All posts by Rachel Belsha

From my Heart to Yours

It is Sunday and thinking over the past week of adjusting back to life in the US, and ingesting and editing material for the documentary I am reminded of the principle of teamwork. 

Our class is made up of nine students and three professors here in the States, Kyle Woolley as our translator in the Dominican Republic, and Rachel Bloom as a recent and appreciated addition as we continue working on translation for the documentary.

As the days were long, and the task ambitious, I’ve appreciated everything that each individual brought to the table. We work as an incredible team and the end result, will be nothing shy of a job well done. 

A few added thanks go to the professors for making this experience a reality! Thank you also to the students who were extra helpful, and stepped in to help when I was not feeling my best towards the end of the week especially. 

The documentary is looking great, I can’t wait to see the finished product, and be reunited as we get together in the fall!  Best of luck to Gaby as she travels back to the Dominican Republic to spend a semester in the Encuentro Dominicano Program this coming fall. 

Amy-the group photo is sitting by my bed, reminding me of our wonderful experiences inside and outside of class. Thank you so much! 

I will continue to stay in touch, and look forward to seeing how we all go forth and use what we have learned, to bring about change. 

Take care, 


Thoughts from Hitchcock

Sitting in the Journalism Lab, we have been editing and putting together footage for our upcoming film. I feel encompassed by this project and as I think back to last week and how we were in Dajabón a week ago Wednesday, these are my thoughts about the DR and several things related:

I miss dancing. Whether it is bachata, merengue, or salsa-Dominicans seem to do it best. I have danced in colmados, under a tarp used as a roof, in the campo, in the city, at ILAC with the staff and have encountered a variety of moments while moving about the dance floor. Here is a link to some easy bachata and merengue steps. Now one, two, three, touch….step, step, step, touch. It’s quite fun, give it a try and you just might pick up a new hobby.

I wonder how our campo families are doing and how the new cement floors are working out? I’m sure they are much appreciated, and will be in use for many years to come. 

I also wonder when my body will fully be adjusted back to eating here in the States? Sticking to a diet of Gatorade, crackers and lots of water isn’t cutting it and I’m longing for some ice cream. Chicken noodle soup isn’t that bad though, especially in a bread bowl. 

We are putting together a very rough cut tonight and continuing to work on B-roll. It might be an hour or so more, but it’s all worth it. 

Plus, who could complain while spending time with such a great group of people. Let’s keep the tunes playing, and Rachel J-time to point it out.





What Family Means in Majagual

We were instantly welcomed into the hearts of the people of Majagual and felt a part of each one of our families after arriving in Majagual. My sister Elina was there to greet us from the start and she was helpful in explaining things about their family and house so that Emily and I could be easily acquainted. We tried a watered down apple fruit and were shown pictures of other students that had come to stay with our family in the past.

Over the next few days, I enjoyed sitting in the kitchen watching Rafael pull out three glass bottles filled with water and beta fish-feeding tadpoles to each and putting the bottles near each other in order to try and instigate a fight between the fish. We were given dulces (lollipops) coffee, and the hospitality kept coming. In one afternoon alone Elina and Rafael tied four bracelets each to Emily, Rachel Johnson, and my wrists. More than the string bracelets and food, our family shared their hearts. 

As we walked to Susanna and Edovijie’s house for meals Elina and others held our hands. My favorite walk was the one in the dark with Elina by my side, the night before we left. She held my hand tight and led me around rocks along the way. 

We were taught tres-dos, a card game and Kiki one of the little neighbors stayed all night participating as best as he could. Being around the community of Majagual reminded me that just by spending time with people, much can be accomplished. In the USA I tend to make a long to do list and when things don’t go as planned, I’m frustrated or disappointed in myself. The whole idea of “Si Dios quiere” or “if God wills it” is important to Dominican culture, and I should keep this in mind as well. 

As I was greeted by my parents in the airport yesterday, I thought about the campo and thought back to walking hand in hand with my family in Majagual. Far or near, I will forever be a part of these two families (here in the US and within the DR). Both welcoming me each time we are together with open arms. 

International Road: Mangos Gilore

While in Dajobón last week I noticed the despiration as people quickly traveled back and forth on the bridge with huge loads, only to drop them off and return for more. Monday and Friday are the only two days that Haitians are permitted to come into Dajabón in order to shop for what they need for the week. Imagining if that were a reality for me, is difficult. I am used to going to the store whenever I feel like it. It is something that I often take for granted. 

When we were on the International Road in between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I was sitting in the front of the bus, crackers in hand so that I would not feel as car sick on account of the windy road and suddenly Elfi, our bus driver stopped. He stuck out his hand and bought five mangos from a small boy possibly around 8-10 years of age. We continued on our way and after turning around we came back to the same house. This time the mother, grandmother, son, and a few small girls were out front with the mangos. Elfi stopped once more and this time I was taken quite by surprise. He asked how many mangos they had and as they frantically, and desperately shuffled mangos from one large sackcloth bag to another, they said eighty-two. Elfi purchased all eighty-two with our whole bus sitting there-stunned. What could he possibly do with eighty-two more mangos? He had also stopped one other time, to get out and pick a few himself. 

Kyle said he thought this was Elfi’s way of contributing and supporting the Haitians. He remembered when Elfi first took groups along the road how he did not enjoy the trip at all and would hardly slow down the bus so that students could get pictures. I have been thinking about this a lot, and the change in a few years time with Elfi’s behavior, is a great example of agape. Loving those who may have a completely different background is so important and I thank Elfi for leading by example along the International Road.  

Friendly Faces

As we turned the corner on the way back from the airport, I was hit by a feeling of excitement. I couldn’t wait to see who I would see here around ILAC while in the DR. To begin with, there is Kyle-the academic director from my semester here with the Encuentro Program and also the official guide and translator of our time in the DR. He’s great, and more time with him is always nice.

Next there are the many workers here at ILAC who I met in the Spring of 2009 and have been so excited to see while I’ve been here. Seeing Miguelina when we first got here was great-and running into Hector the next morning at breakfast totally made my day start off on the right foot.

I ventured into Juan’s colmado on the way to the beach yesterday to buy some Gatorade and the owner asked me how many times I had been to the DR, greeting me like he always does and making me feel as if I had never really left. It was great that he seems to remember me.

I also saw Luis of Kenny Taxi quickly and Steve Laird seems to be in town as well-small world! Dr. Kelly it was great to hang out with your summer group at Sosua yesterday and I hope your flights back today went smoothly.

Hasta Luego-Raquel B.

Observing in the DR: The First Leg of the Journey

As one of the familiar songs from the DR began playing while we were out and about in Santiago last night, I instantly thought back to my semester spent in the DR in the Spring of 2009. From the moment I began planning my departure that semester, I wanted to be reassured that I would return someday to this lovely country! I had no idea about the Backpack Journalism program at the time, but I consider it such a blessing to be back in the Dominican Republic within only about a years time, spending 10 days with such a great group of people!

Seeing all of the familiar faces when I got to ILAC on Monday night/early morning was a great and I am enjoying every minute. The mosquitoes are also here to greet me, how sweet of them, haha.

When thinking about what we discussed prior to leaving for the DR, I am reminded of one thing in particular and that is paying attention to details. I have always been the observant type, quietly taking in my surroundings, making mental notes of what other people are wearing and any unique things that I notice. For reporting, this is particularly important.

From a car ride or guagua (small mini-van size vehicle, common in the DR, only 20 pesos for a ride!)I am able to recall the many sights throughout my first few days back in the country. To begin with, there is the overwhelming feeling of a “second home” by returning to ILAC. The staff here is phenomenal and I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of friendly greetings I’ve received since my return.

Another observation includes Dominican women dress. It is common to see many embellishments on their jeans paired with either brightly colored or solid black shirts when they are out and about at night.

I always have enjoyed the many colors used for decorating homes here in the DR. The combinations of mint green and a light rose with blue may seem out of the ordinary to Americans, but here, it is a far from unusual pairing.

As far as tastes go, the Red Snapper I enjoyed at lunch today was delicious! It didn’t have a very fish like taste in my opinion, but rather a wonderful seasoning accompanied by the chewy texture.

The DR has many sounds and music is certainly one of them. It is often played at a raised volume, motos (or small gas powered vehicles similar to motorcycles) race down side streets as workmen are heard hammering and pouring cement for yet another shopping mall.

I said it once, but I’ll say it again-it is wonderful to be back in this lovely country! It has so much to offer and I hope that everyone who sets foot here takes the time to let some of the details soak in, because I would say that those details are what helps to make the experience important and memorable.

So classmates, now’s the time to get out your reporters notebook, still camera, or journal and take note, remember to keep some sort of record during your time here. I’ve found it is a very useful tool as I move through life and from time to time think about my different experiences here within the country.

Hasta luego,


Back in the Day

I’ve decided to venture back to my childhood tonight, watching Disney Channel with gummy bears by my side. I had macaroni and cheese for lunch and plan on wearing my hair in pigtails to class tomorrow, well on second thought maybe I’ll skip the pigtails.

My point is, every once and a while I feel the need to turn back to my childhood and take part in the activities I used to enjoy and often times still enjoy. Yes the storylines within some of my favorite childhood films are not complex as in “The Swan Princess” but I plan on watching it every once and a while until I’m old and grey. The best part about this is my sister likes to do the same sort of thing.

Megan is four years younger than me and she and I grew up playing dress up, putting together a make-shift podium and wearing leotards and performing “skating” short and long programs in our socks. 

Imagination is the greatest thing; it can bring you from an ordinary time and place into somewhere extraordinary. With a good imagination, one can keep themselves entertained for hours.  

I still never saw the film Nancy Drew with Emma Roberts, so perhaps that will be for my next childhood night.

If I were truly going to do this right, I’d have a sleepover in the living room. But some things have certainly changed for the better, as I never did get much sleep at those events anyway. I will sleep in a bed tonight, as opposed to a sleeping bag on the floor, but I just might dream of scenes from “The Pebble and the Penguin” or “Happy Feet.” 

Give it some thought, then go for it!

Well my friends, class has only been in session for seven days, but boy oh boy I feel as if my whole world has begun to turn upside down.

It is not as if everything we have talked about is completely new, since the concept of Catholic Social Teaching that we talked about today is somewhat familiar. I still feel confused as to how I will choose to fit into the equation, but my confusion is a result of needing to sit back and think on the issue some more. As we talked about today, I think this topic is something I may not ever feel completely settled with. I do however need to allow my emotions to push me in one direction or the other. If I only feel sentiment, and neglect to act I will not be in solidarity with the poor. Instead, I will need to find some way in which actions may speak and go along with the plan to be in solidarity with a certain group of people.

This song sung by Francesca Battistelli – It’s Your Life, reminds me of my internal dilemma:

As far as the Feature writing portion of class, I have enjoyed the models Carol has shared for all of the different story structures as well as all the treats she has so graciously made. The power points and observation assignment have been helpful, and the process of brainstorming in order to be more prepared for our interviews, which we will be conducting in the Dominican Republic, is an excellent idea.

As far as the filming goes, this is new for me. I was the designated one to film several events for my sister when my mom or dad were busy from time to time, or I decided to volunteer-but producing a documentary and all of the thoughts surrounding camera angles, setup, on camera interviews and such were not even on my radar prior to last week when we began. I find the filming process challenging at this point, but I’m gonna stick with it, view more tutorials and practice on my own. We’ll see where it leads……

It’s really nice to go to sleep excited to see familiar faces in the morning, with things to tell my classmates and professors, anticipating what is around the corner. I’m enjoying the group and with our newly added group photo to the site-thanks Angie (with the wonderful paper illustrations of Peter and Kyle) I feel as if we have grown even closer as Comunidad 9.5!

The importance of being well rested in order to be prepared has also begun to set in. I sometimes get myself into weird sleeping patterns, but with the DR approaching I will try to cut out my afternoon nap and instead have a longer, uninterrupted night of sleep each night. 

Hasta manaña grupo


Back on Campus During the summer

As I write this post I have a “Gourmet Cafe” French vanilla coffee, which I purchased for an excellent total cost of forty-five cents from the Folgers “Grab a cup and go!” vending machine. With podcasts to listen to, and readings to catch up on I found myself in the Reinert-Alumni Library tonight, at first struggling to stay awake, as my afternoon coffee seemed to be wearing off around 5:45pm. I made it until eight o’clock though, the time when the library seems to close on weeknights in the summer. As I began to leave I saw the rain outside and I thought to myself that maybe it is best to stick around a while. I have had trouble staying focused within my room as it is ultra quiet and when my roommate comes home for the night, she goes to sleep early. This leaves me with too much time by myself, to think and often get distracted by many things within our apartment. My nightly routine is often that I convince myself I need a snack, then that leads me to think about getting up to refill my water glass. Later on, I sometimes glance out the window to see if anyone else seems to be out and about in Davis Hall. The whole process reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” by Laura Numeroff. I am that mouse, and in order to avoid distractions, I will sit here. 

I enjoy the quite and relaxed atmosphere of campus in the summer, however sometimes the lack of other humans can be almost too much and so to compensate, I am writing from the library commons. There are four other students sitting in this space with me. They may or may not be working on school related things, but the nature of their decision to sit here does not concern me too much. I am thankful though for their presence. Especially since things have been quiet, I appreciate the little sense of community that I feel with other students around. I may not know them, but we still share a bond. This bond is community. With this may I extend a thank you to the other students sitting here with me tonight, I really appreciate it. 


For me, writing is an intricate process. First of all, when the original due date is assigned I get nervous. I think about how long I have to complete the assignment and then I begin to think over the assignment criteria several times until I feel as if I have a good handle on things.

Then I let things sit for a while and I go onto other tasks, knowing in the back of my mind that I must write something eventually. When I think about why I tend to procrastinate, it is not that I do not like to write, because I enjoy journaling in a personal journal quite a bit. The problem lies when I think about others reading what I have written. Writing can seem particularly daunting when I have to fulfill a long page requirement. Sometimes I feel as if I worry more about making it to the goal of pages more than what I am actually saying throughout my wording and such.

When I do sit down to write, it is usually past ten o’clock at night and I have coffee in hand, and chex mix or some peanut m&m’s nearby. I know that when I must write, it doesn’t matter how long it takes me, the paper must be completed, so when I sit down to begin, my thoughts must all fall into place.

When I have been typing for a particularly long amount of time, and seem to hit a bit of a block, I often stand up and walk around my apartment for a bit-refilling my water glass, or listening to one quick song on iTunes or something.

Then it is back to my computer to capture more and more of my thoughts within writing.

Blogging is new for me, but when I was younger I kept a small journal for simple poetry that I had heard, and I also made several rhymes up myself. Keeping things in a small journal has always been appealing to me, because I like to know that I can write things down and see them, but then get to choose whether or not I share the same thoughts with others. It is like a treasure chest of sorts.

I see this blog as a challenge to myself to write informally and then give others a chance to look at what I’ve been writing. Then after reading, they may choose to respond and I will have validity that my words are being read by others.

This link is to my cousin Becca’s wedding site and blog

One other milestone for me-developing a personal website this past semester in Web Design class-here’s the link:

Enjoy 🙂