Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What happened down there?? Day 3

I'm struggling a bit with how to fully explain what happened on Monday in The DR.  We are starting to get into the "heart stuff" where I'm not sure my words can really say what needs to be portrayed to help you feel what I went through which frankly is what is important at this point - the feeling of it.

As someone who had never really been in true poverty I was blown away by the time we spent in the villages around Barahona.  There are two levels of village.  The first is the barrio.  It is the least primitive of the two with running water, not potable and electricity, that while present isn't very reliable.  The second is the batey.  The batey truly has no services - no electricity, no running water, no latrines, etc.  COTN serves both.  There are 42 bateys around Barahona.  Because I don't want to get it wrong I'm going to refer to all of the villages we visited as bateys - which technically I suppose is wrong but for ease of writing and understanding I think will get the point across.

The poverty we saw there was unlike any poverty I've seen in the states.  The correct term for poverty here is relative poverty.  Based on the standard of living we have here people live in poverty but it is different than poverty where the average standard of living is basically at the poverty line we use.  Fortunately, with the help of COTN we are seeing less distended bellies in the kids from parasites and orange hairlines that are a telltale sign of undernourishment.  There is still some but not to the shocking levels I have heard they one time were.

The first batey we visited was Los Robles.  It is the largest batey served by COTN and is the one we returned to the most often.  When we first got there we were told about what COTN does in the communities.  (If you want to learn more about their services please see my earlier post: COTN and ILB.)  Then we were told we were going to walk through the village.  I didn't really know what to expect and was one of the last to come out of the school grounds.  When I first entered the village most people had been greeted by some children who were there, likely because they saw or heard our bus and wanted to come meet us.  I thought to myself that I would just stand back and watch my fellow teammates to have an idea about what to do but before I knew it I was surrounded as well.  The kids loved hanging out with us and followed us as we walked through their community and then back to the school, taking pictures and having their pictures taken.  It was suggested to me that I bring small bottles of nail polish with me on the trip and that was a HUGE hit.  Any time I pulled out a bottle I was surrounded.  I ended up handing out a bottle to Emily too so she could help because I was overwhelmed by the number of little fingers that were being thrust in front of me.

Los Robles School

Before I was surrounded 

The second batey we went to was Alta Gracia.  It was horseshoe shaped and had some nice shade but the housing was definitely more primitive.  The kids were just as friendly and excited to see us.  Some of the cutest kids lived in Alta Gracia.  Shoot - who am I kidding, they were all cute.  Alta Gracia definitely had more adults out and about.  There was commerce taking place and community being built.

My little friend posing for one last picture while I was on the bus.  She followed us out of the village waving goodbye
From Alta Gracia we went to Algadon which for me was the most heartbreaking of all the bateys.  It was beyond primitive.  There was a basketball court which had been installed by a COTN team that came a few years ago just outside of the village and we walked through the village to the court where we were told about some of the problems with projects that are started but not continued or committed to long term.  There weren't many people out and about in Algadon.  After the visit there is was time for a break.  My heart was broken and I was spent.  Thankfully, it was lunchtime.

We went back to Casa Bethesda where I took this photo:

It didn't feel very fair.

After lunch we still had two bateys to visit.  The first one we went to  was Pueblo Nuevo.  This batey by far had the most fun interaction with the kids.  We played a version of duck duck goose and quack dideleoso.  This was a lot of fun. Not knowing what fun "play" was to come with the baseball boys I thought this interaction was going to be tough to beat.  It was, but it also turned out to only be the first of many fun games played.  There was a beautiful view from the top of the hill behind the COTN school (a very stinky view).  You could see the sugarcane factory on the coast which is the reason for all of the bateys in the first place.  To me, that vision was pretty poignant.  Beautiful but poignant.

Sugarcane Factory

My Friend - Miss Molly.


Our final batey was Don Bosco.  I will never forget the voice of the little girl on the left in the picture below as she announced our arrival - AMERICANAS!!!!  AMERICANAS!!!  She and her friends asked for Barbies and books and other items a typical American kiddo their age would ask for.  How I wished I had everything they asked for in my pocket.  While we were there we met Pastora Africa.  She is the pastor of the church in Don Bosco and they have outgrown their building which is a very exciting problem to have.  She has a piece of land in mind to purchase in the village to build a new church.  We, as supporters of COTN, are praying the funds will become available to buy the land and build a new church.

That was the end of the day and I was very thankful that it was because it was all I could take and all I could take in.  We had a very powerful debriefing session as a team that evening with some worship and a lot of prayer.

I will say as a final thought that while what we saw was heartbreaking and overwhelming because of the massive amount of need that is so obvious I also was filled with awe at the joy that was shared with us.  In my pictures you'll notice most of the time the kids have full smiles.  This isn't just for the pictures.  The kids and even the adults we encountered truly were filled with a joy that I don't have every day but I know I should.  I've had a bit of a rough week with quite a few things dragging me down or just creating frustration, but really those things are nothing - it's like relative poverty; I'm encountering relative hardship.

Looking back through these pictures today I'm reminded how thankful I should be everyday for my circumstances.  My joy should be contagious.  If it isn't, I'm doing it wrong.

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