In the neighborhood of La Gallera, on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, hundreds of children and youths spend their days on the streets, oblivious to the groups of tourists visiting downtown. In spite of the high unemployment rates and poverty, life goes peacefully on. Dayana Gómez, a young woman from this neighborhood, pregnant with her fourth child, tells us about the conditional cash transfer program referred to as “Solidarity ”. “Before this program, my husband and I would struggle to make ends meet. Things are not easy here, let alone if you have a family to provide for.”
The Gómez’s story is not much different from that of hundreds of thousands of homes in the Dominican Republic. But many of these stories are changing since the launch of Solidarity, a program supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through which over 500,000 destitute families receive cash transfers from the Dominican Government’s social protection network in exchange for their compliance with a series of duties in the health and education fields.
“Now, at least I have enough to buy the basics for the house and my children are attending school”, continues Gómez. “I also take them to the health center when the doctor tells us. The oldest one, who is 14, just started high school”, says Gómez.
The Solidarity program, which currently benefits 76% of homes in extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic, has become the main investment tool in human capital in this disadvantaged population.
“Solidarity not only invests to increase the demand for health and education services of these low-income families”, says Ignez Tristao, a social protection specialist at IDB. “One of the key aspects of the program is that it also invests in improving the supply of these services, that is to say, in improving the quality of education and the care provided by the public health services.
Breaking the poverty cycle
One of the main goals of Solidarity is to help strengthen the health care services and, especially, the quality of services included in the Basic Health Plan of the Health Ministry of the Dominican Republic. The program finances equipment for the primary care units and training activities for health care professionals, in addition to engaging in actions to improve the monitoring and evaluation system of those activities.
In total, over 2,700 doctors and nurses have received training on health guidelines and care protocols and 100% of the country’s health care centers have been computerized, which means that every patient now has their own electronic sheet containing their medical records.
Educating the children and teenagers benefitting from the program is another one of its key elements. The goals for this field are ambitious: for all young adults to finish at least the first phase of high school. “We would like these boys and girls, who come from extremely impoverished homes, to also have access to a better quality education. Investing in improving the education of these youths is a tool for breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, a way of ensuring that these children will have access to better opportunities than their parents”, adds Tristao.
Effectiveness is the key
The purpose of the second phase of the program, approved in 2009, is for Solidarity to increase its effectiveness and efficiency, generating greater incentives among its beneficiaries to invest in human capital. As the IDB specialists explains, “thanks to the assessments conducted, we have been able to measure the impact of the program, introducing improvements that are enabling us to attain heightened effectiveness. We have also developed incentives and tools to promote the coordination between the ministries and government agencies involved in promoting human capital, for the purpose of increasing the effectiveness of their expenses.”
Looking to the future, Solidarity continues to act as a role model in the development of conditional transfer programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. These programs, which have been around for over ten years in the region, are effective in reducing poverty and improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable populations.
As Gómez concludes, “this program has changed our lives. We continue to need it every month, but I hope my children will be able to fend for themselves without this aid.”
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