Last spring, Gary Linn, the president of our Tennessee Partners chapter, approached me about traveling to the Dominican Republic. He knew that in my university position I had been promoting linkages between universities in Tennessee with those in other countries; namely China, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Jamaica. The dual purpose of the proposed trip was to explore linkages between universities in Tennessee and those in the Dominican Republic as well as to discuss the role of small business in economic development. My “agent” and constant companion during my stay in the Dominican Republic was Waldo Brea, President of the Dominican Republic Partners. Gregarious, affable and well-connected, Waldo opened doors everywhere with his colleagues in Instituto de Juventudes and Asociacion la Hora de Dios.
Galen Hull (right) with Partners volunteers at Asociacion la Hora de Dios in Santo Domingo, June 2017
I arrived to Santo Domingo on June 2. A history buff, I was quickly smitten by the rich heritage reflected in the colonial buildings and the lively street culture. The neighborhood was teaming with Dominican craft stores and street musicians. I visited the Asociacion la Hora De Dios, the non-profit organization which Waldo manages that is active in the revitalization of an urban neighborhood. The playground of the Asociation was a veritable beehive of activity, young men and women practicing basketball, soccer and volleyball. Several of them had recently traveled to Tennessee on the basketball team under Partners auspices. We took a walking tour of the neighborhood, which was being restored from slum conditions and were treated to a traditional Dominican meal in the home of a local volunteer.
Dominican girls practicing soccer at Asociacion la Hora de Dios
Waldo and I visited Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD), by far the largest public university in the country, founded in 1866. We toured the campus, including its magnificent Pedro Mir library, and attended the opening ceremony of a Judo match sponsored by the Japanese embassy. Since the university was on break, I was not scheduled to make a presentation at UASD. By now, I was becoming accustomed to the amount of time taken up driving from one section of Santo Domingo to another. Waldo was most adept at negotiating his way through the maze of traffic.
Waldo and Mariel on Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) campus
I made slide presentations at two other universities. Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC), founded in 1972, is a prestigious private university located in the heart of Santo Domingo. With a current enrollment of more than 5,000 students, the campus consists of modern classrooms and administrative facilities. There I conducted a two-hour presentation and discussion entitled Desarrollo de Negocios con Migrantes y Memorias (Development of Immigrant and Minority Businesses) to more than 80 students.
Hull presentation on immigrant business at INTEC
My second university presentation was at UCATECI (Universidad Catolica Tecnologica del Cibao), located about two hours northwest of Santo Domingo in the provincial city of La Vega in the Cibao region. Also a private institution, UCATECI houses a center for assistance to small enterprises (MIPYMES - Centro de Servicios de Apoyo Integral a las Micro, Piques y Median Impresas) under an agreement with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. I made a similar presentation to an audience of about 100 students. This university seems to offer the best opportunity for establishing a protocol for bringing students to Tennessee.
Student Center at UCATECI in La Vega
An aspect of my visit to the Dominican Republic - which I scarcely anticipated - was an introduction to local craftsmen
Uncut Larimar gems
We visited the modest homes and workshops of two craftsmen. In anticipation of the possibility of promoting the export of Dominican crafts to Tennessee, Waldo introduced me to two significant points of reference. The first of these was Mr. Jose de Ferrari, editor of Catálogo de Artesanía Dominicana (Dominican Crafts Catalogue) at the Dominican Ministry of Commerce and Culture. We also paid a visit to the Dominican Centro de Exportación e Inversión de la República Dominicana (CEI-RD), the agency responsible for the promotion of Dominican exports.
Dominican craftsman and his product (wooden drum frames) / Dominican wood carver and one of his products
The Dominican Republic and Tennessee chapters are already considering next steps in maintaining ties. I would like to see two possible outcomes from my visit: ongoing linkages and student exchanges between universities in Middle Tennessee and the Dominican Republic, and the export of Dominican crafts to Tennessee, specifically for sale at Plaza Mariachi, a Hispanic mall in the heart of Nashville's immigrant community. With the tapestry of Dominican institutions and craftsmen, it remains for us to develop the linkages on the Tennessee side of the equation.