Tackling societal problems in Dominican Republic

by Ana Ceballos

An alternative program for studying abroad took place this summer for the first time. From mid-May to mid-June, Vinod Sasidharan, the program coordinator of the Recreation and Tourism Management program at San Diego State and 17 SDSU students from various disciplines arrived at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for four weeks to help develop this Caribbean town into a sustainable city.

The program called Sustainability, Human Needs and Basic Rights: A Third World Perspective from the Dominican Republic is meant to challenge students into expanding their understanding of societal problems, economic growth and environmental issues with a global perspective. The United Nations sponsored program induced students to make close observations and analysis while working on community-based activities to achieve the eight UN millennium development goals: eradicate hunger and poverty, provide universal education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, maintain environmental sustainability and build global development partnerships.

According to Sasidharan, a vicious cycle occurs when one of the eight Millennium Goals fails to develop. For example, if there is no clean water for local hospitals or for people to drink, child mortality rates and maternal health may be affected because of unsanitary conditions and contaminated water.

“When being part of a real life project in a place where it is clear that human rights and needs can not easily be met, the understanding of global problems is much better understood than when sitting indoors in a classroom,” Sasidharan said.

The three-unit class is open to all SDSU students and although it includes regular class sessions and field-based investigations the highlight of this service learning program is in the face-to-face experiences with locals that lead to a clear understanding of individual needs.

“To be honest the culture and the people amazed me,” Corina Marquez, a business management senior said. “ It’s amazing how people that need so much are so open to strangers to come into their lives, but at the same time they knew we were there to help in whatever way we could.”

With the close observations made through interdisciplinary approaches and perspectives about the aspect and quality of each of the UN Millennium Development Goals, the UN will provide help according to their consideration. Yet, the Dominican Republic government is still a big part of the process and cooperation from it is very much needed to allow these developments to become a reality.

“Through work we can understand the people and their concerns,” Sasidharan said. “More programs like this can definitely help students become more aware of global problems.”