This is a video report of BuildaBridge interns conducting a feasibility study with sex workers in the Dominican Republic in partnership with a local congregation. Jill Osielski and Kari Reed are students in the MA in Urban Studies Arts in Transformation Program at Eastern University. The primary focus of the report was to highlight some of the challenges of interns working cross-culturally.
Living Cross Culturally: Success Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes by Kari Reed
At the end of our work in the Dominican Republic, Jill and I wrote and issued an extensive report to the organizations we had worked with. We had concluded that, in the current setting, an arts-based micro enterprise alone was not a feasible option for the sex workers or for the organizations that had hoped to run it. That is not to say that there aren’t other examples of successful micro enterprise operations in similar areas or situations, but there were too many restrictions in that particular situation to sustain such an undertaking. Likewise, when we left the country, we had no indication from any of the organizations that they intended to continue the classes we had started or put to use any of the curriculum or supplies we had left with them. It almost felt like the project was a failure.
When you set our on your own cross-cultural experience, you will leave with ideas about what success will and will not look like. Be prepared for the possibility that success may not look exactly the way you expect it, and that does not mean you weren’t successful.
In reality, Jill and I had accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish – complete a feasibility study and teach classes to sex workers in the Dominican Republic.
We had survived the up and downs, met and conquered the challenges, and were ready to be home, but the end result of our hard work and determination didn’t look the way we wanted it to look.
Some part of us had hoped that the organizations with which we had worked would embrace our curriculum and gifts of jewelry making supplies and continue teaching women in need, that the women we met would be able to leave their work in the sex trade and make beautiful things for a living, and maybe part of us wished that we weren’t so eager to return to the states. We had fulfilled our requirements, and that would have to be enough for now.
It has been three years since we completed our study in the Dominican Republic, and through social networking and social media I’ve been able to keep track of some of the activities of the organizations with which we worked, and even some of the women we met and taught. Jill and I always said that if the work we did affected even one person in a positive way, it was worth it. It took three years, but the other day, I was fortunate enough to discover that one of the girls we had met on our trip, and a former sex worker, is not only making beautiful, amazing jewelry, but she has begun teaching our curriculum to other women in the area. She is working through one of the church-based organizations in Santo Domingo and her talent has far exceeded the foundation skills we taught while we were there. From the pictures and the posts online, her classes look full (pictured above right), she is teaching both simple and advanced concepts, and she is selling her jewelry with relative success - Jill and I did reach the one person we hoped.
Success can look like many things – be open to all the forms it can potentially take. And remember that sometimes it may take a little time for all the things you were hoping for to come to fruition.
Read more of Kari Reed's experience on our Arts Relief Blog. Search Dominican Republic.