Meet Alicen Bessire, a Texas A&M graduate and teacher in the Dominican Republic. Read her story of how JMG helped her get started and how she was called to bloom where she was planted. She will be sharing more pieces from her experience in the Dominican Republic as the year continues.
Howdy! I’m Alicen Bessire (the daughter of Galveston County Master Gardener, Penny Bessire) and have been living and working in the Dominican Republic for nearly two years. The DR is on the same island as Haiti, between the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. I graduated in 2013 from Texas A&M University with a degree in Early Childhood Education.
I originally went to the DR as a professor’s aid for a community health study-abroad program. I and a small group of other Aggies planned on implementing the Junior Master Gardeners program in the community that we were staying. Due to our language barrier (Dominicans speak Spanish), the cultural differences, and a lack of resources, the JMG curriculum we had planned on implementing needed some adjustments. The Lessons, as well as the content of the lessons, needed to be translated and adapted to fit the needs of our community.
So, we shifted our focus; instead of being there to teach them, we took the time to learn from them first. We spent three months getting to know the ins-and-outs of the community: how people acquired food, how they stored it, how they prepared it, the reasons behind such practices, what farmers were planting, how crops and land were handled, the habits and old-wives tales of rural people. During this time, I fell in love with them and their life-style. Although I definitely didn’t feel as though our time had been wasted, I couldn’t shake this feeling of not being finished. I couldn’t leave just yet.
Long story short, I didn’t catch my flight back to Texas in August. Instead, I found a tiny little house, and everybody (and I really mean EVERYBODY) helped me fix it up. We patched wooden slats, put in plumbing, poured a concrete floor, painted inside and out, and moved in my suitcase. Everyone had a helping hand (and even an extra pot, chair, or curtain) to throw in. Soon, my little house was a home – built with all the love of a people I now call my own.
That first year, I taught English lessons here and there, volunteered at the local school, and worked on putting together a health and gardening curriculum. I received so much help from the JMG staff and the Galveston County Master Gardeners Program. It was amazing how y’all reached out to support my endeavor. In December, I got my first opportunity to test out the curriculum as an elective class at a nearby bilingual school. They were particularly interested in the emphasis upon sustainability. This experience gave me access to the resources I needed (dependable internet, real kids, tools) to really test out and refine the curriculum.
By the time my second summer came around, I was ready. Some of the original study-abroad team came back, and we hosted an 8 week summer camp (called The Sunflower Project) in each of three schools in our area. The turn-out was incredible. There were days that we’d just stop and look around at the kids busy doing their projects and burst out laughing. It was everything we had ever dreamed of and more.
Now, into my second year here, I have become the lead elementary teacher at that same bilingual school that originally adopted my health and gardening program. I have continued doing The Sunflower Project within the school, and we are set to offer community workshops and classes for the public in the coming year! There are so many amazing opportunities at my fingertips, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being with me from the very beginning.
Together, we are growing something beautiful!
Check out more information on her blog at https://daysofjubilee.wordpress.com/.
If you are interested in supporting Alicen, contact Taylor Whittlesey at firstname.lastname@example.org.