In Preparing for Dominica in 3’s: Pre-Contemplations, I listed:
- 3 things I was excited about
- 3 things I wanted to learn
- 3 things I wanted to accomplish
So let’s see how I did!
3 things I was excited about
- Familial roots — It was definitely a very different feeling for me to be in a place where people recognized my last name and knew members of my family (some that I didn’t even know myself!) Typically in the U.S., people ask me where I’m from and ask about the origins of my last name out of curiosity, being that it’s not-so-traditional there. It was good to feel recognized, and also to have people be able to tell me a little about my origins for once, haha! Bus drivers, members of the government, and counselors on the island all recognized my last name and immediately would ask, “Are you related to ____ Rabess?”
- Meeting my great-grandfather — What a blessing! It was such a blissful experience, that I wrote an entire post about it. Check out I Met My 97-Year-Old Great-Grandfather for the First Time! to learn more.
- Research and cultural immersion — As a lover, consumer, and soon-to-be investigator of research, I definitely appreciated the opportunity to participate in research for this study. I took the assessments, actively contributed to nightly debriefing meetings with the team, and wrote in my journal each night with the intent of elaborating on my experiences.
3 things I wanted to learn
Ways in which people actually recover from natural disasters
I had the privilege of visiting both a primary and secondary school to chat with groups of students. While there were individual differences in the way in which persons were affected by the hurricane, there were certainly themes that were collectively heard throughout the weeklong stay.
Children and adults alike reported that certain weather conditions trigger feelings experienced during the hurricane, such as hard rainstorms.
But there was certainly a strong sense of community! Many people stated that following the hurricane, the support from family, friends, neighbors, and community members was at an all-time high. Many also reported that having a strong sense of faith has helped them to remain strong and continue to recover after the hurricane.
About the native Dominicans
Visiting the Kalinago Territory was one of the highlights of my trip! I got to learn about Dominican history as told by the native Kalinago peoples, learn about their customs and ways of life both past and present, and even enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal, Kalinago style. Visit their website — Kalinago Territory — to learn about all they have to offer. If you ever find yourself in Dominica, I highly suggest scheduling a tour for an experience like no other!
The mental health care system
In meeting with government officials, school administration teams, school counselors, and the social welfare team, I gained a clearer understanding of just how mental health is generally perceived and navigated throughout the island of Dominica.
Currently, the bulk of counseling takes place in secondary schools and is conducted by the assigned school counselors. Teachers and administrators would recommend a child for counseling based on circumstances, or a student would reach out to the counselor or administrators to express their desire to meet with the counselor.
Outside of schools, counseling is pretty scarce. There is currently a limited number of counselors working for the social welfare division, and outside of these two entities, counseling is pretty much non-existent. The concepts of “private practice” or “counseling agencies” don’t really exist.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to know that conversations about mental health are on the rise. Counselors across Dominica are currently advocating for a more solidified and uniform professional identity, more counselor assignments throughout primary schools, and legislative changes that would better support the connection between the education and social welfare departments. As the university which hosted this opportunity attempts to establish a partnership with the mental health community in Dominica, I hope to be part of this movement of advocacy and change that will hopefully take place.
3 things I wanted to accomplish
A successful presentation to the counselors and social welfare team
As a group, we presented to the Dominican counselors on topics such as grief and loss, play therapy with children and adolescents, mentoring programs, and self-care and wellness. It was received extremely well!
Engage in genuine dialogue with locals
As I expected, this was one my favorite parts of traveling to Dominica. I spoke with schoolchildren about what it’s like to live on an island. I talked with the island historian about international affairs and family heritage. I even spoke to our week-long tour guide about the many different places he’s lived and what drew him back to his home island of Dominica. This mission was surely accomplished.
Growth in cultural competence
While I cannot report on statistics from the pre- and post-assessment, I can report that I do feel more culturally competent in working with individuals who are different from me. I tend to think of cultural competence as a kind of moving target of which one can never “hit” the bullseye. I am constantly seeking out experiences to keep me as close to that bullseye as humanly possible, and this was one of those experiences for me. I truly enjoyed learning and being so immersed in the culture on so many levels. I am forever grateful!
Overall, traveling to Dominica and engaging in this experience led me to think about the field of counseling on a grander scale. I love moments that make me realize just how small I am in the world, and the universe! Whether at home or abroad, I will always be committed to advancing mental health therapy and working to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health. And though this was my first time in Dominica, I certainly hope it wasn’t the last.