Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Unrealized dreams

September 27, 2005

The guard in front of the USAID office begs to see my ojos (eyes) each day on my walk to the hospital. He acts as though I am only wearing sunglasses to avoid eye contact with him, but the Dominican sun is blinding and requires some eye protection. I smile at him though, not to be rude, and continue on my way to the hospital.

I was more prepared for my day’s work today. I know that my task will be difficult, emotional, challenging, enlightening, and rewarding, and that is why I am here--to make some difference, even just a little.

This morning, a sixteen-year old girl walked into the small space we use to collect the patients’ medical histories. She is having her second baby. She said she knows nothing about contraception when Sabala, one of the nurses, asked her. A Haitian girl walked in next. She spoke Spanish but could not read or write well. Another girl we saw was not even in school. The fact that so many teenagers come into the hospital who are illiterate and who do not know about contraception is a problem. There is a need for better educational programs—health literacy programs, comprehensive sex education programs, and general education programs.

Someone once told me, “to educate a mother is to educate a family.” My friend is right. How could a fourteen year old who cannot read or write teach her child to read and write? Teenage pregnancy perpetuates a cycle of poverty and disadvantage. If the mother has little education, where will she find a job that will pay her enough money to support a family? Someone needs to do something to support teenage mothers, and even better, to prevent teenage pregnancy.

After my work at the hospital today, I attended a panel discussion of liberal women in politics at FLACSO in the evening. It was so great to hear these women tell their stories of hardship and of success. I left the panel, empowered by these women, and as I walked home today, I reflected on their testimonials, on the injustices they had to suffer, and on the hope they gave me.

When I reached the colmado (the corner store) near my apartment, I ended up talking to one of the boys that I pass everyday without saying, “Hola.” I usually avoid the men at the colmado because I hate how they always hiss at me when I walk by. I ignore them, as not to condone their objectifying behavior toward me. However, today, I said something—I must have forgotten my Dominican tigre repellant, and I am glad I did.

I learned that this boy, Mayo, who works at the colmado, is a teenage father. He is nineteen, and the mother of his one year child is only fifteen. Although he is no longer with the mother of his child, he told me that he had no choice but to leave school to find a job so that he could make money to take care of his baby. I listened to him intently, as he shared with me his desire to return to school. I urged him to stick to his dream and to return to his studies, but deep down, I know that he probably would never be able to go back to school because he will always have to work to support his baby. At the end of our conversation, he said that he lost his life, that he lost his childhood, and I left him, wishing that I could do more than just listen to him share his dreams.