Stories of Change

Nelson Valdez

Leadership During Hard Times in the Dominican Republic

“My name is Nelson Valdez. I am the president of the youth group Jóvenes Unidos por el desarrollo de El Batey [youth united for the development of the community of El Batey in the Dominican Republic].

My family is my mother, my father, my grandmother and three sisters. One of the worst things I saw during COVID-19 was mass unemployment that left people and families totally unprotected. I saw sick people and also know of people who had to move from their community looking for jobs elsewhere. Fortunately, I did not lose any relatives to COVID, but it was a tough time for my family.

COVID-19 made me stop my education. When COVID-19 began, I was pursuing studies in mathematics at the university and attending a finance and accounting course at INFOTEP, the government´s vocational and professional education agency. The university closed down due to COVID, which also affected my finances because my monthly scholarship for excellent grades of $104 was suspended. This affected not only me personally, but also my family.

One of the main lessons I learned in the [CWS-supported] entrepreneurship training was that, if I do it right, I can begin a new business despite how big difficulties seem to be. Even though the pandemic has hit many people so badly, there are people that innovated and move forward. I learned that while many people want to do businesses in good times–we called these times “tiempo dulce”–a true entrepreneur shows leadership during hard times.

I learned from participants who in the middle of the pandemic began to produce and sell masks and gloves. After the training, I spoke to one of my cousins about an idea I had after I saw the tree nursery the community is building [through the CWS-supported program]: I want to plant fruit trees in a vacant lot of land in the community.

The tree nursery project is very important for the community and especially for youth because it will create jobs. The only job opportunities around here is to go the town of La Loma or to move to the capital city of Santo Domingo, where you can find jobs and education. If young people can make a decent living here, then at least we have the option to stay if we want.

I am part of the tree nursery project, and one of the aspects of the project I like is that we will travel to other communities to sell our plants and we will learn things from them. In the community of Juan de Herrera (pop.12,000), for instance, we can meet new people, share ideas and learn from them. So it won’t be just about selling our production and make a profit but new learning and making new friends. Of course, the tree nursery will help members to expand their income as well.”

Nelson participates in a CWS food security and livelihood program that engages rural communities in the Dominican Republic. Our local partner is Servicio Social De Iglesias Dominicanas, and Growing Hope Globally supports this work.