"Soy Niña, Soy Importante" (SNSI), or "I'm A Girl, I'm Important", is a summer day camp in the Dominican Republic that serves girls ages 9-12 years old and provides a safe, nurturing environment where girls can simply be girls. The camp, an initiative of Fundación Tropicalia, gives young girls the guidance and tools they need to be self-reflective, critical thinkers and make timely life choices. The curriculum includes: Education in Values; Artistic Expression & Development; Development of Interpersonal Relationships, Self-Esteem and Self-Awareness; Sex-Ed and STD Prevention; Gender & Violence; Nutrition and Sports.
SNSI addresses several socioeconomic issues affecting girls and women in the Dominican Republic:
- Some 44% of Dominican girls have been pregnant at least once before their 19th birthday.
- The Dominican Republic has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America.
- Teen mothers are at significantly higher risk of dropping out of school.
- With just one extra year of primary school education, a girl can increase her lifetime earning potential by as much as 20 percent. Should she drop out of school, a teen mother's earnings potential decreases significantly, increasing the likelihood of repeating the generational cycle of poverty.
These national and international statistics show that adolescent girls are at special risk in developing rural communities. Young women face other challenges, including domestic violence and job inequality. Every summer, SNSI seeks to serve the most impoverished girls in Miches and provide a transformative experience. Through SNSI, a girl learns about her value in society, and is given the tools necessary to dream up a different kind of future.
The SNSI program was founded in 2013, and during this pilot phase of our camp we targeted 100 girls aged 10 to 15. We soon realized that 15% of our registered campers were already married, divorced, had been pregnant, or were mothers. It became evident that we had to start with a younger age group for our programs to have more impact. In 2014 we adjusted the camper age range to 9-12 year old girls and also increased the number of participants to 250. With this increase came additional funding, as we introduced a company-wide fundraiser and matching-gift program in the United States, working with fiscal sponsors Friends of Educa and Dominican Foundation.
In 2015 we launched our SNSI website and partnered with The Ocean Foundation as our fiscal sponsor which allowed us to fundraise via digital means. By 2016 we launched SNSI’s social media accounts and attracted new funding partners, raising international profile.
Our volunteer program has also seen an evolution. During the first year of camp we worked with local volunteers and schoolteachers. As the camp grew, and to widen the girls’ interaction with outside resources, we began recruiting volunteers from Santo Domingo--mostly professional Dominican women who take personal vacation time to be with us at SNSI. Their participation adds unexpected and tremendous value to SNSI.
2016 Camp Impact
We aim to reshape how girls think of themselves as individuals, as females, and members of society. The first day of camp, we ask our girls what it means to be a girl. The responses typically include, "Being a girl means to care for my brothers and sisters," or "Being a girl means to clean the house or go to the store." On the last day of camp, when we ask the question again, the response changes radically: "Being a girl means to be beautiful, powerful. I can achieve anything I want."
We also teach girls to accept themselves as they are. We first ask them to imagine the most beautiful woman in the world; typically, the girls draw a blonde, slim, blue-eyed woman. We then work with them to show that beauty comes in all shapes, colors and sizes. Carolina Contreras, the owner of the Dominican Republic’s only salon with a social mission, specializes in curly/Afro hair and shares a fresh perspective with the girls. "Miss Rizos" (‘Miss Curls’) helps to instill pride, cultural identity and diverse concepts of beauty in SNSI girls, who learn to appreciate and embrace their heritage and natural features. Often, the girls return to camp flaunting their natural curls.
Our returning camper rate is very high. If a girl starts our camp at 9 years old, the probability of her being a repeat camper until her 12th birthday is more than 80%. Since 2013, to guarantee participation in the summer camp, we had to conduct a door-to-door registration process that would take 250 hours of staff time. In 2016, instead of going to each girls' home, we hosted an open house at three different schools. We were elated to see that mothers, fathers and even grandparents showed up for registration, resulting in a room filled with hundreds of guardians all there to support their girls' registration process. Indeed, we have seen more parental and family involvement in the program, and the registration time was reduced to 40 hours of staff time.
"The girls of Miches today are the young women, mothers, small business owners and community leaders of tomorrow. They will play a fundamental role in breaking generational poverty cycles, and forging a new path toward prosperity in our community."
About Fundación Tropicalia
Established in 2008 by Tropicalia, a sustainable tourism and real estate development of Cisneros Real Estate, Fundación Tropicalia drives sustainable, socioeconomic development in the town of Miches by implementing programs for the local community in four key areas: the environment, education, productivity, and socio-cultural advocacy. The foundation works with the community and establishes multi-sector partnerships allowing for innovative, high-impact programs and the efficient use of resources.
SNSI has enriched the lives of hundreds of girls and their families, many of whom face limited economic opportunities, teen pregnancy and unemployment. All told, SNSI has sponsored nearly 1,000 enrollments, which includes many girls who participate over successive years. The foundation holds yearly fundraising campaigns for SNSI, and recruits volunteers to help organize the camp, expand and refine programs, and engage families throughout the region.
Since its founding, Fundación Tropicalia’s programs have directly and indirectly influenced the lives of more than 8,000 people in the Miches community. The Fundación Tropicalia team relies on years of direct experience to advance sustainable development through high-impact initiatives, local stakeholder engagement, and shared-value opportunities to drive business solutions to the most pressing social problems in the region.