Dominican Republic- The honeymoon I never had! Stage 4: Meeting sponsored children

Stage 4:  Here I am Lord! Show me your face!

Day 3: Tuesday, March 22, 2011: Meeting our sponsored children.

This stage of our journey is more about the people than about the place. The people on the bus and the people outside of the bus. Most of us were meeting a sponsored child at some point during this trip, but all of us would have the opportunity to witness a visit because we were asked to either video or photograph the visit for someone else. If we were visiting our child we were asked to submit to a video interrogation by Johno. Our day begins at Hotel Caribe with video tapings and breakfast. We attempted to go into a quaint little courtyard for a quiet devotional time. Right. The cars and the horns and the generator were ever-present. Once again we all focus our attention and block the distraction so that we could hear the Word the Lord had for us today.

Andrea brought us into the presence of the Lord. Her message was one of unity: “May the God who gives you endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ” Romans 15:5 What will remain forever imprinted on my heart is the passion with which she spoke about how Christ emptied Himself every where He went. He gave all. But he didn’t empty Himself into nothing, He emptied himself into our hope. Unity is an identity that God has already given us, and today we should empty ourselves into encouraging & bringing hope to one another.

There is protocol around visiting a sponsored child. Rules designed to keep the child and the sponsor safe and to eliminate any potential misunderstandings. It was comforting to know that these rules are in place. We boarded the bus for the 1.5 hour drive west to Jimani. As we travelled we learned more about the countryside and people from Claudia, who has faithfully been informing us and translating for us the entire trip, she is definitely the hostess with the mostest. In addition to Claudia, we were blessed with Erin. She’s a child ambassador from Kentucky and has travelled in the DR several times prior and is fluent in Spanish. Besides that, she is just very, very cool. When the plan for our upcoming visits was presented I was glad to hear that Claudia and Erin would be with me. Moses has his Aaron, but we have our Erin on this journey!

It’s at this point on our trip that I realize that I have been wrong about what exactly an ADP is. Well, sort of wrong. I thought all ADP’s were like the Swiss ADP in Canaan. One facility with several buildings and different services all in one basic area. But Enriquillo, is more like what I would call a US county. It is a huge area made up of 25 or 26 different communities, all differing in size and need, and it covers miles and miles of land. There are 4,200 sponsored kids in the Enriquillo ADP. That blows my mind. It really very clearly showed me that an ADP is a community first and then World Vision helps. Being community based just took on whole new meaning. For example, we don’t just go in and build a clinic when they need a school. When a need is identified they work with each individual community to empower the people to take ownership and participate in building the resources themselves. It really makes sense now. That’s why it may take 12-15 years or more because it’s not our timetable, it’s theirs. LOVE THAT!

We will make a stop in a little place in between Barahona and Jimani to visit a sponsored child. While the visit was happening the rest of us were just hanging out with the kids and neighbors who showed up. They loved our cameras and for us to take a picture and show it to them on the screen. It was fun. I jumped with some kids and took some pictures with loving families.

As we drove into the community, everyone was pretty quiet. That was our first real interaction with children. We were all processing it in our own ways. What I saw was that the people were so loving and welcoming. We looked around at the landscape and though it was somewhat barren there was great life in eyes and smiles of the people in spite of their hardship. I was very drawn to the faces of these people and captivated by their dark, strong eyes. I saw Jesus today. I tried to empty my joy into their hope.

Next we visited a World Vision sponsored computer and tutoring center in Limón. This is a community within the Enriquillo ADP and it has about 682 sponsored children participating. A few of the boys were studying environmental science with simple chemical equations. Some children were playing toy instruments and a few of the girls were sewing on small machines. One boy was standing at a globe and I showed him where I lived. He thought that was pretty far away. And he was right.

We’re on the bus and headed to my visit with Karina. I’m on deck and I have absolutely no expectations. We pull into the community of La Cú and they tell me that Karina’s house is at the end of the street and we’ll walk down there to meet her. I gathered the backpack for her and the bag for her grandmother and pray that the Lord would make me gentle.

Before leaving home, we were told we could bring a backpack full of things to our child. We could and should also bring things for the other family members. Karina was fun and easy to shop for. Hair clips, ponytails, silly bands, bubbles, stickers, stuffed animals, clothes, paper and pencils, markers, toothbrushes, Bible in Spanish, umbrella… all fun kid stuff. They are Dora the Explorer crazy so that makes it fun too. And it was great that it didn’t have to fit in a 6×9 envelope! But the grandmother -not so easy. I had hoped to have more information about the family situation and community before coming because I wanted to bring her something she could use, something she needed but couldn’t afford to buy. Something that I would want if I was in her situation. I didn’t even know her name, if she was in good health, if she can read or if she has a job. Yet, when I had initially read Karina’s profile, I was drawn to the grandmother too. I thought here is a woman who is stepping up to the plate to raise this little girl in the absence of her parents for reasons unbeknownst to me. What is a suitable gift for a woman like that? A hammer, screwdriver and some really good pliers. That’s what I came up with because that’s what I would want. Actually an entire tool kit in a very stylish, pink canvas bag to be exact. And a first aid kit and some cooking utensils and kitchen towels, a sewing kit and fabric. I’ll bet she is a woman of many talents and if she isn’t, well now she can be.

I’m walking up the path and see a cinder brick home on the left. Outside there is this big sign that says Welcome Sponsor! And then I see them – all gathered around in a circle! Plastic lawn chairs! Outside under a tree! My FAVORITE!!!! I used to sit with my grandparents outside under their tree and it is very comforting and peaceful to me. “This is Karina’s grandmother, Margarita”. Wow. She’s young. There are a lot of other people around who I’m not exactly sure who they are, it is a bit hectic, but it’s really okay. Apparently Karina won’t come out of the house! Someone finally brings her out and my world stopped. This little girl is the sweetest little thing on the entire planet. Her little eyes no longer say, “Here I am! Help me!” Now they say, “ there is no possible way on Earth that I am going to smile- but I like you”, Maybe it was because we were wearing exactly the same colors that day. Black pants, blue shirt. We planned that. My daughter Reagan had made her a stuffed bear and I showed her pictures of my son Garrett and my family. I gave her the blanket the women in my church had made for her. I showed her the backpack and she liked the pencil with the flower and I almost heard her sweet voice when she laughed at a cute green and yellow turtle that I pulled out of the bag. I have that smile etched in my brain. We colored a few pictures and put stickers on them. I will cherish them forever.

She was silent, although they say she is a parrot! Erin encouraged she me to sing her a song. I didn’t feel the need to scare her further so I asked her if she likes to sing and asked her to sing me a song instead. She wouldn’t -but at that moment her grandmother burst into song, and all of the women around that whole circle started singing & clapping to this great song in Spanish! Mi Dio es bueno! My God is Good! Her grandmother’s voice still resonates in my ears and if I had had any doubt about the presence of the Lord in Karina’s home, I am no longer worried. Way too soon it was time to go and I had to say goodbye. I prayed for them and gave them big hugs , because that’s what I do, and took a few more pictures and then had to walk away. I have no idea how long our visit lasted.

We went down to the end of the street where the bus was parked and the rest of my team was there playing with kids. There is a Child Friendly Space in this community. And a church. Some houses. And that’s it. It is dry and desert and not much vegetation at all. I began to try to engage with some kids so I wouldn’t fall apart and we began to jump and run. It was great to empty myself again and fill their hope with joy. We were boarding the bus when someone said, “Deana, Karina is coming down the road and has something for you.” I looked up and that sweet little girl had drawn me a picture and couldn’t stand not giving it to me. I got off of the bus and went and went to meet her and gave her another hug. Now her eyes say, “Please don’t leave”. I am a total wreck. My heart is so broken with love.

I missed most of the presentation about Karina’s community because I was visiting with her, but I’ll have to do some research and it gives me lots of ideas and questions to ask Margarita when I write to them. I do know that my mind finally processed the reasoning behind something that I never truly understood before.

I have always sent “gift notifications” to my sponsored kids. It’s an amount of money above and beyond the regular sponsorship amount. You notify World Vision of the donation, they notify the family and then they get to go shopping for necessary items that World Vision supplies. It might be a bed or a goat or who knows what, but it is useful. You, as the sponsor can decide if you want that money to benefit only your child or you can choose to give it to a purpose that will benefit the entire community. I think I saw clearly for the first time how it would be better to support something that would benefit everyone rather than just benefiting one household, because of what I saw, or didn’t see, in this community.

Something really neat happened as we were walking up the house before I met the family. We had some staff ladies from the Enriquillo ADP office with us and as we were walking up to the house, the one walking beside me laughed a little out loud and said, “I took Karina’s picture”. She was the lady that visited the home initially, took the picture that was then put in the picture folder! The same picture that captured my heart. We both saw the cycle coming full circle and what a blessing it was for her to see that work she had done had paid off and changed the life of this child. That is a moment I’ll never forget. The look in her eyes and the sound of her laugh when she realized what was unfolding. It was the look and sound of encouragement being emptied into work.

I’m lost in reliving what I just experienced. And then it dawns on me. The money that I had saved from disconnecting my TV is what I used to pay for Karina’s sponsorship. I have just met my cable bill and her grandmother. It appears to be a better use of God’s money. I’m paying attention to others only because I need to take notes to be able to tell you what we saw! But my mind is etching the details of Karina and Margarita’s faces, and the faces of all of the children I have seen today onto the palm of His hand. My broken heart is pleading with God to show me how and where these people find hope on a daily basis if not in Him? I have questions on my mind now. The main one is: What do I do now? Do I go home and motivate my church to sponsor some project like building a learning center? What is the very best way for me to make a difference there in light of what I’ve seen? What is the best way to help?

I am empty. As we wait for another visit to take place, I can’t even get off of the bus. I’m just sitting there when a teenage boy knocks on my window. I think he wants me to take his picture. So I do. But then, he asks me if I will take him with me. We had been told that this might happen; that some will want to go with us or parents might even ask you to take their child. I was not prepared for this in this moment. I told him that I couldn’t but tried to encourage him to stay in school and study. He told me he couldn’t go to school, he is a Haitian immigrant. If you don’t have papers, you can’t go to school. As I’m struggling to even grasp what I should say next, he says, “I will just pray to God”. Me too buddy, me too. What do you even do with that?

From there we are surprised with a visit to the Haiti border. We are able to meet with a World Vision Emergency Management team member. The border is a major market place. What we might consider a major flea market. Both sides of the dirt and littered road are filled with booth after booth of people selling things. It is dirty and hot and noisy. Two things grab my attention upon entering this place. One is a little boy sitting at water’s edge, rinsing out plastic soda bottles. He appears to be mixing something. I would later discover that it is soap so he can bathe right there in the lake. The second thing I noticed was about the market itself. It is filled on the front row with people selling the aid provisions they’ve received. Drinks and huge bags of American rice. I had two, very different reactions to those two scenarios.

First, the rice reaction. My first response when seeing the bags of rice for sale was to think black market, how dare they. I thought this was a very good example of why we give to organizations like World Vision so that you know the aid is going where it is supposed to go and not ending up here. And this is true. But then, our emergency man opened my mind with a new possibility. What if this aid is aid that was legitimately given to this family? Should they not be able to sell excess rice in order to have money to buy other things they need? Should they not be able to barter rice for beans and coffee? I feel totally convicted. How quickly my mind went to the negative, to serving my own interests. I generally have conservative view points on most of these topics, but today, my heart opened a little wider to accept more of the human need viewpoint. It changed everything.

The boy by the sea reaction. The boy is rinsing out bottles and I can’t figure out why. Soon we discover that he stands in calf deep water to bathe. He exits the water and a few minutes later, one of the men who had been sitting at a bar behind us, gets up and walks to the very same place that the child had bathed, and urinates in that water. I feel ill. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not. I wouldn’t even begin to guess his motives. All I know is that the picture that entered my mind was a reversal of timing. What if those two events had happened in reverse? It was a picture of the sanitation conditions that are contaminating the water. It was cholera and e-coli at its root. You know that spot is a convenient place for children to bathe, and I just wanted to warn all of the kids, Do NOT bathe in this place! My heart is broken with sadness, I have no joy to empty into hope.

We traveled back to the ADP office for lunch and some other presentations. We heard from youth workers who volunteer with World Vision on the streets of communities near the Haiti border. Their goal is to identify children who are being trafficked or brought in as child labor. These young people risk everything to reunite families. Most kids cross the border in search of food or money. Some are runaways because there is a great deal of child abuse in Haiti. The sad reality is that they really aren’t better off in the DR in many cases as they are still poor, and still need money and food. These youth workers ranged in age from 14 to 26 years old. There are about 20 volunteers working and more than 5,000 children at risk. The odds aren’t good, but they continue to work to reunite these children with their families in Haiti. If a child can not be reunited they are taken to a shelter. The success rate is only about 50%. But the good news is the kids trust World Vision, so it makes it easier to get them help if they are willing. I have hope in these young people and the difference they are making.

Dr. Gabrielle, spoke to us about his work as the Coordinator of Health for the Enriquillo ADP. His primary focus is working with PLWA (People living with AIDS) assessing kids height and weight through regular checkups. Recently they have also been focusing on the prevention and treatment of cholera since there has been an outbreak in 3 communities. Getting information on prevention, hygiene and treatment to the people is critical. Malnutrition is also an obstacle for them so they are working with mothers to teach them how to feed infants and children properly and how to supplement. It was astounding to me that only 27% of mothers breastfeed their babies. Additionally, they really need essential proteins. He discussed malaria, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse and the effect that rising lake water is having on their ability to produce healthy foods. He had a great testimony about how God told him he would make him a doctor for His glory! He is using his gifts to help so many people by being a good male role model. He said that our sponsorship dollars that are used in the health care arena are helping the people to not feel “impotent” but instead to feel hope! That is a powerful statement in this culture.

It has been a long and life-altering day on just about every level that exists. I want to tell you now about something quiet and beautiful that I witnessed today. I watched everybody on this trip. I watched for emotions, I watched for reactions, I watched for joy and sadness. I watched for people missing home and craving bigger cups of coffee. One of the most loving things I witnessed was what our leadership team was doing to prepare each of us for our visits and cope after the fact. They were ministers of tenderness and it was oil on my head. They had it planned, they helped you get ready, they asked you a few questions, they gave you a few tips, they assured you everything would be okay and when we were done, they watch us. They saw in our eyes and the distant look on our faces the exact time to come sit beside us and talk it through. I am in awe of the gifts He’s given these ladies. I saw Jesus in their face and felt Him in their loving touch.

Here’s a little video I made of the meeting with Karina.

Meeting Karina

Numbers 33 Journal Entry: Spending our second night in Barahona.

To be continued…

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