Thursday, August 1, 2013

MACILE: A Program of Hope Through Education in the Dominican Republic

 MACILE: A Program of Hope Through Education

Algunos de los Estudiantes--Some of the students

What is more fun than spending time with incredible young people and sharing with them leadership principles and values? Not much!

Nemir, Lineirys, Ani, y Darrel

We had the great opportunity to return to the Dominican Republic and work with a group of students who are in the MACILE Program, a program that focuses on the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. MACILE is the acronym for these subjects in Spanish.

Now, how did we get involved?

Dra. Vargas y Dr. Zometa
Just before we finished our mission at the end of January, we met Dra. Claudina Vargas in the fruit and vegetable aisle at La Sierna in Santo Domingo. She approached us because she had seen our missionary plaques. She asked us if we knew anything about the AsociaciónDominicana de Rehablitación (ADR). Thankfully, we had worked with Señor Arturo Pérez, the Executive Director, and Dr. Carlos Zometa, the “do everything” person at the ADR, on a wheel chair humanitarian project. The ADR, Señor Pérez, and Dr. Zometa are incredible people and strive to help everyone they can. 

The summer academy classroom
We then began discussing education and the reason why Dra. Vargas was in the DR. She is actually a Dominicana, born and raised in Itabo, a small community tucked away between la Zona Franca and the oil refineries between Haina and San Cristóbal. She was fortunate and left Itabo, went to Spain to study, then found her way to California State University at Long Beach for Master’s in Economics and then to  the University of Iowa where she earned her Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering. She has taught, researched, and spent time as a Visiting Professor at Brigham YoungUniversity (BYU).

Tres estudiantes

The program also includes language and focuses on improving learning in the STEM disciplines in less-advantaged communities in the Dominican Republic. Since then she has been working with six different schools in the Itabo–San Gregorio de Nigua (Ytabo) region, where she come from.

This is a laguna where Claudina used to swim as a child

In 2007, Dr. Vargas selected the region of Ytabo to start the MACILE Program, a program based on the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program also includes language and focuses on improving learning in the STEM disciplines in less-advantaged communities in the Dominican Republic. Since then she has been working with six different schools in the Itabo–San Gregorio de Nigua (Ytabo) region, where she come from.

Two teachers dos maestras): Antonia y Celestina with la Dra. Vargas

She asked me to be on the Board of Directors of COSOLA (Complex Systems Optimization Laboratory), the organization that founded MACILE in the Dominican Republic. Of course, I said yes to this volunteer position. Additionally, she invited Joanne and me to the DR to help with the summer program.

Los estudiantes

So, during nine days, beginning July 20 and ending July 29, we spent time with a small group of incredibly bright young people with promise whose desire is to change their lives and their circumstances. During the week, we discussed leadership principles and values. The culminating activity was developing an action plan. I was extremely impressed with students’ mission, vision, and objectives. They understand where they want to go, and MACILE will help them achieve these goals with support, mentoring, and scholarships.

Students preparing the "course" to program their robots

Robot runs the course

Additionally, Dra. Vargas taught math, science, chemistry, and robotics! Yes, robotics! Students had to program the robots to run a course.
Elder y Hermana Haws with Dra. Vargas

Elder and Sister Haws came to visit on one of the days to see the robots in action. Elder Haws is an engineer and loves this kind of stuff.
Darrel with the teachers. Claudio, one of the students, is technical support

On one of the evenings, Dra. Vargas, Joanne, and I met with four teachers—Antonia, Celestina, Kirssi, and Alejandro—who have been helping with the program. We explained to them what MACILE was doing and what we were teaching the students during the week. I found these four to be engaged, committed, and willing to help these young people achieve their goals. Their enthusiasm was contagious! We talked until 10:00 p.m. about MACILE and the leadership principles and values.
Some of the parents. The sister in white is the aunt (tia) of Ani

The next evening we met with all of the parents of the students who were enrolled in the summer program. Again, we introduced MACILE and its mission, and I shared with them leadership principles and values we were teaching and how mothers and fathers were the most important leaders and teachers in their homes. The parents were enthused. They were proud of their children.

Some of the students at the ADR

Also, during the week, we visited the ADR and then the Centro de Empleo (The Employment Center, now the Center for Self-Reliance) of the Church. The Center is available to all for job-related services, including résumé writing, career assessments, and workshops on self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and English—all without cost to the participants.

LDS Employment Center (Centro de Auto-Suficiencia)

As we were walking through the ADR and the Employment Center, I could see their eyes of understanding open to the possibilities and the potential. When we asked them what they had learned, one of the students said, “I didn’t realize all of the help that was available, and it surprises me that people will volunteer to help me succeed.” They all nodded. They got it! They understood!

One of the schools we work with: Escuela de Itabo

But we also know the harsh realities of where they live. Drugs, prostitution, abuse, lack of educational opportunities, and other challenges run rampant. They have obstacles to overcome. But when I visited with them, they understand these challenges and know they must superarlos (overcome the challenges). They know with MACILE’s help, they will be able to do it.

Leidy's mother, Leidy, and her brother Immanuel

On Saturday, we met Leidy’s mother, the top student in the program, at one of the restaurants in the famous Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone). This young woman is more than incredible. Her mother is a single mother whose husband abandoned the family. Her oldest son just received a full-ride, four-year scholarship to Michigan State. He was a MACILE student. As we met and visited with her mother, you could tell she was proud of them. She has struggled to make sure they did well in school—the power of parenthood and, especially, motherhood. 

Guests at Leidy's event

The week with these young Dominicanos was spectacular! While we started early and retired late and spent the days in the heat and humidity of a Dominican summer, we felt filled and renewed. Yes, as we drove through Itabo, Nigua, and all of the little struggling communities, the challenges almost engulfed us. The challenges bombard these young people on all sides—literally. Our small role almost seems insignificant, but not to the young people of MACILE.

Nemir, Linerys, Anny, and Darrel
I think we may be going back to continue our work there. 

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