Starting with Space

In our work in the Dominican Republic, we are making space for members of Pueblo Nuevo to feel empowered to take ownership of progress in their community.  

This does not necessarily refer to a physical space. It is creating space for voices to be heard, ideas to be nurtured, leaders to form. This can be anywhere, from sitting on a family’s patio, to playing games in an open field, to gathering in the local school once class is no longer in session. To us, creating space means identifying opportunity, opening the door, and making room.

We’ve seen the power of creating space in just the few short weeks after the beginning of this project.

The group of “Los Ventajones” was created completely organically. We were looking for a few individuals in the “twenty something” age range that could act as youth group leaders. In opening this door, we were met with ten committed, responsible, enthusiastic “twenty somethings” that have now gathered together multiple times a week, forming their identity as a group, discussing their ideas for community change, and immediately embracing leadership roles.  

The youth group, made up of teenagers in Pueblo Nuevo, meets every Sunday. In their first meeting in the beginning of May, they discussed why they wanted to be a part of the group, speaking about spending time with one another, having fun, and giving back to their community. As they laughed and played together as a group, they spoke about their lives, their village, and their ideas for the future.  

Both groups, in just the beginning meetings, are swirling with ideas and energy. They are listening to each other, supporting each other, motivating each other. Their ideas, their talent, their passion, and their commitment to their community already exist. Through this project we seek to make room, helping their ideas, passion, talents, and goals grow.  

What happens, then, when you pair this with creating a physical, tangible space?

We have opened a community center in Pueblo Nuevo, renting a small property in the center of town, right on the main road. This is a beginning project, one that launches the community development partnership with this village.

It is a public, neutral place for the community to hold meetings, events, and programs. It serves as the headquarters for this partnership. A place where resources can be made available to the entire community, a place to hold workshops and host visitors, and a place to begin projects of all kinds. It provides opportunities for people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and passions to get involved. The space is multi-purpose and flexible, allowing for the creation and growth of many projects that speak to members of Pueblo Nuevo, from a playground for children to a community garden.

When the notion of making space for one another manifests as something concrete, something tangible, it also becomes symbolic.

Community members have come together to take this physical space, one overgrown with brush, spiderwebs, beehives, and broken beams – and transform it into something beautiful. Little by little, they are cleaning the space, making it their own – scrubbing the walls, picking up trash, cutting the brush, and then making posters and pictures to hang, and bringing flowers to plant.

Grisell, 14 years old, came with her notebook, walking around the space and taking note of what still had to be done and writing down her ideas for decorating. The next day, she brought three friends to help her add to the list.

Raily, 24, and Endy, 16, decided they wanted to be responsible for fixing the gate to the main entrance. They divided up their responsibilities, chopping the wood and getting the wire, and have decided to build it together.

Isaura, 9, and Hansel, 7, have come to the center every day since we received the keys. They’ve gathered rocks and placed them in designs around the plants. They race each other to be the first one to help open and close the center each day.

Every time we gather in this space, new faces stop in to see what is happening. We have only had the keys for a few weeks, and they are already filling the space.


Anna Balakrishnan