February 02, 2008
We eased into the long sought and hard fought Port of Luperon, with eager hearts and wet belongings. The trip, I'm sure, will have prepped us for other challenges that lie ahead in the world by sea. Alas we have found what we went looking for. As we made land fall and called our wobbly legs to use, the sounds of music filled our ears and smiling faces blessed our tired eyes.
As we arrived our friends at the orphanage welcomed us with showers, hot food and a stationary place to sleep. To them we were surely shocking by sight and hard on the nose....
Seeing the beautiful faces here and pleasant camaraderie in the DR is something special to experience. We have been working at what I would call an "after school care center" where kids from a Dominican and Haitian worker camp come to eat their first meal of the day and participate in after-school activities. Here they are helped with their homework, inspected by nurses, given a shower, feed, and allowed to play games in a protected field. The facility borders a Haitian workers encampment and is surrounded entirely by sugar cane fields. It is a definite refuge and symbol of hope in a community where there is very little.
The youngest kids are charming and amazingly independent. A quick tour of their home situation explains all.
We jumped in with a team of nurses for a week as they set up mobile clinics in the area to initiate health records for hundreds of kids and dozens of families looking for answers to their neglected ailments. The people seem tremendously grateful for the aid and greeted our presence with smiles and handshakes.
Derek and I found ourselves most useful helping with the construction projects on site. We put our mark on a shelving unit and some trenched electrical conduit. Actually making a difference with a short period of time is the challenge. We felt like we got alot out of the experience, and we hope that they felt the same. A thousand bucks was raised through the website and that has gone a long way. We asked them to make a long list of things that they need and we explained that we would do what we could to meet some of those needs with the money.
The list was long but full of real basic things like socks and underwear. Apparently the clothes donated to Haiti by the US are brought to the DR and resold to raise money for food. So we found one of these markets and used our bargaining skills to finagle 200 pairs of underwear, 40 pairs of socks, 10 bras, and 17 belts all brand-new for $100 USD.
While at the school we were laboring with five of their paid staff members. Those five guys spent about four days that week cutting the grass around the school with machetes. The land around the school is large and since its overgrown, the students were forced to play in the streets. We asked the director about getting a lawnmower and he informed us that he had ordered one and it was being held until they could pay it off. The construction workers who were supposed to be building a school room were detained a week at a time to re-cut the grass in a painfully inefficient way. We felt that paying off the lawnmower would answer their prayers and be good stewardship of the money raised. Now one guy can cut the grass in a day and the other four can continue to build the school rooms.
After three weeks in the DR we feel that we can go directly to kids in need with the remaining funding. We are holding a slide show and informational event for the sailing community here. Luperon is home to fifty sailboats at any given time and they have shown a huge interest in the local community. Most travelers we meet ask us how they can get involved, and who they should talk to. People who live in the DR ask us if we can help, so we think establishing an avenue for them to meet is a worthy venture. Numerous sailors have gone out on their own to do what they can. Our vision is to organize that group of people who are already doing their part, focus their efforts and connect them with needs.
In the short time that we have been here, another group of sailors inspired by our efforts have started to organize a group focusing on helping kids in a town a few hours east of where we are now.