By Matthew Tonkinson
For most of Team Dominica, receiving our acceptance to the CULP program was the first time we had heard of this tiny island nation. Some thought it was a typo and that we were headed to the Dominican Republic. Yet after research, planning and the eventual commencement of our mission, it became increasingly clear that, despite it’s small size, Dominica is a proud nation defined by a unique culture.
Our arrival here began our stay at the North East Comprehensive School (NECS), which marked the first phase of the CULP mission. It was here where Dominica’s culture became a defining feature of our stay. Instead of a modern high school with technological assets taken for granted in most of the United States, we found a large outdoor compound with cots, classrooms with chalkboards and limited internet connections.Our mission was to teach a young and eager group of Dominican cadets, and to an outsider the conditions presented to us may have seemed like an obstacle to our educational lessons.
Yet with the help of a tremendous Dominican staff, we spent the next 12 days teaching and bonding with our counterparts from the island. Time in between classes was composed of pick up volleyball games, lessons on how to open a coconut or talking to cadets about goals for their futures. In the classroom we shared our knowledge in basic tactics or leadership, but outside of it they gave us an opportunity to look at a different cultural perspective. Rural Dominica was the perfect place to begin our mission. Not only did we gain lasting bonds with Dominica cadets, but we also were able to see a side to the island unknown to tourists.
As we left the northern parts of the island, our transition down the coast led us to the cities of Portsmouth and Roseau. Considerably more urbanized than our first stop at the NECS, these cities provided a different look at a nation attempting to make it’s mark in the 21st century. In Portsmouth, we saw remnants of colonial British rule at Fort Shirley, where much of the island’s defense system centered during its rule. Independent from British rule only since 1979, Dominica has been forced to find its own way in a globalized economy and political world.
Much of Dominica’s focus has been on promoting ecotourism and geothermal energy production thanks to unique environmental features. We were able to enjoy many of these natural wonders like the Boiling Lake, the Emerald Pool and Trafalgar Falls. Outside of this, our time in the urban areas of the nation presented us with the opportunity to view the ramifications of foreign policy initiatives that are quickly becoming critical to Dominica. In Roseau we saw a White House and a cricket stadium as direct results of a $300 million investment package from the Chinese, a geothermal project subsidized by Iceland, and farming initiatives with aid from the European Union. Our time at ecotourism sites coupled with a firsthand view of a changing political landscape added another cultural perspective to our mission.
At this stage, we also engaged in crucial training with the police force of Dominica. Working side-by-side the men and women that defend the island nation both from internal and external threats helped highlight the rarely publicized issues that are afflicting Dominicans. The biggest fight, we found, is combating a fast-moving and covert drug trade originating usually from Venezuela and Colombia. Most crime on the island can be traced back to the drug trade or the solicitation of the illegal substances in Dominica. The men and women of the Dominican Police Force, which includes the Coast Guard and its paramilitary organization the Special Service Unit (SSU), work with the lack of modern equipment law enforcement agencies in the United States are equipped with, putting a focus on skill, determination, and motivation. It is clear to see that the Dominica Police Force is an effective organization that has kept their crime rate extremely low and their streets and waters safe to roam.
At the end of our mission, we left Dominica with different personal favorite excursions and activities. For some, the waterfalls and hikes were highlights and for others it was exploring cities. As our trip ends, we return with several new bonds and appreciation for a unique culture that few of us understood prior to our arrival. Perhaps more importantly, we’ve seen first hand a region and island that could play a major role during our futures.
For more pictures from our trip, please visit: http://armyrotc.smugmug.com/CULP/CULP-2014/Dominica-1/