center and piled on a bunch of palm branches.  Then in the evening there were more fires and yelling.  Suddenly, we were startled by loud popping.  Edwin, the Spanish teacher, was here teaching so I went in and asked him if we were hearing fire crackers.  “No, those are gun shots,” he told me—but he is like Dennis, teasing and laughing enough that you are never sure when he is pulling your leg and when he is serious.

“You’re just joking with me!”

“No I am not.  Those are ‘tiros’—the formal word is ‘disparos’ but here we say ‘tiros’”—once a teacher, always a teacher?  “But you are safe—Amanda is closest to the window.”  So helpful and reassuring!  Then he added, “You need to get under the table!!”

“I’ll get under the table when I see you under it!” I told him.  We did shut the blinds so people could not see us sitting in here.  He told us it would only last 10-15 minutes and he was right—but I sure felt the tension in my stomach and my head for the rest of the night.

Tuesday morning we heard that the ‘tiros’ were the police, firing into the air to break up the crowd.  We also finally got the full story from our great friend Juan José.  People have been asking to have this road paved—that will cut down the dust.  They are “striking” to achieve this goal.  Juli thinks they may have discovered a new way to asphalt a road—burn enough tires on it and you have asphalt!  Juan José told us there will be more tonight.  He assured us with absolute certainty that we are safe if we stay in the Center but…

Friday morning:  There seem to have been no more protests.  We came home one evening to the road almost blocked by a police SUV and a pick-up full of police with rifles and bullet-proof vests on but they let us through and nothing happened that night.  This morning, the road got grated, cleaning up the garbage and the stones still creating obstacles and messes.

February 13, 2010


Filed under: DR-2010 — nhtortuga @ 9:07 pm

“This is not my morning!” Juli has declared.  We expected breakfast with fresh coffee and possibly a last dose of pineapple before leaving for the airport.  We got up at 5:45, thinking this breakfast was at 6—because we have been awakened at 6 several times with groups leaving for the airport for the flight we are taking.  Anyway, we finally did get fresh coffee about 6:45 and a couple of dinner rolls with peanut butter.  I had fresh papaya which I only eat in Latin America because I can never seem to get a good one in the US—and it tasted great!

At the airport, there is a “pre-screening” that x-rays everything and then the waiting in line for to check baggage.  My bag tipped the scales at 47.5 lbs—that surprised me b/c I thought it felt pretty heavy.  Juli’s weighed 55 lbs—which also surprised me b/c hers felt lighter to me.  Anyway, the guy winked at her and said he wasn’t going to charge for a couple pounds!  (so at least something worked for her!).  We found out at that point that our flight out is delayed!  So it looks pretty unlikely that I will make my connection in Miami—boohoo—but we will see!

Then we went to immigration.  I sailed right through.  They stopped Juli and told her that, since she had been in the DR more than 1 month she had to pay $25.  I was waiting at the other end for her so she called to me about whether I had paid and if I had put “5 weeks” on my form.  So the upshot was we were both sent to a tiny side office to pay.  But, we didn’t have enough money—we had been told that if they charged anything it would be $10 each so I had a $20 set aside for us.  So, Juli had to go back out of security to the ATM—and then it only gave pesos so she had to calculate what we needed in pesos.  Once we finally got through that, Juli went to buy a cup of coffee to use up the pesos and they wanted dollars!

Yesterday we did very little.  We sat in the sun and the shade.  We gave out the last of our painted cups and said “good bye” over and over.  So many people have told us what a “breath of fresh air” we have been.  It has been an honor to be here, to work here, to love people here.  Everyone asks when we are coming back.  Soon, I hope!  Si Dios quiere.

February 12, 2010

Thursday afternoon

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 9:59 am

Today we visited the rest of the Fondesa analysts at the Cien Fuegos office and then had an opportunity to talk to four of the 12 families.  We had to “go with the flow”—I mentioned to José Miguel that we were going to Cien Fuegos by public transit and he said, “Oh no!  That takes too long.  We are short on drivers but I will arrange something.”  About 15 minutes before we were supposed to be there, a 15 passenger guagua showed up (we were trying to be on Dominican time and flow!).  Since it was clearly a hired guagua rather than one of the ILAC vehicles, we asked the cost:  $30.  We would have much preferred to take public transport (at most $5) but, arrangements had already been made.  At the other end of the day we would have preferred public transit as well—we told him 4 pm.  We weren’t really ready to leave but we were concerned he would want to charge for the extra waiting.

In spite of these couple of “problems”, we had a good visit with the Fondesa loan analysts and with some of the families.  The analysts wanted the full presentation from last night and seemed to enjoy it very much.  They said the model reflected their experiences in the community with small loans though at least a couple of them noted that it was a small study—one of the limitations we pointed out.  They said a couple of interesting things.  They sometimes have clients who want a larger loan than what the analyst thinks they can repay.  “It’s like trying to put 4 gallons of gas in a generator with a 1 gallon tank,” one of the analysts told us.  They have to work with the client to help them see how to use a small loan, how to invest it wisely in their business to grow to being able to manage a larger loan.  They thought the model might help them explain some of the benefits of loans that are beyond just the “1 gallon of gas”.  One analyst also commented on how much they had learned from us about how to do a study like this.

After visiting with the analysts we arranged a few family visit.  I knew where to find 3 of the families so Ricardo (one of the analysts) dropped us off near one of them and went to have lunch.  We easily found all three.  The first guy wasn’t home but his wife was.  She had participated in the interview so we gave her the picture (she was in it) and explained the model to her.  She seemed to enjoy the conversation and nodded several times, agreeing that it made sense and reflected her family’s experiences with Fondesa.  This particular family was high on my list because they had seemed reluctant to be interviewed and a little suspicious of the whole study.  Our conversation with her went quite well.

Next we visited a guy who did not seem particularly interested in the results of the study though he opened up a bit to complain that Fondesa has high interest rates and has been of little help to him.  That surprised us a little, since we had heard only very positive stuff when we reviewed the tapes—but, then, we had not been able to understand all of what was said, either.  Anyway, he seemed to understand the model and agree that it made sense in his experience but we did not really get much information from him.  We then visited a lovely woman who lighted up when we discussed the model.  She seemed quite pleased with it and said that it certainly reflected her experiences.  After these 3, we went to Helados Bon one last time for dulce de leche ice cream.

Finally, we visited a man with 2 cute little boys.  He, too, liked the model very much.  He thought it did a good job of capturing his voice and his experience.  We went to one other interviewee but he had several customers and we did not want to interrupt his work.  We thanked him briefly and left the photo.  Everyone has loved the photos.  That turned out to be a great thank-you gift.

We continued giving coffee cups today.  That, too, has been a gift that people are loving.  Some people have had a very hard time choosing; RosaMaria, one of the cooks struggled over 3 designs for many minutes and even after she decided, she kept going back to a different one to comment on how pretty it was.

Elfie, the driver of the “gringo bus” spent some time studying the choices.

Other people spot THE one right off.  Miledi is one of the cooks.  She chose her cup right off and did a little dance with it.

We get lots of hugs!

Tomorrow we will relax, pack, relax some more.

February 11, 2010

The sadness and joy of living

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 10:36 am

Last night we presented our study to a couple of the executives at Fondesa.  The branch manager we have been working with, Juan Merino, and one of the analysts, Rafael, also came.  As you know from past posts, Juan Merino is a little hard to read.  Rafael liked the model—though he seemed a little subdued, maybe being in the executive conference room of the national office?   I don’t think he had met the two execs before based on observing their introductions.  Anyway, we will get a clearer picture from those two when we go to Cien Fuegos today.

Juan Lantigua Estrella is the Director of Development.  We did not get the name or position of the other guy except that Juan Lantigua said he was representing the executive committee (I think).  Sometimes I get SOO frustrated with my ability (LACK of!) in Spanish.  Juan Lantigua had met with us the first week and got the ball rolling for us.  We found out yesterday that he had also helped when the second family interviews seemed in jeopardy.  He said that Juan Merino had called him about the other organization dropping out and apparently told him that there was a “problem” b/c we wanted to visit families on a Sunday again.  Juan Lantigua told Merino, “no problem, just do it.”  I had been wondering about overtime pay and such—I still don’t know exactly but that conversation hinted to me that there may have been a budget issue or at least some “strings” that needed to get pulled.

Juan Lantigua liked the presentation and the work.  He took notes through the whole thing—we gave a power point hand-out with the main points but he took notes in addition.  He enjoyed hearing about the research method (I seem to recall that he studied sociology but I may be making that up).  He liked the model as well.  He asked us to write a summary for their annual report because he said they work very hard on the social responsibility commitment of the business but that can’t always be quantified or documented so this study has important information for them.  They gave us a copy of their 2008 annual report—a beautiful bound book with high quality paper and photos of the artwork of a local painter.  The book is practically a “coffee table” book—even the charts and graphs are colorful and beautifully done.  So it is humbling to be asked to contribute to that!

So we will work on that today and tomorrow.  About noon we will go to Cien Fuegos to report to the other loan officers (analysts) and to visit some of the families.

I am really feeling the coming parting—I did not want to do ANYTHING this morning.  It helped to go around and give some of the cups away and I forced myself to begin writing the blog—but I am just feeling so blue.  What is that about?!  Partly finishing up a major project that I have been focused on for months (though there is plenty more to do on it!!); partly leaving the sun and warmth (though I love the cold and snow); partly leaving some really special people (though I am returning to some pretty special people); I could go on and on—with each “reason” there is a “counter reason”.  So I realize I just need to sit with the sadness and let it be part of the joy of living.

Xiomara cleans and works on her English.  Zunilda is in charge of the kitchen, cleaning, and grounds crews.

Cleo and Gleni cook for us.

Holly is the ILAC Director from the Omaha office.  Gisele is a dentist who coordinates education of cooperadores–and other stuff I think!

February 10, 2010

Winding up, winding down, feeling down

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 12:21 pm

Miercoles, 10 de febrero

Juli writes:  As we would say in US, we spend a lot of time in a “hurry up and wait” state.  In DR, you just “wait”.  We arranged for a meeting with the top execs of FONDESA, the microfinance institution, at 10:00 this morning.  About 5 pm yesterday, Jose Miguel came to tell us that the meeting will be at 5:00 pm instead, so we wait.  The presentation for the execs will be a power point with handouts.  We built the model one piece at a time, so it will “form” before their eyes.  Jean has written out all the speaker notes in Spanish.  I will work the projector! 

We will try to organize our office stuff and pack up a bit, because tomorrow and Friday we will spend visiting all the families and credit analysts that we interviewed.  We’re making up a little pamphlet for them showing them the results we found.

Jeanie adds:  I feel a little frustrated that we are presenting to the top management first.  I prefer to meet with the families and loan officers first—to acknowledge and honor their central role in the study AND to make sure the model accurately reflects their experience.  But culturally you have to go through the “authorities”.  This is one of several cultural/ethical/cognitive conflicts anyone experiences in working within another country/culture/community.  In some settings this would feel like a major ethical conflict for me—here I can acknowledge and understand the cultural norms that dictate processes.

I have already mentioned some of the other surprises, cultural discomforts, and frustrations.  Here are a couple of fun examples of the cognitive confusion I’ve experienced.  Palm trees and mountains!  Mountains have pine trees, not palms!  Trying to write “January” sitting in the sun in a tank-top.  At first I just couldn’t do it!  I’d type/write a “J” and end up with “June”!  I resorted to Spanish month names.  That “problem” has eased a bit.  A related brain confusion was the “late” sunrise with warm temps.  We pretty much have 12 hours of day-light:  6:30 am to 6:30 pm.  My life-long experience has been “still dark at 6 am = cold outside”.

There are, of course, many cultural things to notice and write about.  The use of motorcycles–

As a mini-pick-up

As a taxi; they wait at bus/guagua stops and people hire them to take them home; or to work

Delivery “trucks”  (those are pillows, by the way)

Ice cream is as popular here as anywhere–though the “trucks” that work the neighborhoods are a bicycle and the driver rings a bell as he cruises along:

Winding up, winding down, feeling a little sad.

February 9, 2010

So many to thank!

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 2:07 pm

We met yesterday afternoon with José Miguel to show him the model we had created with the students.  He couldn’t say enough about how great he thought it was.  “No-one has ever presented this perspective!  It is perfect!  Fondesa will love it because it explains what they do in a new and clear way.”  (this was all in Spanish, of course).  He had to correct a few of the phrases in Spanish but mostly my translation was also “perfect”.  Naturally, we are thrilled!

We asked his advice on presenting to Fondesa, a meeting he has arranged for tomorrow.  He asked that we create a PowerPoint—“it is so much more professional and easy for a group to see”.  Se we spent the afternoon and evening working on that.  Juli and I both REALLY enjoy creating presentations—we divided the work and didn’t come to blows over who got to do it!  We do not know who all is coming.  We suggested that José Miguel invite Juan Lantigua who is the development director for Fondesa for the whole country (I think) and is the guy we met with the first week to set this all in motion.  José Miguel also mentioned inviting other top management.  We asked him to let us know this afternoon how many hand-outs to print.

José Miguel told us there would be a projector there (we don’t know if we are going to the central office of the Cien Fuegos branch office) but we decided we will also take the projector from here.  That way, we can set it up today and make sure it all works—just in case!

Padre Bill and Miguelina who is the go-to person at night and on week-ends. Big "Thank You" to both of them!

The son of one of the men killed in the helicopter crash came in Sunday night.  I sat with him for about an hour yesterday morning, just listening, while Padre finished up some work he had to do.  The hardest thing he told me was that he and his dad had had an argument at Thanksgiving and they hadn’t spoken since.  Our mom always told us not to go to bed until we had settled any arguments we had with a loved one—seems especially good advice right now.   Padre then took the son to the site of the crash.  I haven’t seen them come back.  Padre said they might spend the night at a Jesuit center near the town of the crash.  The son is 24—I sure feel for him!  He will be taking the ashes of both men back to the States.

We went into town today and got the last family picture developed, got a few more frames and another 3 cups to decorate.  I think we are done shopping.  So many wonderful people have helped us—so many new friends! 

Jose Miguel with his "Thank You" cup

We gave José Miguel his cup yesterday.  He told us that staff have mentioned to him that we make them happy, that our presence is happiness.  Another staff member asked us a couple days ago what country we are from because, while our Spanish is clearly not native, our “attitude” seems Dominican—or at least Latino.  Bragging?  Maybe-but sure feels great!

Pictures for the families and analysts we interviewed-we have them out on a table in the library and looking at them makes me feel warm and happy. We will start delivering them tomorrow.

Finished giftsMore finished gifts

More finished gifts

Finishing gifts

February 8, 2010

Health Status Comparisons

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 11:59 am

Juli writes:  

We finished the Microfinance and Impact on Public Health class on Friday.  During the course of the class, we (the students and faculty) built a model of the interaction between these two disciplines.  Jean and I are now meeting with various stakeholders to get their input on the model.  Jose Miguel, COO here, is the first to see it this afternoon.  We then will meet with officials at FONDESA, the microfinance institution we worked with.  Then the last two or three days of the week, we will try to meet with each of the credit analysts and families that the students interviewed.  We’ll show them the model and ask the question, “Does this show how microcredit has impacted your family?”  In other words, how well does it fit with what they have experienced?  So we have a busy week ahead.  We are also in the process of submitting paper proposals and writing rough drafts for articles.

Jeanie:  In addition we are summarizing our class work and evaluations.  Today I will report on the health status comparisons between Santiago and Omaha.

You may remember the class from 21 January from the blog of that day.  Here is a brief summary:  We began class by reviewing the concepts of the social determinants of health and the epidemiologic transition.  Then we accessed WHO (World Health Organization) tables Dennis had located for me back in November.  We compared Haiti (one of the least developed countries in the world), the DR (a middle developed country which shares the island with Haiti), and the US.  We began with economic and demographic data.  I let the students pick from the WHO tables what statistics they were interested in and then we created a table on the white board.  There were no surprises but it was still quite interesting.  For example, the average age in Haiti is 21 while in the US it is 36!  The epidemiologic transition suggests that infant mortality decreases before fertility does—that is, families continue having many babies, knowing that many of them will die.  But when they don’t die, it creates an age bubble (kind of like the boomer bubble that happened in the US for different reasons).  One of the interesting stats we found is that the adolescent fertility rate in the DR is a LOT higher than either Haiti or the US.  We suggested that at some point the students might want to look into that further.

After exploring WHO data on education, mortality, infectious v chronic disease and other health measures we divided the class into groups of 2 to 3 students.  Each group got a list of about 5 health measures.  Ideally, we wanted students to compare the cities of Santiago and Omaha on these measures—realistically, we encouraged them to at least compare the DR with the state of Nebraska rather than the whole US.  For most of the measures I had already found sources of data (actually, Dennis found many of them!!) which I made available to the students, although they still had to sort through the tables and/or process some of the data.  For example, we had total number of adult deaths in Omaha in a particular year and the total adult population but not the adult mortality per 1,000 people.  We also had some of the data in a report in Spanish.  For one measure in each group we had only the Santiago/DR or Omaha/Nebraska but not both.

The teams had several days to find the data for their assigned measures and discuss it.  They then created a one-pager with the data and their speculations and questions about the statistics they found.  We distributed this document to all the students a few hours before class.  In reviewing it, I pulled up several points to discuss with the students before beginning to discuss the actual data.  We spent time considering correlation and causation, description and explanation.  We also discussed single data points in contrast to trends.  Finally, we talked about how to present discussions about the meaning of statistics, making it clear when statements are based on other information and when they are speculation.

As a class we then discussed the findings by looking at them in groups.  We began with economic indicators (ie: unemployment) and other social indicators (ie: high school graduation).  We found that even these basic statistics were hard to compare.  Students noted that the data sources they had found did not explain how they had defined “unemployment”.  In the DR, many, many people are employed in the informal sector and we do not know whether or how they were counted.  From earlier class content and discussion, we listed the possible health impacts of the economic and social indicators.  We then compared health services (ie: number of doctors per 10,000 people).  Students were shocked that the US measles immunization percentage was lower than in the DR.  This was also one of the statistics where the students could clearly see the challenges of finding comparable data.  One group found the percentage of 1-year-olds immunized for measles in the DR but could only find the percent of children in Nebraska who were “fully immunized” by the age of two.  Finally, we looked at mortality figures and at other health indicators such as tobacco use.  Again, surprises for the students:  more than 25% of adults over 15 in Douglas County (Omaha) smoke while just over 15% of adults in the DR smoke.  In discussion the students recognized how few tobacco ads they had seen along with connecting lower smoking with extreme poverty.

The final step of this assignment was a one-page reflection.  We gave them 4 questions as guidance but asked students to focus only on 1 or 2:  What most caught your attention about the health comparisons between Santiago and Omaha?  What would you like to know more about to better compare the two?  What do you think is the most important health issue to address in each population?  What do you think ILAC and/or Creighton could do to improve the health of each population?

From observation and self-report, we know the students found this exercise to be interesting and stimulating.  They looked hard for data; they thought about what the data meant and they asked questions.  One group wrote in their one-page summary “we are confused by these results.  Why would the United States have a lower [measles] immunization rate compared to that of the Dominican Republic?”  Class discussion included both reasons the US rate could be lower and reasons the DR percentage could be inaccurate.  Overall, the students in class stayed engaged with the data and discussion for over two hours.

Students reported surprise at how difficult it was to find comparable statistics. They identified problems with definitions, missing data, and questions about bias and the accuracy of reported data.  For example, from what they have seen in the few weeks we have been here and from what they have learned in other classes, they find it very unlikely that 99% of pregnant women here receive at least one prenatal visit.  Some women live 2 or more hours from the nearest medical facility but it is possible that at least some of these receive a prenatal visit from a community health worker such as the Cooperadores de Salud trained here at the Center.  Equally, they questioned the statistic of a 99% adult literacy rate in the US.  One student wrote, “I had never really questioned statistics before.”  He found the uncertainty a little “disconcerting.”

The activity also helped students understand on a deeper level how interconnected many factors that contribute to health status are.  As noted above, they discussed in some depth possible explanations for the lower smoking rates in the DR.  With more time we could have explored the expanding export of US cigarettes and social justice issues of tobacco promotion in minority communities.  Students also recognized that one cannot say the Omaha is more healthy because there are more doctors and longer life spans.  From their perspective, Dominicans are much healthier emotionally and spiritually but need basic health education, improved nutrition, and sanitation, while people in the US need to increase their physical activity, lose weight, and quite smoking.

This activity reinforced and expanded another of the objectives we had for the class: understanding the differences between quantitative and qualitative research and the value and strengths of each.  Students commented throughout the course that they had not realized that the kind of interviewing we did was “research” and some commented on how much they enjoyed it.  Several wrote in their reflections on this exercise about the connections between the two.  One wrote, “since our arrival we have…witnessed the poor education system here in the D.R. but seeing the actual [population with a high school diploma] statistics really made me aware of this tragic reality and disparity.”  From the other side, one wrote that statistics seem a “poor indicator of reality” and another commented, “I would like to collect more qualitative data…it takes into account factors such as happiness and family relationships that quantitative data cannot count.”

Overall, I think the activity worked very well in exposing students to the importance and limitations of data as well as the complexity of “measuring” health.  Because of the short time frame, they may have also developed a few inaccurate impressions of data.  For example, in general the definitions used for data are reported but may not be easy to find and the students had neither the time nor the expertise to find them—so they assumed the definitions were not available.  Equally, sometimes they assumed the data itself did not exist.  That is probably true in some cases; in many, however, we just do not know where to look.  I am sure we will continue to find more sources of data so that will be less of a problem when we do this class again.

February 6, 2010

Juli adds…

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 7:56 pm

Well, I’ve been out of commission, blog-wise for a couple of days.  I am feeling better than yesterday.  We had a prayer service and lots of time to process feelings.  Class finished Thursday evening and I spent the day in the shade near where the helicopter came in each time, reading, thinking, and doing post-class debriefings with each student individually.  So that was all good. 

This morning, we went to town to pick up prints of photographs.  We have one for each family we interviewed, a 5×7 that will be put into a simple frame.  Also several for the credit analysts we interviewed and who introduced us to the families.  We also had photos of all the people who swarmed out to the helicopter on the first day they were here, to get their pictures taken with “the bird”.  In some cases there were 4 or 5 employees in the picture, so we needed 4 or 5 copies.  We also made two extra copies of each, for Jimmy and John’s families.  So all together there were about 150 4x6s and 25 5x7s. 

We walked through several stores in Santiago center looking for picture frames and in one store were two brand new gorgeous treadle sewing machines!  Wow!  That brought back memories.  On the way back from town, one particular stop was a bit comical.  The absolutely-farthest-from-the-door passenger needed to exit from the guagua and about half of us (that would be 9 or 10!) had to get out and then get back in. 

This afternoon after the students left, we started thinking about supper.  We counted that there would be only 7 of us here, down from the 40 or 50 usually at meals up until now.  So we started speculating:  maybe we’ll get steak!  Then a small group of obgyn docs/students came back from their campo day.  I’d forgotten about them.  So that brought us up to 13.  Then it turned out that they had already made plans to go out and had invited three of the staff who were in our 7, and had told the cooks ahead of time.  So now we were back down to 4!  So we had a tablecloth, a candle, (no wine! darn!) and the four of us had dinner–lemon chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh brocolli and carrots, fresh pineapple, and dinner rolls.  Not too shabby! 

Tonight we are working up some of the information from the evaluations from the students and will make an early-to-bed decision probably.

Sabado, 6 de febrero

Filed under: DR-2010,Uncategorized — nhtortuga @ 3:44 pm

Sábado, 6 de febrero

A friend wrote in Facebook last night, “Homemade tacos, a snow storm, and no obligations tomorrow.  Life is good!”  As much as I love snow storms, I am not missing the cold and we’ve had homemade tacos here at least a couple times; and the sun and warmth are WONDERFUL!  We do, however, have many obligations today.  Still, life is good!

Thursday evening was our last class.  As you know, we have treated the students to ice cream, “Helados Bon”, more than once—four times to be exact.  So on Thursday they told us over and over that they wanted Helados Bon for their last night and we told them over and over we had no money for it!  But, on the sly, we asked Juan José to stop for Helados Bon when he went to town on some other errands and sneak the ice cream into the freezer.  We heard later that the students had planned to go to Helados Bon after class since we had them convinced there was not ice cream for them.

So, we spent about half of the class “working”.  Juli gave a lecture on a study looking at the impact of business training on the success of a microfinance organization in Peru and then explained in detail the expectations for the final paper.  We hope the students really understand that we want them to use the materials they have, not search for new sources and information; that we want a conceptual and synthesis paper.   We ask each student to pick the one of the microfinance products/services we studied (micro-loans, micro-insurance, micro-savings, micro-housing-finance, and remittance services) that they think can have the most impact on the health of a community and then discuss what aspects of health would be most impacted, how you could measure this impact, and the pathways by which this product/service would have an impact on health.  We are really pleased with what we came up with for that assignment because we think it challenges the students to think and to integrate what we studied.

After that, we played “Holy Post-It Notes”—a game we invented during the day on Thursday.

Back: Will, Kate, Katie, Camille, Justin, Becca, Peter; Front: Mary, Sara, Kristina, Claire, Melissa, Savana

Back: Will, Kate, Katie, Camille, Justin, Becca, Peter; Front: Mary, Sara, Kristina, Claire, Melissa, Savana

  Juli and I came up with about 100 questions, related to the class material but some required the students to go out and find information (“Who starts the generator when the power goes out at the Center?”).  Juli also sneaked in a couple off the wall questions (“Why does Jeanie have more grey hair than Juli-Ann?”).  We wrote each question on a Post-It note, folded it so they would not stick together, and mixed them in a bag.  We divided the students into teams.  Each team drew 3 questions.  They had to get the answers to all 3, write the answer down, and bring it to one of us to be checked.When the team had all 3 correct, we put their Post-Its on the white board under their team and let them draw 3 more.  The kids competed fiercely.  We didn’t think we would use all the questions in the half hour we planned but we did.  We had decided that the winning team would get to distribute the ice cream in whatever manner they wanted—knowing they would do it pretty fairly while teasing each other that it wasn’t fair.  But, in the end, the scores were so close that we just cheered them all and told them we had Helados Bon in the freezer in the dining room—and then they cheered for us!

All day yesterday Juli met with students one at a time to get “the low-down” on my teaching and also collect their course evaluations.  She is working on summarizing that now so I guess that is another “punch line” you will have to wait for.

Juli and I went into Santiago this morning to get the photos and frames.  The city is starting their traditional Carnival celebrations which include a very specific style of masks—though I do not know the historical details of this—so the light poles on the main avenue were decorated just like US cities do with Santas and trees at Christmas.



   The students left this afternoon for their first 10-day immersion in the “campo” (a Dominicanism that generally—but not always—means a rural “town” where most people are pretty poor.  They will each live with a family.  In one of their 2 immersions they plan to put a new roof on each house in the village and in the other they are building rooms onto houses (I think I’ve got that right).  Anyway, it is 10 days of total Spanish, total Dominican living, and total hard work.  They have not been allowed to have cell phones since they arrived and this afternoon they had to lock their laptops and iPods in Kyle’s office.  And they left SO excited!!  I totally understand but to describe it makes it sound a bit masochistic! One student said, “this is what I have been waiting for and looking forward to for over a year!”  I am a little jealous!  It will be so quiet and lonely here.  We have plenty to do, though.  And we leave for the frozen north in just 1 week!

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