Asking a child what they want to be when they grow up is often a favorite question by adults. The earliest response I remember giving was ambulance driver. It’s a question we often don’t think about asking, yet the implications can be perilous. Such was the case when our group asked it to a CWS-funded preschool class in Batey Dos in the Dominican Republic last November.
The thing we failed to realize was that this particular community still had a nearly 90% unemployment rate as a result of the privatization of the sugarcane industry more than ten years ago.
Stop and let that sink in. This community has had a steady 90% unemployment rate for ten years.
This simple question about future job hopes is much more difficult when there are so few people modeling work in a community. Coming from a country where 10% unemployment is considered a national crisis, such an inverted figure is mind-blowing. And even though our CWS partners have just started a micro-finance program, it will be a very slow recovery process.
If the unimaginably high unemployment rates weren’t enough of a struggle for this community, malnutrition rates were back on the rise for the first time in months as mothers were leaving to go find work in the tomato fields and the building where the preschool was normally housed had recently been damaged by a hurricane. Despite it all, nearly 20 students, ages 3-5, met on the porch of their teacher’s home around a single yellow craft table that day.
Amazingly, one young girl was brave enough to actually answer us. In fact, as soon as we asked the question, her arm flew up with a response. The young girl’s name we would find out later was Ruth Esther Matos and she wanted to be a doctor. It seemed a fitting occupation for a girl whose name can be translated as Compassion Star.
As the conversation progressed, we asked the teacher what the students had been learning that morning and she told us that they had learned two new songs. We asked the students to sing for us, and shyly they did. Shyly, that is, except for Ruth Esther. She belted the words like she had written the lyrics herself. Her enthusiasm for education was absolutely palpable.
Before we left that porch we asked the students if there was anything else they wanted to share with us before we left. Again little Ruth Esther couldn’t contain herself. We were transfixed as she explained in her own quiet Spanish, “I know I told you all that I want to be a doctor, but I want to be an engineer too.”
If that is not a picture of hope and motivation to keep doing what we do – I don’t know what is.
Carolyn E. Self, Assistant Regional Director, Greater Mid-Atlantic Region, East