The poverty of the Dominican Republic struck me in various ways during various parts of the trip, as I described above, but when it really hit home for me was when I was changing my money as I prepared to leave at the airport.
I decided to keep a few 100 peso bills, thinking they would be fun to have as souvenirs to give to family and friends. 100 pesos, less than $3 in US currency, was my “fun” money to show as a memento of my trip. 100 pesos is also the MONTHLY salary of some of the teachers at schools in the Dominican Republic. This money, that was almost inconsequential to me, was all that some of the women I met would have to live on each month. And how many times a day do I spend three dollars – three dollars for a snack, three dollars for a toll, three dollars for a newspaper? My fun money is someone else’s monthly budget, and no longer does she live in some remote world far, far away from me. I have talked with her and held her hand and looked her in the eyes. Like me, she believes in the potential of students with hearing loss to listen and talk. Like me, she works hard each day at her job because she believes that children with hearing loss deserve their place in this world. Like me, she loves her students as if they were her own. And every time I spend three dollars, I think, “I know her name.”
And it’s easy to say that all of these problems are Dominican problems, problems that exist in a world miles away, problems that can be pinned on poverty, or someone else’s culture, or someone else’s government, but the truth is, if we take a good hard look, some of these problems could just as easily be pinned on America itself. Not all children in our country go to bed with full tummies in comfortable homes with running water. Not all of our children with hearing loss have the technology they need to access sound. Not all of our children with hearing loss receive the therapy and education they need to reach their fullest potential. The situation for children with hearing loss in the developing world may be dire, but we are far from perfect ourselves.
Overall, my time in the Dominican Republic was great… because any time spent expanding opportunities for children with hearing loss and their families to realize their fullest potential is great, and every opportunity, every observation, every conversation with parents or teachers, every time I get to sit down on the floor and play – every minute teaches me something new, reveals some new facet of the experience of hearing loss, adds in some way to my development as a professional. I am profoundly grateful to the children, families, and staff of CASSA, Santa Rosa, and the government offices we visited for sharing their experiences. Though we are worlds apart, we are united by a common mission and a love of the children and families we serve.