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What is cooperating for me?

First of all, I would like to confess that I always have trouble presenting myself with a clear label. I collaborate with the New Paths Association, so I’m an expatriate aid worker; I am a committed lay woman from a community of the Catholic Church, that is, I can also be labeled with the term missionary, and some children, here in the Dominican Republic, knowing that I work based in the parish, call me “the nun”, or, what is more funny, “the father.” I almost prefer to hear my name and leave out titles and labels.

Within the world of cooperation, humanitarian action is usually separated, which in general are emergencies when there are famines, floods or other catastrophes, and development cooperation. When your vocation in life is “this”, which in my case includes the “combo” of pastoral work in the Church, social and development projects, and emergencies, everything goes together. I do not change countries very often, going to different emergency actions or short-term projects, but rather I root myself in a reality, I become part of a people, I share and accompany their journey.

My mission includes inspiring and promoting change processes, empowering people and communities, who sometimes do not have confidence in their own strength or find it difficult to change their own dynamics: personal interest over group interest, laziness, mistrust , fear … My work includes being in the diagnosis of a situation, with its needs, rights and challenges, in the design of the project with the community, as well as in its execution and in the strengthening of the group for its continuation and maintenance later. In this sense, the person in my position requires some skills to lead these processes. The ones that I consider most relevant are the vision of the future, which many community members lack, since they have always lived up to date, and the patience to join and add, because “you have to walk at the rhythm of the peloton”. Added to these are overcoming obstacles and resistance to failure.

My mission includes inspiring and promoting change processes, empowering people and communities, who sometimes do not have confidence in their own strength

There are many experiences in the 30 years that I have been in this work, I want to share a recent example. It is about the construction of a water reservoir with the Félix Ortiz Farmers Association in Barrera (Azua), a beautiful place in the Dominican Republic. The town of just over 2,000 inhabitants is located at the end of a road, closed by the Sierra de Martín García and the beautiful beach of La Caobita. Its inhabitants still live by cutting down poles and burning charcoal – damaging the national park-, as well as subsistence agriculture with the scarce water they have. Almost three years ago, within a global diagnosis of the community, which included agroforestry development, sustainable tourism and training, this reservoir was one of the objectives. To curb deforestation, irrigation systems for agriculture had to be improved.

Development of works on the water reservoir in Barrera (Dominican Republic).

After the initial enthusiasm for the construction of the reservoir there was a cooling of a few months, but a little later the association raised money to hire the excavator and start the work of clearing the land and excavating. Our commitment to them was that they begin the excavation, that they put in their manual work and that to be partners in the reservoir they had to attend two agriculture workshops each. The workshops were given by the government’s Technical-Professional Training Institute (INFOTEP), and even farmers who could not write were able to participate. Now, after a few months of work, we have the reservoir being baptized with the first water.

This project has been a success, not only because they will no longer water day and night, because they will not fight for water, because they will have more water and because they will optimize its use, but also because they have seen that together they could achieve an important change; because they have seen that they did not have to wait for the government to achieve improvements; because the will and effort, training and especially the union for a common good, are fundamental elements for change. This is one of the results that fills my work with pride.

Dolores Puértolas He works as an international aid worker with the Nuevos Caminos Association.

The section En Primera Línea is a space in Planeta Futuro in which members of NGOs, organizations and international institutions, who work in the field, narrate their personal experiences in relation to the impact of their activity. They are always written in the first person and the responsibility for the content rests with the authors.

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