Friday, May 24, 2013

Children of the nations and I love baseball

A good place to start in giving some details on my experience in The Dominican Republic is to explain the group of organizations under whose umbrella I traveled to Barahona. The purpose of our trip was to support the I Love Baseball (ILB) program in Barahona, however, you can't support ILB without also supporting Children of the Nations (COTN). I knew very little about either organization when I left. In fact, I didn't even realize we were going to be in Barahona. I was 250 miles away from the rest of my team so I was a bit out of the loop but I was also strangely fine with that.

Since and during the trip I've learned a lot about COTN and ILB. COTN was started in 1995 after Chris Clark and his wife traveled to Sierra Leone with Youth with a Mission and realized there was no organization reaching out to orphans there. They then developed COTN in an effort to manage orphan's physical, spiritual, social and mental needs. This vision was expanded in the Dominican Republic where they help not only orphans but also those living in poverty. In 1996 they began to feed the children in the region around Barahona and in 1997 they created their first relationship in a batey called Algodon. A batey is a living organization/town that would have been developed usually four generations prior for Haitian refugees who were working in the sugarcane fields. COTN now supports five bateys near Barahona. This support includes education (including a spiritual component) for the children living there as well as two meals a day for the children in the program.  They attend school for half a day, either morning or afternoon, and are given meals based on the time they are at school - always including their biggest meal of the day, lunch. They are also promised a fullride scholarship to University if they decide to attend once they graduate.

COTN is headquartered in Silverdale, WA.

In 2008 Ben Holman (who went on the trip with me) and others who he was working with at COTN, all University of Washington baseball players, saw a need to protect young boys with potential to play Major League baseball. The system of recruiting boys in The DR is extremely corrupt with agents forcing families to relinquish parental rights and removing the boys from their communities, not giving them any education (usually leaving them at a 6th grade education at best) and taking huge sums from the boys if/when they are signed by a Major League team between the ages of 16 and 18.

ILB was put into place under COTN with a similar model as the batey system.  The boys play baseball each morning, after opening the day with a devotional, are given two meals a day (one of the greatest expenses for the program as you can imagine) and then go to school each afternoon.  The team has a coach/pastor as well as a fulltime well-seasoned coach and a program director with a coaching background.  The boys revere their coaches.  The entire week I was there I never witnessed a second of disrespect to any of their adult influences and coaching was given and taken with respect for one another.  Even in moments when there were disagreements between the boys on outs or other scenarios within a game or practice, the boys always backed down when a coach stepped in.  I have never known a group of better behaved 13-18 year old boys.

Now that ILB is in place, where the boys are given spiritual teaching, book education as well as world class baseball coaching Ben worries the boys in the program will be stolen by gunpoint. The system is terribly broken and it leaves the boys who don't make it into the Majors (a majority of the boys being trained) with no hope of a life outside of the slums. ILB boys are given hope of a future - along with an eternity with God which to me is the biggest gift we can give them.

The programs are supported by sponsorship of the kids in the programs. I'll tell you more about my kiddos in a later post. I originally planned not to sponsor any children but ended up coming home having created a family of four for myself. It's difficult to ignore how wonderful each of the kids in the program are. I wish I could have done more.

So that's a bit of the history of what's going on down there. It is a bit of a dry entry to read I know but I think it's an important piece of framework for what is going on with the program and where it originated.

Let's get back to the heart stuff now.

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