By Sandra Bernabe MSW ’16
As I sit here trying to think about what to write, all that comes to my mind are the images of DR’s beautiful and sandy beaches. My 6-week week stay in the DR has increased my awareness of why the Republica Dominicana is considered a major tourist destination. Its warm weather and beautiful beaches offers visitors a perfect vacation in paradise.
However, at the same time, my 6-week stay in paradise and my role as a research assistant provided me with a glimpse of not only the good but also the not-so-good aspects of “paradise.” While the DR is known for its gorgeous beaches, it is also known for its sex tourism industry and high HIV prevalence, two qualities that I learned about through my participation in the MSM Research Project. Through interviews held with research participants, and in speaking with other locals, I learned about financial and personal struggles and gained a greater understanding of why many of these individuals are often forced into a life of sex work as a way to make ends meet.
While the research tasks kept me busy during most of my stay, I was able to spend some time visiting several of DR’s beaches and attractions, including Punta Cana, Dominicus, Macao, Boca Chica and a small town called Constanza where most of DR’s plantations are found. Aside from visiting these sites, I was also fortunate enough to spend time with some of DR’s local people who helped me learn more about their culture. I am grateful for having met those who seemed genuinely concerned over my safety (ranging from the staff at the Instituto de Sexualidad to the apartment manager) and provided tips on how to remain safe. Additionally, I am grateful for meeting locals who were willing to share their personal stories with me and who often served as guides. It was these individuals that helped enlighten me about some aspects of the DR culture that I failed to understand on my own. These personal stories were essential in helping me develop a well-rounded outlook of the DR.
Overall, I am thankful for having embarked on this journey. I leave the DR and return to USA with a better appreciation for life.