Category Archives: 2010 DR

Five things I learned in the Dominican Republic

It’s important to me to keep the experiences from our backpack studies class present in my life and how I live my life.

Here are five things I’ve learned: 

1. I can take risks. I embraced the idea of this project from the start, though a little voice sometimes said: What are you thinking? I ignored the voice, kept moving forward. I feel stronger and able to take on the next challenge. 

2. Creighton students are amazing. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the students who took this challenge. They rose to every challenge. They endured heat, humidity, mosquitoes with nary a complaint. They embraced the people they met. They rocked the video. They rocked the writing. They made the trip a joy. 

3. Collaboration makes the sum much bigger than its parts. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie and Kyle Wooley brought passion, expertise and incredible work ethic as well as a great sense of humor to our project.

4. Journalism as witness is important. The Jesuit values of men and women for and with others take on new meaning for me.

5. I need to learn Spanish. 




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, 


I’m Not Saying… I’m Just Saying

So, I am currently sitting in the Computer Lab trying to finish up the final touches on our rough draft of the film. Instead of doing that, I am writing this blog while Morgan and Jen are eating fruits and veggies, Rachel J is on youtube, and Amy is asking lots of questions. Must be lunch break! Good thing we took a break because all of us are getting a little restless.

Yesterday we were so tired that Rachel, Morgan, and I had a race to see who could swivel around on a chair the fastest. Needless to say, WE were being productive.

The group is so great. Now that we have been back for a week, we are all blending back into our normal life styles. It was difficult at first, but with all the support of fellow classmates and teachers the transition went smoothly.

I love our group. Like A LOT. We are all completely different people, but I think there is a saying, something like… Opposites attract? 🙂 I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Which seemed to be my go to line during the trip, well that and Go Big or Go Home. Turns out I did “Go Big”. I have been sick since we got home and refuse to go to the doctor because that shows a sign of weakness!!! Yes, Mama Zoogs, I am going to the doctor when I get home… No worries.

The video actually looks more like a video today. We started adding B-Roll and editing out the translations. Rachel Belsha and I worked on a 4 minute section of the video for about 3 hours. That’s a lot of time spent of 4 measly minutes… Not to toot my own horn, but those 4 minutes are amazingly good! Beep Beep.

I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

Keeping the spirit of the Dominicanos

I have just been reading the post-trip profiles the students have written about each other for a different section of this website. (Do check them out in the section marked Features.)

As usual, the students are blowing me away with their writing and with their honesty and candor. But I’m most impressed by how they have been transformed, in small and big ways, by the experience. Like me, I think they are unsettled now, navigating between the cultures and the experience. I am confident, though, that they will continue their own personal journeys even though our trip has ended. 

I am blessed to have been a part of this experience. 

Pedro and Co.

These were some of my thoughts on our last night in Santiago before traveling to Majagual that I wrote in my journal:

Pedro and co. are so amazing because they are creating their own choices and choices for their kids.

They might never actually have money to spare. But they might someday reach a place of less worry, or even of security. Then maybe their kids will have even more power and choice in their futures.

In history we can see that people–individuals–can become successful from an early life od very little means, but this is somewhat the exception. Individuals can fight a system, form relationships, and break out of a bad cycle of poerty, for example. But can whole communities do this? Not generally.

This is why Cien Fuegos is so phenomenal. The people of Cien Fuegos are working as a united force towards change. Roberto or Luis aren’t trying to help themselves and get out of Cien Fuegos, they are spending their lifetimes to better the lives of others. Only as a community can change happen to benefit the whole community.

Pedro is re-inventing the wheel in terms of how to escape or lessen poverty. It is not about gambling on luck, or praying  for intervention, or coercing or killing the way out of Cien Fuegos. Pedro showed us that fixing his community is about, every step of the way, doing what is best for the community. It is about breaking everyone’s challenges into digestible pieces and assigning a group of leaders to each problem–he calls this a Neighborhood Watch Group.

Poverty is constant and stuck. It is ingrained in this culture and it dependent on the institutions that maintain it. But Cien Fuegos has shown that a community of like minded people can together acknowledge an injustice they all experience and make tangible progress towards ending it.


Staying with a host family in compo was one of my favorite aspects of our trip to the DR.

Dominican hospitality is remarkable! When we arrived, each family member greeted each of the group with a hug and a kiss as if we had known them our whole lives and were returning home. Lunch, and especially coffee, was given to us and kids played near the house constantly checking on us, as if to make sure we haden’t left yet.

The first afternoon we were supposed to begin working with concrete and my family suggested that we go take a look at it and that if we weren’t interested we should come back for more coffee and sitting–this is when I knew I would like compo! 🙂

Majagual is breath-takingly beautiful. From the front porch of my house you could see layers of lush green mountains all the way to the ocean. The first day it was several hours before some of us even noticed the ocean. We weren’t used to seeing the ocean near mountains and the sea was so blue it melted into the sky.

There are palm trees, a lot of grass, Cocoa and coffee bean trees. Each of the houses on the street are dainty and most are brightly colored with tropical greens and pinks. The homes are very open to visitors as well as fresh air and the chickens that wonder around. The road is horrible. It is dirt with many holes and there seems to be a steep hill upwards and downwards between each house–seriously. By the afternoon I could see how geriatrics must be very healthy here.

The first night Morgan and I went for a walk down the street and several people stopped and again gave us hugs and kisses and asked us how we liked their town. One funny man kept suggesting words like “pure” and “tranquil.” He seemed to have guessed that we were from the city and thought their compo would seem quite to us–which it did! But no one that we spoke to seemed to understand when we stressed how beautiful Majagual was to us. Only a another man we met who had spent some time living in Europe could sympathize and appreciate the unique beauty of Majagual with us. I supposed when you grow up in the most beautiful place in the world it might be hard to imagine that other places were not as beautiful.

My family was so kind! I loved being in the kitchen with the women of the house. I’d often ask how I could help and I would try to sneak in to do a few dishes before they noticed and stopped me. Eventually after bothering them enough to let me help they gave me little jobs and this was the best! I felt like I had gained admission to a secret club of the kitchen. They were so funny in the kitchen: telling jokes and picking on each other and me. Very serious conversations occurred in the kitchen as well. I’m guessing these only happened while I was there because they knew I couldn’t understand a thing! Amazing smells came from that kitchen: I had the honor of stirring a huge vat of chocolate over a fire and squish the plantains between frying rounds (yes, you have to fry them twice!)

In compo I often heard “Mi casa es su casa,” or more lengthy versions of that. I dont speak spanish, but my kitchen companions loved it when I tried to say in spanish, “My house, my kitchen”–Like who would want to be a part of the kitchen? But  helping in the kitchen was when I began to understand life in the compo most fully, both the challenges and the community. It is in the kitchen that I decided I am for sure coming back to the DR for the fall semester.

We were only in compo, literally, three days, but somehow I genuinely miss the people I met there. They made me feel so welcome and close to the family. It takes very special people to be so memorable from a two night sleepover.

And the Academy Award for Best Documentary Goes To…

And the Academy Award for Best Documentary Goes To… Creighton University’s Journalism and Mass Communication Department for their Documentary titled, More than Beaches and Baseball.

Wednesday was a long workday, but it was also quite productive.  We used the script that had been put together that is full of quotes.  We found all the quotes and trimmed them out and placed those into a master story document… that ended up being just over 2 hours long.  So now we need to trim out any English that was in those clips and pray that it is under 30 minutes long after that.  With a 2-hour film we could be in the running with far larger budgeted projects for some really neat awards… if i keep dreaming that is.

Although it was a long day we did a lot of the work that needed to be done, and now that all those clips have been located we can easily go find them and edit them down to exactly what we need.  The project looks great, and it is coming together, we should be completing a rough cut of the film by Friday.  Which would include the footage we want, just not perfectly edited, and we still would need to do the voice-overs.

With just two more class days left we will be putting in more long hours so we have something to show by the time we have to call it a week.  But everyone is more than willing to work long and put their efforts into it so we all know it will come together, because we are not leaving until it does.  Keep checking for more updates about where you might be able to get sneak peek. 

Little By Little

For the past four days we have been cooped up in a computer lab working tirelessly to compile ALL of the raw footage we have from our trip into some sort of rough cut.  Obviously, our final goal is to whip up a documentary on the story of Pedro and his work in the city of Cien Fuegos, and obviously this will not be done by tomorrow afternoon.  

We are quickly learning that this process is anything but quick.

It’s a good thing we are in good company (with plenty of new music and scrumptious treats to keep us going) though, because otherwise this process would probably feel as daunting as it actually is.

Although it has been jam packed, I have really enjoyed this week and being with the people I just shared a life-changing experience with.  Yes, we have a lot to do to get this film edited.  And yes, we have to be inside on these beautiful sunny days in order to get it done.  But we have all been moved by what we saw down in the DR, and we genuinely want to tell the stories of the incredible people we interviewed. Keeping this in mind, I know there isn’t anything we can’t do.

Earlier this week Gaby and I went through ALL of the notes we took on every person we interviewed.  We have done this in order to come up with some sort of script for the others who are brilliantly piecing together the footage.  One phrase that we consistently came across while writing the script was that of “little by little”.  This phrase was used by more than one community member in reference to the fact that working for change in the city will take time, but it will happen.  Little by little, the people of Cien Fuegos are recognizing not only their struggles, but also their opportunities in hopes of creating a future that is bright.

I feel like I can sum up this Backpack Journalism program by referencing this three-word phrase:

Little by little, we have gotten to know each other and learned how to work together.  

Little by little, we figured out what it was we wanted to capture on film while in the DR and now how we want to tell this incredible story to others.  

And little by little, we have opened ourselves up to this new experience and let it move us in ways we may have never imagined.

In accomplishing LOTS of things little by little, 

Ray J