Seppe went to the Dominican Republic and helped break the taboos about sex.
As an exchange student I stayed in Palmar Arriba for 7 months, one of the poorest villages in the Dominican Republic, far away from the capital Santiago. I lived with a family that had very few resources of its own, in a village where they had seen few white people before. The local children stared at me for the first few days, as if I were a monkey in the zoo.
Learn, party and contribute something
What started with a crazy idea to adapt culture and have fun while continuing my studies, became so much more. Immediately after my arrival, I ended up in a public school where things turned out quite differently than in Belgium. The people over there have a quieter and more relaxed lifestyle. The teaching packages are easier and the content less elaborated. Outside of the school environment, the friendship between the residents and the willingness to help each other is truly phenomenal.
To be honest, it wasn't easy at first, because of the language barrier and the fact that I had to find my way in their customs and non-material ways.
My friends and teachers at school told me that the subjects "sex" and "sex education" were big taboos. Parents avoid anything related to sex. Some girls get pregnant at 15 or 16. Not only because of a lack of education around this theme, but mainly because it can sometimes be a way to “hang on” to a man, so they can be sure of shelter and a financed life.
One day, two girls came into the classroom for a school project. They had made a poster with some key words, some decoration, and the explanation was: "Watch out if you have sex, you are at risk of disease! Always use a condom or other means to protect yourself.” After all, abortion was not an option in the Dominican Republic at that time.
Then I started asking myself some questions. I raised my hand. "What do these illnesses look like? What are the symptoms, how do you recognize them? How do you put on a condom in the first place? " The two girls were unable to answer these questions.
After the lesson, a teacher approached me and asked me if I wanted to give the same information, a lot more detailed, with correct information, to other classes. At first, I thought it was a bit strange that I had to explain this stuff, but I agreed. Together with the final years we showed the correct steps to put on a condom, in a video using a platano - some kind of banana.
Not just the video made an impression on the 12 to 16-year-old students, the PowerPoint with information about the various STDs, pregnancy and contraceptives also appealed to them. For example, not many women knew that you could get "the pill" for free from the pharmacist in the village centre.
The last 3 months I stayed in Santiago to visit the country and to continue my studies there. In between classes we visited some closed cliffs, blue lakes with a group of students and we went out almost every weekend in a different city, to visit venues and of course also to party hard.
I am still happy I did this exchange and look back to my 7 months in this small village with tears of happiness. The goodbye after my exchange was very hard. Maybe also because I had found a holiday love there! It was an educational experience in which I unexpectedly contributed something, and I had a lot of fun!
Greetings from the Dominican Republic
Seppe's must-do's in The Dominican Republic
There are many tourist -dos, such as Punta Cana etc. However, you'll have more fun without any tourists around. This is my top-3:
- 1. Isla Saona - Becoming increasingly known to a wide audience.
- 2. Nagua - Non-tourist beach area
- 3. Monte Plata - Mountain area with beautiful waterfalls. Be sure to bring your swimwear!
In the capital, the Zona Colonial is really beautiful, many locals with a Europeanized style, (as well as a beer pub with Belgian beers), + a very rich history! The Zona Colonial was the area where Columbus first arrived with his boats, which makes it the oldest European settlement in America, with many UNESCO-protected ruins. Worth the effort and you getfree admission as ISIC member. More info on our international discounts.