Stage 3: Here I am Lord! Fill me with your joy!
Day 2: Monday, March 21, 2011: World Vision DR 101.
The time has come to get beyond all of the things that it took to get here and walk boldly into the experience. I had read all the literature, bought a few books on the Dominican Republic, studied a little bit of Spanish, GOOGLE’d some places we’d be going. I’d read everything in the packet World Vision had sent about Karina, my sponsored child. It felt like I had a little bit of a base to stand on in terms of knowing a bit about their history and culture.
I am not a stranger to poverty. I grew up in a rural area 40 miles from the Mexican border. I’ve been in Juarez, Mexico and other places and have seen the impoverished condition of hundreds of thousands of people. I had seen in my own community the extremely poor and have worked with the homeless and hungry. I have been around immigration for my entire life. My dad is a farmer and we had labor crews that would seasonally come and harvest. There were kids in my school who were children of illegal immigrants. As I ponder the question, what did I expect, I guess I really didn’t expect to be shocked by anything that I saw. Poverty is poverty. I was a tad off base.
The day we had planned began with greeting the team and breakfast followed by a devotional. We would then head out to visit World Vision HQ and a Swiss run ADP. Then we would travel by bus to our next stopping place some 3-4 hours away.
Let me say at this point that the food we ate for the entire trip was great. We didn’t have anything creepy by my standards and the hospitality was really wonderful. I won’t talk about our food again. At every location our meals were prepared graciously and with care and we were grateful. Just know that for breakfast it was toast or ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit, juice and coffee. Lunch usually had vegetables, chicken, rice and beans and some type of dessert. Dinners were basically the same. The fruit was fresh and pastries delicious and for the most part, other than the water, which we couldn’t drink or use to brush our teeth, we didn’t have to worry about much. I will say that a major crop of the island is sugar cane. For that I would like to just praise God for His thoughtfulness. It was sugar in the raw for real and I brought little packets of it home with me, which I did not feel the need to declare to customs, although to me it was worth more than the $10,000 limit. We also had access to sodas and a cold coke became my new best friend.
We met for devotional led by Alicia. For you were once darkness and now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth). Ephesians 5:8
As Christians, we may be the only witness of God’s love that some see. She talked about the ways in which we can be more intentional to shine Christ’s light to others, about how to be a light in a dark place. One thing that struck me immediately during this devotional is that the Dominican Republic is very noisy. There were cars and horns and motorcycles and wind and people. So many distractions drowning out the sweet voice that was bringing us God’s Word for the day. I thought maybe, this was just a onetime occurrence. I was wrong. But the thing about being a light is that noise doesn’t bother you. I learned quickly that we will have to focus our attention on being that light in spite of the distractions going on around us.
We boarded the bus to the DR headquarters where we arrived during their chapel time. They had prayer lists on a white board broken down by ADP. Their prayer concerns ranged from one of the sponsored children whose house had burned down to motivation from God for other children, to the birth of twins or triplets to a staff member. Auditors were also in the house, so we all prayed for that! We heard from Victor a World Vision Director and Pastor. He spoke of our most successful failures and the choices we make in either allowing God to turn those failures into successes or whether we don’t. He talked about a sponsored child who had a sponsor from England who wrote him letters and encouraged him to be a runner, because that was the only thing he felt he was good at. Time after time the student was encouraged to be the fastest in class, then school, then city, then region, then country. Eventually, this sponsored child won a medal at the Barcelona Olympics and out of the gratefulness in his heart for the encouragement he had received, he gave his medal to his sponsor! Ah, man, it’s not even 10am and I’m already crying. We heard so many more encouraging messages that morning that it was natural to be in awe of the light that is being shined throughout the DR from this staff.
We met several others, including the National Director and Operations Manager. We were encouraged to leave with a deeper understanding of what World Vision does with the sponsorship dollars. It’s a common reaction by people visiting the field to leave with 2 basic emotions: 1. It’s worse than I thought. 2. What I’m doing is nothing. We were encouraged to see that is NOT the case. The reality is that sponsorship IS making a difference. We learned about the ways in which World Vision is working with not only the government of the DR, but with other NGO’s to put children on the national agenda as a priority. WV’s goal is transformational development. Changing hearts: one person at a time and equipping people to work with people. They are changing a culture.
My favorite part about the presentation is God. These professional men stood up there in front of us and told us about how other agencies are in awe of what World Vision does and how they do it. Other organizations have more money and more resources but they can’t do what WV does. The difference? The presence of the Holy Spirit. Wow. Numbers 33: Moses and his small staff. Raise your stick to a river and part it! Strike that rock with your stick and make water come forth! It’s just a stick, without the presence of the Holy Spirit. We’re just people without the presence of the Holy Spirit.
What is World Vision’s work in the DR?
Education by law starts at 6 years of age and follows closely what we might consider normal in the US. Because of our work in the field, we have identified a need for better care for the kids birth to 5 years. Early Stimulation Centers built by World Vision are helping to increase children’s success in school. All of their programs are child focused and community based. They pool effort and resources to increase educational support. In addition, WV has started Skills for Life programs where they teach things like wiring for houses and the trades. The goal is for the children to complete their education at about 18 years as an adult who is able to work.
There is a competition between the street and education. Child Friendly Spaces are helping in this area of need. In some communities, where there is little else to do, the Child Friendly Space is a safe place to go for a regular routine and classes. Think of it as a YMCA, but simpler. Probably just a one room, small building. It may be used as the school and education center for the whole community. I love Child Friendly Spaces. I will soon discover that they are good places to jump.
Agriculture is another area of programming. Being a farm girl myself and realizing the importance successful practices can have on the health of a nation, I found myself always looking at things from the farm girl in me. They are helping farmers to learn about irrigation, marketing and added value so that they can increase the income to the family and community through best practices.
There are serious health issues ongoing throughout the entire country. Cholera, HIV/AIDS, other water issues, nutrition. WV is working with the government and people to educate and provide the necessary medications to prevent, control and treat these things.
They’ve found that in the DR culture, like other cultures, if you increase the income of the mother then the family benefits. But if you increase the income of the father, he uses that money for other things. Maybe he buys a new car or finds a new woman and this adds to the poverty of the country because he now has two or three families with kids. World Vision takes an active role in trying to change this part of the culture. When a man or a woman with a godly mindset gets money, the whole family will benefit.
All in all, World Vision sponsored kids are better off that kids who are not sponsored. Lots of families have 8,10, maybe 12 children. Girls sometimes marry as young as 13 years old. When a child is sponsored it helps the entire family have access to services that they would not otherwise have had.
I found it interesting that in a country that is 90 something percent Christian that they really consider there to be little difference between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, they see themselves as one people. World Visions focus is on holistic development motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Here’s something interesting: In the Dominican Republic, which is a country 2.5 times the size of Texas, there are 42,000 sponsored children. World Vision estimates that for every sponsored child, there are 5-6 other children who benefit from the services afforded by that sponsorship. 80% of the funds needed to operate these ADP’s come from sponsorship dollars. It is a myth that only rich people sponsor kids. It is the poorest people who give the most. And America is the biggest contributor.
We left the main office and headed out to visit our first ADP. Area Development Program. It is a new ADP run by World Vision Switzerland. I always forget that there are other countries that have outreach outside of their own countries too. It has been in existence for 3 years. The name of the ADP is Canaan. (Like in the Bible. Like the place where Moses was leading his people in Numbers 33. Except on our journey it wasn’t the end- it was the beginning!) Relationships with the community where this ADP is located are very tenuous. The people are primarily uneducated. This Swiss run facility includes an Early Stimulation Center, a very small clinic with limited medication and a very cool playground! They are being very intentional with their efforts in that 0-5 age range, primarily because they’ve had such success with these endeavors. The primary focus here is to prevent and help people recover from malnutrition. There are about 600 sponsored kids out of about 1500 total kids in this community. There were other facilities and classrooms for both youth and adults in the main building where classes such as English, preschool, baking, hair styling, sewing and other micro enterprises are held. So far it’s exactly like what I thought it would be.
We boarded the bus and headed to the grocery store so we could buy basic food staples for the families of our sponsored children. We purchased 2- 10lb bags of rice, 1 gal of oil, 2 boxes of cereal, 4-1lb bags of beans and 1 bag of sugar. All totaled it cost 1300 pesos or about $35/family. These supplies will really help the families. Did you know that there are armed guards at the grocery stores in the DR? Me neither. Till now.
The 3 hour drive to the Enriquillo ADP has begun. We would travel from Santo Domingo where we had been all day to a town called Barahona. We would stay there and then drive the next morning about an hour from there to begin our visits with sponsored children who lived near the Haiti border. Along the way we had the chance to really get a good look at the countryside and lifestyle of the more rural people. The noise was still ever-present with cars and motorcycles zooming by. The litter is something to behold. It’s everywhere. There are huge dumps and as we drove into evening you could see and smell the trash dump fires burning. The towns that we passed through were all very similar with brightly colored paint and bars on the windows. Everything was open air. The shops were all open, the houses were all open and the people sit outside on porches or under the shade of a tree in plastic lawn chairs.
It was reminiscent of my childhood and the simple peace of evening. I began to be drawn into their conversations as we drove by. Wondering what these old men were telling the young guys over a game of dominoes or cards. The women were sweeping the dirt, kids were playing and the dogs were searching for scraps, which I doubt they ever found. The trash piles were burning, the sun was setting and it felt to me to be one of the few times in my life that I was exactly where I was supposed to be in that moment.
Do you wonder if the Israelites tried to camp by different people each night? I’m thinking about Numbers 33 second campsite. They had travelled all day and seen things they had never seen, were surrounded by people they knew a little bit in the beginning but throughout their day’s journey they had developed new friendships at lightning speed. What do you think they talked about as they walked along their path or as they gathered their not so plastic lawn chairs in a circle and played games or sang and danced? Maybe they just wanted to go to sleep and not talk to anybody.
The conversation on the bus was happening in clusters as we had 3 hours to visit and learn more about the people who would eventually become family. I was so thankful for this time in the bus. It was a safe place. It was a chance to have real conversations without the pressure of having to be anywhere. Spreadsheets, appointments, schedules, commitments were all a part of a distant life and for just a little while it appears we were having our own plastic lawn chair conversations. It is a beautiful thing.
We had dinner and checked into our hotel. It was clean and safe and even had a selection of local music outside of our windows for a while in the form of a loud car stereo. This is still a really funny trip.
Numbers 33 journal entry: We camped in Barahona for 2 nights.
To be continued…