Tour of Las Lajas | Part 1

4 Jun

Sorry for taking so long to get back.  The hostel’s internet is busted, and every time I go out to find an internet cafe I feel like I’m reliving the Dominican version of Indiana Jones.  Moto drivers here put amercan road rage to shame.

In order to paint an accurate picture of Las Lajas, it would be helpful to know how I ended up in a small Dominican village in the first place.  Enter: Que lo Que.

It all started first semester of freshman year.  A few friends and I wanted to save the world, and thought, “Hey, some people don’t have shoes in the Dominican Republic.  Having shoes is probably important.  Let’s collect shoes.”  Ingenious, right?  Fast forward to a few smellier months later: Shoemanity (our catchy, ridiculous name) had 2000 pairs of shoes on our hands, some hidden around the dorms in inconspicuous trash bags, some in nicer homes.  We had NO idea what to do with them.  The majority ended up in Haiti, and we managed to make it on a plane bound for Santiago with duffel bags carrying the remaining 100 pairs of black kids school shoes.  You can imagine the look on airport security as our bags took the magic conveyor belt to be checked for dangerous items like tweezers and un-ziplocked toiletries.  Shoe smuggling is tough business.

9 days and a breadth of experiences later, our group had managed to paint a community center, taste an appetizer of the culture, and fall in love with Las Lajas.  We were hooked.

The community center mural we helped the community design last summer.

With a new name, mission, and vision, this year we’ve taken the traditional idea of service and turned it on it’s head.  Lajas, while living in conditions many would label unimaginable, are the most vibrant, alive, loving, genuine, family oriented people I’ve ever met.  So, instead of coming in to DO something like most service groups, we’ve put relationship building and service learning in the forefront of our sights in an attempt to share the values and culture of Las Lajas with people in the states.

So where does that leave us?  We’re different, not for the sake of being different, but because we feel like before we can properly facilitate any sort of community development, we need to dive into the culture and life of Lajas.  Who’d a thunk it.  They love the idea.

Or maybe they simply like that our name translates to “Hey, What’s up?” and that Ben got it shaved into the side of his head when he got a mohawk.  Appearantly mohawks are in in the DR.  Somehow he managed to evade my camera the whole trip :tear:.  That do deserved to be shared with the world.

Along with doing interviews of community members, we did a few projects with the kids at the new Artisan school for women that’s in development.  The kids had a brainstorm sesh to design a mural for the school, and we taught them how to use cameras so they could make a documentary themselves on the school.  Pretty cool stuff.

The women also made a macromet wall to spice up the place.   All these activities were meant as a way to connect with the women, improve the school, learn about where they want to see this project go, and facilitate the kids improving their own community. Here’s what we ended up with.

The kids painted this symphony of colors single handedly with one of their uncles, a paniter, directing the madness.  The women in front are the Women of this artisan school who made the beautiful macromet wall to the left.   The macromet provides an outlet for their time, they hope to eventually use it as supplemental income for their kids, and they’re in the process of getting the necessary equiptment to add pottery to this creative banaza.

Now for a hard question.  Imagine you’re in our place.  As an American, you know that money helps a community.  You also know that in the global world we currently live in, computers are vital to life.  Through experiences with Que Lo Que I’ve learned that it’s no bueno to push American values on a place if you want development to be sustailable; everyone has their own unique culture.  But you just know the internet is so convenient, so helpful, could we even live without it? Even more importantly, would you give computers to your hypothetical community.  Welcome to the fine line of service.

How would you toe it?




4 Responses to “Tour of Las Lajas | Part 1”

  1. Rick Rocchetti June 6, 2011 at 11:53 am #


    Sounds like you are having a great time and learning a lot to boot.

    It sounds like you are really beginning to struggle with the question of whether or how to make culture change. Very good stuff.

    In response to your question, I would recommend a book: Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It is written by a Brazilian educator-Paulo Friere. Let me know what you think.

    I love the pictures and really appreciate you keeping me in the loop.


    • kmmille4 August 16, 2011 at 12:31 am #

      It’s added to my list! I appreciate the recommendation but it’ll have to wait til I make it back to the states. Unless I can find it in spanish…

      Always. I see this more of as a way to keep everyone important in the loop, spread a little unconventionalism, and use the experience as a stepping stone for the next project.


  2. Liza June 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Kev, you and your friends are jewels among jewels.

    God bless,
    P & N
    ? usted gusta me nombre nuevo

    • kmmille4 August 16, 2011 at 12:25 am #

      That one made me laugh out loud and probably wake up my host family 🙂

      Love it.

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