Increasing Awareness about Education Disparities in the Dominican Republic at UR

By Hector Castillo Carvajal

Born and raised until the age of eight in Las Barias, Provincia Bani, Dominican Republic I witnessed a large amount of poverty, not only in my community but all throughout the country. I can distinctly remember kids walking miles upon miles to class because there were either no funds to address the malfunctioning school buses, or they couldn’t afford the ride. Although I was fortunate enough to live next door to my school, I often wonder how it would have been if I didn’t.

Hector Castillo Carvajal presenting at the Barbara J. Burger iZone in the Kessler Forum on February 8, 2019.

With the odds in our favor, my family received the opportunity of a lifetime – my father’s petition to leave our poor but beautiful little town and migrate to the United States had been approved. My family and I arrived in New York City in October of 2004. That was the first time that I realized there was a stark difference between the abundance of wealth, resources, and opportunities available in the US compared to back home.

Seeing such disparity first hand, inspired me to explore social entrepreneurship. These experiences made me eager to enact change in the Dominican Republic, and eventually in other developing countries. One way I am working towards this goal is through a fundraiser/initiative called Carvajal Cares that I began to benefit underserved students in my hometown back in Las Barias, Provincia Bani (DR).

Hector Castillo Carvajal at Escuela Básica Graciosa Elvira Cuevas in Las Barias, Bani, Dominican Republic. (Fall Break – October 12th, 2018)

While living in NYC though, there was a point in which I felt myself taking the numerous opportunities for granted. So in 2016, I dropped out of high school and traveled back to the Dominican Republic to rectify myself and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was immediately overcome with feelings of confusion and disappointment as I watched parents lead their children to harvest crops to make extra money necessary to make ends meet. I noticed that these children didn’t have the option to focus on pursuing their education or their dreams. This trip reignited my drive to do more to improve the lives of those living in DR by focusing on the education system. It also motivated me to increase awareness of the problems that communities like Las Barias, Bani face all throughout the world.

I recently had the opportunity to do just that. I hosted an event entitled “Education Disparities in Developing Countries: What Can You Do?” to highlight the ongoing education disparities in the DR and to encouraged my fellow classmates to become agents of change.

I began the event by playing a short documentary featuring the struggles that students in the Dominican Republic experience. I then had the audience participate in a Kahoot game I created, which included statistical data about the family incomes and education in the DR. Many of the students and staff members who attended sat in awe when they learned that according to the World Bank, 46% of Dominicans live in poverty and that the average income per month is only USD $130. One student couldn’t help but comment: “Wow, I figured the situation was bad, but not that bad! This is surprising.” Witnessing and hearing such reactions along with individuals inquiring about volunteering opportunities made me realize how successful the event turned out to be.

Harry Montas, a documentary photographer, and educator based in the Bronx Documentary Center in New York City visited us as a guest speaker to present and debut his contemporary documentary in partnership with Carvajal Cares. Throughout his presentation, the audience gained insight on his passion for documentary making; he considers his work to be his contribution to social change, as well as an artistic social responsibility. During the presentation of the documentary, many attendees wondered about our encounters in Las Barias while documenting the school, students, staff, and the principle, and we both emphasized how humbling, yet inspiring it was. The service trip was organized during Fall Break, and happily, I spent my birthday, October 12 working on this heart-warming project.

Presenters and Dean Burdick (From left to right: Harry Montas, Hector Castillo Carvajal, and Dean Burdick).

Post-event report:

  • A total of $391 was raised (we announced our $10 for 10 day’s campaign at the event).
  • The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on-campus donated 100% of their proceeds from a Valentine’s Day event.
  • Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity has granted us a table at their Latino Expressions event on April 13th, 2019 in the May Room at U of R. The event’s focus is to increase the visibility of successful and empowering latin-based organizations to minority students within the Greater Rochester Area.
  • Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity donated school supplies from their successful Fall semester school supply drive.
  • Carvajal Cares has gained 3 student volunteers on-campus.

I want to give special thanks to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for the sponsorship and opportunity to hold this event. It is through such events that I can continue to work towards creating real change.

On behalf of Carvajal Cares, I’d like to give a special thank you to the following folks and organizations for their contributions to the event: Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, Zeus Photography, Barbara J. Burger iZone, and Harry Montas.

Hector Castillo Carvajal ’20 is a Business Marketing major at the University of Rochester, where he serves as Vice President for the Rochester Business Association. His entrepreneurial spirit is inspired by his upbringing in both the Dominican Republic and New York City. He is currently working on expanding and promoting his personal business ventures: Don Carvajal Café, Carvajal Cares, and DC Premium.