The Privilege of Giving Back: Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas ’09
Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas had seen the face of extreme poverty before. Just down the street from his middle-class home in Mexico City are some of the most shocking slums in the world. But actually living in extreme poverty, as he was now—just months after graduating from Middlebury College in 2009 as a Davis UWC Scholar—was something completely different.
On the northern coast of the Dominican Republic is the small village of Tres Ceibas. It was in this poor village of 600 people that Rodrigo, a double major in economics and geography, hoped to continue his education after Middlebury, and also create new opportunities for those with so little. Forever unsettled by the enormous social disparities he witnessed each day growing up in Mexico, Rodrigo was committed to a career helping the underserved. His new employer was The Mariposa DR Foundation—an organization dedicated to empowering and educating girls as a means to end poverty. Shortly after his arrival in the Dominican Republic, Rodrigo decided he would prefer to live with a family in Tres Ceibas rather than have his own home. He felt it was important to witness first-hand the daily hardships faced by the local people. Living without electricity and running water, eating only rice and beans every day, washing clothes by hand—these were all vital to truly understanding the people he was trying to help. “One of the main problems inherent to large aid organizations is that their development programs and policies are created by people who have never lived in poverty. Consequently, they do not understand its true and underlying causes,” says Rodrigo.
Tasked with conducting a community census to determine the specific needs of Tres Ceibas, Rodrigo realized he had to first build trust with the local people before he could hope to make changes for the better. “My approach was to become Professor Rodrigo,” he says. “Teachers are the most respected figures in the community and it was a perfect way to connect with everyone, young and old.”
Rodrigo wasted no time in developing a program that could benefit both the girls in The Mariposa DR Foundation and others in Tres Ceibas. He started by teaching English classes. More than 80 students completed the English program in the first year, which created life-changing opportunities for many in the international tourism industry, the primary driver of the economy on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. The rewards of his work were immediate. “I felt immensely happy when a student came back to me and said she could now work at the local hotel because of my English class,” he says.
With the trust of the local people established, Rodrigo began a very detailed census of the community. Visiting nearly every family in Tres Ceibas, he acquired valuable information that would help The Mariposa DR Foundation design long-lasting development programs.
Today, Rodrigo continues his development work with The Mariposa DR Foundation and also teaches classes in English and in Geography of International Tourism at a small local university. “I love working in education because it is a beautiful way to have a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of others. I try to advance the ideals that have become part of me since attending the United World College and Middlebury, and teaching is a great way to do it,” says Rodrigo.
While he calls the DR home for now, Rodrigo knows that one day he will return to Mexico. “One of the biggest problems in Mexico is that failure is entrenched in so many aspects of society, and people have lost hope,” says Rodrigo. “My dream is to create an organization with other UWC alumni that promotes social action, so I can contribute to the development of the place that I love the most in the world—Mexico.”
No matter what he does or where his travels take him, giving back will always be part of Rodrigo’s life. “Being a middle-class citizen in Mexico is a privilege. Attending UWC and Middlebury College was a privilege,” he says. “I have an obligation to replicate the amazing opportunities I have been given.”