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Dominican Republic Evaluation Trip
March 25, 2011
Although it was just four months ago since the last time I was in the Dominican Republic, it seemed too long. Something moves in your heart when you are touched by the people down there and their stories, something that can’t be explained but has to simply be done.
This trip was dedicated to the evaluation of existing projects, and to evaluate medical sites for our big multi-dimensional medical mission in late August/early September. What was meant to be a quick “in and out” trip, turned into a jam-packed three days of more than just an evaluation, but an opportunity. More prayers were answered on these three days, than I’ve seen answered in some of the other trips I’ve been on to the Dominican. However, among those answers and those joys, there were more problems and more realizations that arose as well. What started as an evaluation of field projects, sparked a wire of more work that needs to be done, and the sitting realization that there always will be problems in the Bateys, but it’s what you do with those problems and how you handle them that will directly impact and change someone’s life.
The first day on the ground started with a prayer by our liason and dear friend, Bernard Okeke. After his words were given, we started the hour trek from Santo Domingo, past San Pedro, and into the rural area behind it where Batey Aleman is located. Batey Aleman is familiar to many of those who have been to the Dominican with the Foundation, or for those who follow our work, because it is the site for almost all of our projects and services. Batey Aleman holds the first Dominican site for Nest, a NGO providing woman micro-lending services in which they are giving sewing machines and make product as payment for those machines. After their production debt is payed off, the women keep those machines and are taught the vocation and services to use and create successful businesses and products of their own. It is also the site for our medical missions, and more recently Batey Baseball was launched in Batey Aleman, giving young men a Christian foundation of what it means to be a man, father, brother, and son, while they are learning baseball and playing against other communities. Plus, having Albert Pujols himself as a hitting instructor doesn’t hurt either!
Upon arriving in Aleman, we evaluated existing projects, and found that they have been more than successful. Women who before couldn’t even sign their name have learned a profession through Nest. They now have their own business fully functioning, providing services and bought products through the Foundation, and through Nest. It is a very near hope that by next year, they will be able to take their skills and start doing things locally as well, expanding their work force and making a sustainable income for their families, and thriving on the independence and success that comes with being a skilled woman. And as for Batey Baseball, we are pleased to report that the program is working phenomenally. Batey Baseball in Aleman has become a model for the same program we will implement in future communities. The Batey Aleman team is fully functional. It practices twice a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they play games against other teams all day Saturday and sometimes Sunday. Every age group is involved and gets to play, creating a balance and an acceptance and importance of every age, young and old. It was also reported to us that while traveling to other cities, the other teams and coaches will say to them “Can our players join your team?” or “This must be a church sponsored team, I have never seen such disciplined players”. Even though the team is focused on baseball, at every practice, time is set aside to learn the fundamentals of a life with God. Scriptures are shared and read, and the Coaches and team of local staff share what it means to be a man, and to lead a family. What it means to work hard and succeed; all things that kids in the Dominican don’t get implemented or told. The devotion of the community and these players to the program is an absolute inspiration. I can’t wait to see the work that continues to be done in this community and others through Batey Baseball!
Among the good that is being done in the Batey, there are still real needs to be met, especially health wise. The baby we blogged about from the last trip, who Deidre went to the hospital to get her help, passed away. He suffered from Hydro-Cyphilis, which causes water to fill the brain and spinal cavity. Eventually the swelling took the baby’s life. It breaks my heart every time I go down there to see the condition of some of the children. I ask myself “what if we got their sooner…there was something I could have done”. But you realize at the end of the day, you can’t save everyone. You can try, but you just can’t. You have to focus on who you can save. We may not have been able to save the baby from the last trip, but on our future medical mission we will address the needs of thousands through eye care, dentistry, general medicine, and pediatric assistance. Medical services in the Dominican are in extreme need, and we may not be able to touch every person, but the one’s we do touch will have been worth it. Every life changed touches me, and whether it’s one person saved or ten…it doesn’t matter. Life isn’t about a statistic or a number. It’s about taking the time to do the right thing, and saving everyone you can save, and helping everyone you can get to. Every life is worth the time to reach out to; every life deserves a chance.
After setting down and talking to a group of community leaders, we went to Las Pajas. Las Pajas is another site of extreme change, but a desperation of need. The church and Compassion center in Las Pajas was extremely renovated, and emitted a light of hope and change of what happens when a light shines through and people take the initiative to think highly of themselves and their community. The work the Foundation provides, especially in medical care gives the community a sense of self worth. They realize that people DO care about them, and that people DO want to help them. They have worth. And with every Foundation visit, this is implemented. You see, Las Pajas is an extremely rural area. Once a sugar cane plantation, the plantation owners and others took Haitian workers from their homes promising better pay in the fields in the Dominican, harvesting cane. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians were bused from the borderline to work camp like circumstances. Crowded together, they had to live working for pennies a day, and enough food to barely get by. When plantation season was over, they are out of work, out of pay, and out of care, living on government land, not even their own. When crops need to be harvested, the people are of worth, and if there’s not, they stop caring. These people struggle for their lives day to day, and struggle with generations of people telling them they aren’t worth their time or effort. The Foundation thinks otherwise however. No one is too poor, no area too bad down there to reach out to. Las Pajas used to be an extremely crime ridden, dark community, and now progress is being made. The church has become a major institution, people are trying to work, and community leaders are striving for change. However, progress is a process. Problems with medical care is a huge need. There exists a clinic down there for the poorest of the poor people, that is supposed to always have a doctor staffed at it for the needs of the people in the Batey, provided by government grant. The stipulation is that the clinic is there, the doctor isn’t. The doctor is payed to come there everyday, and simply doesn’t come, and the government does nothing about it. The doctor hasn’t been there in over two years, not once. The government frankly doesn’t care. Walking around we saw hernias, broken bones, burns, etc. One little girl who Deidre sponsors through Compassion found herself in a dire situation also. Nakowi has Down syndrome. She lives in Las Pajas with her mother, and two siblings. Down syndrome there is misunderstood and not accepted. Nakowi is suffering from a stomach tumor/ulcer as well as a staff infection. Help is going to be provided for her. For the rest of the people, we ask prayers to be sent out, as our medical team will be addressing their needs this summer. We also ask for prayers for the development of their community, that God will continue to bless their needs for a better system and a sense of worth, and a long with that, I anticipate change.
The following day came and went just as busy as the first. Tuesday we evaluated a brand new Batey, Bienvendio. Batey Bienvendio is an extremely large slum area in the Capital of Santo Domingo. Outwardly Bienvendio is thriving. There are store fronts, beauty shops, and businesses. It looks extremely prosperous. There is a church, a equipped school, an office space for Compassion, and a town center. But behind the urban façade, no more than 50 yards into the Batey, the hill drops into a river basin, where stacked on top of each other is shack after shack of tin and metal, all in the backdrop of a garbage dump, cow pasture, and stagnant water. It was unreal. From the outside the Batey looked thriving, the inside, I couldn’t even believe. It was extremely populated and the conditions were to the point of heartbreaking. Houses were founded on dirt floors. One woman had nothing to feed her children for the week. You realize the devastation behind the exterior by listening to and connecting to these people. But the other thing you realize is how open and happy these people are. Those who have nothing smile as if they have the world. I heard not one complaint, I heard not one sob, but thousands of “Hola! Americana!” or “Buen dia, Linda!”. Everyone was joyous just to be alive, which is something I can greatly learn from. Those who have the least were content. It was sobering. A little of the way into the Batey however I met an eight year old boy. He was limping down the street with one foot propped up. I stopped to talk to him when his mom came outside, and it was at that point I looked down at his foot. There was a gashing open wound surrounded by the foot covered in a third degree burn. This hand was badly burned, and there was a gaping voltage burn on his leg. His mother explained to me that he was playing with a toy on the electrical wires. The voltage of electricity went through his hand, shot out his leg, and went back into his foot. Down there, you don’t survive electric shock. If you survive, there’s no clinic or a way to get there, so if the volts don’t kill you, the infection that sets in it will. Here the amount of electricity that hit this little boy would’ve killed a full grown man on contact. Yet before me, his wounds are healing, painfully, but healing. He’s bearing weight on his foot, an indication he doesn’t have any damage necessarily in his foot that would involve an amputation. The fact this little boy was alive was unreal. And the pain he is feeling as his wounds heal I can’t imagine, but what I can imagine is sitting here in St Louis as I write this was his face. Nothing but smiles, and the look on his face is not only is he lucky to be alive, he deserves to be. God has a plan for this little guy. Our liason Bernard explained to his mother this boy has a plan, and God has saved him, and she replied “If God can save him, he can save me.” Right there she accepted Jesus, with her son, in the middle of the Batey. Thousands of miles away, in our culture or theirs, Jesus is powerful enough to save, and does, and will continue to. Through our evaluation, it was evident that this site is perfect to work in. Hearts and minds are open to change in this village, the people are ready to progress. Medical work will now take place in this village on the summer trip, and Batey Baseball may also be implemented if a baseball field is integrateable. I can’t wait to see the molding and progress in store for that Batey and those people. Great things are going to be done.
After that we made a beeline to the Santo Domingo mall in order to grab some food to bus off to our next destination in the heart of the city of Santo Domingo, Cure. The Cure hospital staffs a team of Dominican doctors and nurses that provide services to mostly children with orthopedic or developmental problems. Because of malnutrition and wear and tear on bones starting at an early age, developmental problems are not rare there. This organization takes patients regardless of a means to pay or not, and provides them life changing treatments and services. The hospital was absolutely incredible. It was as clean and well staffed as any in the U.S. There was an O.R., a physical therapy unit, a devotional unit, and other units open for service to all peoples. This was the answer to prayer we’ve been waiting for. All developmental problems and hernias we encountered are easily reversible for Compassion kids especially who can be sent to this Cure hospital. Cure will work with us in the future, providing needs for those in the Dominican who need medical and developmental attention.
After the wrap up of our hospital tour, we met with a team of Dominican dentists for dinner. These dentists have volunteered to work alongside out team on the August mission. They will provide reconstruction, extraction, sterilization, and other services upon request. They will also have their own chair set up to provide services to patients. With an understanding of common problems and without a language barrier these women will be able to work efficiently and with care addressing the dental problems of children and adults in need of service. They will work independently and also assist our dental team upon arrival in Bateys such as Aleman, Las Pajas, and Bienvendio.
Seeing first hand what needs to be done and what can be solved, drives me even further to be a soldier of service for these communities. Change and opportunity is ever present and directly linked. With change is opportunity, and with opportunity is change. As I have said before, my goal and I know the Foundation’s goal isn’t to solve every problem we encounter, but to solve what we can. Every life changed is pivotal. Every person we touch touches the heart of this organization. The change made in villages down there and the lives saved in just five years is unparalleled. We will continue to provide service to these people, and if the past is indicative of the future, the things that are to come will be absolutely phenomenal and life changing, not only for them, but for us. These trips open my heart and I know they open the other volunteers hearts involved. Because just as God is sure to answer our prayers for change, he brings to light more things that need changing. I don’t know His plan for these people and what’s next, but what I do know is that He has a plan. I am so proud of these communities and the initiative they give and the willingness of their hearts to be open to improvement. What started as an evaluation, ended up as something a little more. It evaluated the community but it put into perspective the value of my life and of every life. Everyone deserves a chance, and I am so lucky to be as blessed as I am. I am no different than the 17,18,19, and 20 year-olds I meet every time I’m down there. 3,000 miles apart, and yet we’re exactly the same. The difference is where we live and the opportunities we have. I believe God has put me where I am and blessed me so that I can turn around and bless them. I have been blessed, and so will they.
Continue to pray for our teams, and lift up our service in the Summer for the medical trip. It’s going to impact so many people, and I thank every supporter for their contributions, because whether you realize it or not, every one of you makes a difference in someone’s life, and I thank you for it. The 60 Minutes special from last trip will be airing in the first or second week of April, and that will give a further insight into the Batey Baseball program. Thanks for checking in with us, and following our blog.
Continue to follow for further updates, and keep the Pujols Family Foundation, Compassion, Cure, Nest, and other projects and organizations in your prayers for their upcoming work and involvement in the Dominican.
Dios Bendiga (God Bless),