On Saturday, we headed an hour east of Santo Domingo to a town called Angelina. This place was more or less farm country, with vast fields of sugarcane and baseball. The residents of Angelina, many of whom were Haitian, work hard in the fields for the 6 months of sugar season, where harvesting is still done by hand via machate. The rest of the year is spent trying to figure out how to survive until next farm season.
We went to the community to visit a new Compassion Center that had recently been built by a group of Canadian Chiropractors (which have invested millions in the DR). We were greeted by the pastor named Bienvenido (which means welcome) and his staff. They showed us their new computer lab, sewing classroom and cosmetology classroom where they are hoping to train up some entrepreneurs with sustainable skills and knowledge. One particular project of interest, was a garden that they recently started. The food supported the school meals and when they had extra, they taught the kids how to sell the produce with proceeds returning to the school.
At the first stop in the tour, we were greeted by a sea of smiling faces and a loud “Bienvenidos.” We were humbled by the turnout of kids and staff, as we later realized this was the only day off for the staff and a national holiday for the kids and their families.
We were able to show a little bit of our appreciation by serving the kids up some hot porridge for breakfast before getting outside and letting the mayhem begin. We spent a couple of hours playing with some toys that we brought along as well as their favorites such as soccer, pelota (baseball), duck duck goose, el caballero (cowboy = piggyback rides), …etc. By the time it was lunch, we were spent and the kids looked like they were just getting warmed up.
Lunch was a fantastic spread of traditional Dominican food (rice, plantains, chicken, vegetables) and a great chance to encourage and be encouraged by the Angelina staff. We received a second wind from a some much appreciated coffee (with lots of sugar) and headed out for some home visits.
The village we walked through was a maze of dirt paths and wider dirt “roads” traveled by us and all the other animals you would expect to find on a farm, goats, chickens, pigs, etc. At one point, we even had a kid on a horse go streaking by in a what seemed to be the equivalent of an American spinning the wheels of his new ride.
At the first home we met a mother and her two sons. One son, about 13, was a compassion student. The Mom was from Haiti and her husband had died. She was living with her brother because her home had recently collapsed. It was a little hard to get the conversation flowing with an obviously shy family but a few games of dominoes allowed us to hang out, joke around, and get schooled by the kids.
During our dominoes games, we witnessed a turning point for many of us. Many of our preconceived notions about giving were shattered when we asked the sponsored child if he had received any letters from his sponsor. He responded by saying that he hadn’t received a letter yet from his sponsor and would rather have a letter or a visit than the money that comes from sponsorship. This was not only eye opening, but also consistent with other interactions we experienced.
Mental poverty is just as strong as physical poverty. We learned that mental poverty is often what keeps folks in physical poverty. These kids clearly seek core human interaction and encouragement. To catch up on what happened on Day 1, click here.