The Dominican Republic is plagued with a rise in school dropout rates and a high incidence of child labor. These factors increase social risks such as drug use, teenage pregnancy, commercial sex exploitation and HIV. In order to address the problem, Catholic Relief Services and five local partners are carrying out Aprendiendo Juntos (Learning Together), a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. We work directly with children and youth who live and work in the street to provide them with quality care, protection and support in the hopes that they will stay in school.
One of our partner organizations, Acción Callejera (Street Action), works with at-risk and out-of-school children in the Dominican Republic's second-largest city, Santiago. The Acción Callejera staff provides instruction, art activities, health care, recreational activities and meals, and has helped many young boys return to the public school system.
Robinson Martinez is one such boy. He was so full of anger when he first arrived at Acción Callejera's large colonial building, he was given the nickname "Zero Tolerance." Even the most minor slight sent him into a violent rage. After a year in Accion Callejera's care, Robinson has been transformed. Now a well-mannered and soft-spoken teenager, he's back in school and the other children look to him as a role model. In this slideshow, Robinson shares his story with us in his own words.
Sara A. Fajardo is a CRS communications officer covering Latin America and the Caribbean. She is based in Baltimore, MD.