We all know of the joys and benefits of being integrated with your community, be it as a Peace Corps volunteer or anywhere. Yet, sometimes it can be hard to find your footing when starting out. Aided by his appearance and language ability, Christopher MacAlpine-Belton was able to deeply integrate into his community in the Dominican Republic. His level of integration allowed him to challenge the status quo and develop rich and meaningful relationships. On this week’s episode, Christopher reflects on his service, the challenges he and other volunteers faced, and provides tips that any volunteer can use to better integrate into their community.
Photos from Christopher’s Story
Christopher MacAlpine-Belton’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served in the urban neighborhood of La Yaguita del Pastor in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic from 2013 to 2016 as an Education Volunteer. My chief missions were to increase the Spanish language literacy rates among primary school-aged children through intensive pullout lessons, develop enhanced pedagogical training for educators, and to execute community activities to better connect parents, caregivers, and local stakeholders with the school community. I later became a Regional Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in my third year of service at which point I also chaired several initiatives — the Diversity & Inclusion Committee among others — and worked with senior staff to develop a diversity and inclusion protocol as well as enhanced training and guidelines to support the rapidly growing cohorts of Peace Corps Volunteers. I also became a local consultant to foreign scholars and even university institutions who were undertaking projects in my site.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
I loved the time I got to spend the holidays with my host family. Christmas and New Years Day are very important observances in the Dominican Republic. Relatives, friends, and even neighbors come together to celebrate through evenings of revelry, food, drink, dance, and even gossip. I greatly enjoyed this aspect of my experience in the country because I was quickly adopted by several families who considered me one of their own. I was able to gain a high level of trust, intimacy, and integration that very few other people would typically be able to obtain. It definitely changed my life forever!
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
In the context of the protracted social and political tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the commonplace prejudice encountered in Dominican society emanating from this tension, I had to witness abuse, intimidation, discrimination, and assaults against Haitians resident in the country. This was most pronounced when I traveled to the region adjacent to the border of the two countries. Unfortunately, a Haitian man was lynched in a public park in Santiago where I was serving in 2015.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
I miss the admirable, hardworking host country nationals who executed projects with me as well as some PCVs who I greatly respect. It’s not often you get to do such meaningful work while partnering with such movers and shakers. Frankly, the ease of finding cheap mangoes and natural fruit juices is also something I cannot forget!
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Humor. Peace Corps service comes with rough patches, unforeseen circumstances, and at times, even tragedies. One tactic I learned from other PCVs and my Dominican project partners was to see the upshot in even the worst circumstances in life.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?”
¡Ya tú sabes!” = “You already know!” This is peppered at the end of friendly conversations in the Dominican Republic quite casually when you really want to show that someone already “knows the deal” or “gets it.”
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