Today was our first full day on the ground in the Dominican Republic with Compassion Canada with our team of 13 artists, spouses and Compassion staff. First observation – it’s much warmer here than it was when we left Canada (they don’t have snow!).
We started the day by visiting a project, and the kids and staff gave us a wonderful welcome. We were quickly singing songs (or mumbling along) and doing actions as well as seeing a few dramatic and dance presentations the kids had put together The building was the church and we got to meet the pastor and the staff as well – everything Compassion does is through the local churches and leaders, and it was fantastic to see it as part who they are as a church and how they’re reaching their community for Christ. We then got to go to the local school grounds where we played with them for a few hours – soccer, basketball, volleyball, sack races, hula hoops, any other random game someone came up with – it was a blast! Speaking Spanish would have helped I’m sure, but the translators did a fantastic job and the smiles and laughs were plentiful. There were kids of all ages, and although some of them were shy, they were all warm and happy once we spent a bit of time playing or chatting.
Rachel and I got into a conversation with one 15 year old girl (also named Rachel, just to make things easy!) and got talking about all kinds of things. She wanted to study languages and be an interpreter or teacher, loves Hillsong and her favourite meal was rice, beans and chicken. The time went too quickly, but we were hot and sweaty by the end of the morning from all of the running around and wonderful Dominican sun.
After a wonderful lunch (at the project building, which was the old church building and a house they had made work while waiting for their new building to be complete), the team broke up into three groups to go visit homes of three of the kids who were part of this project. Our group went to visit Ricky’s house. I knew coming in that being in the homes was going to be the hardest and most amazing parts of these exposure trips, and I’m not sure there’s much you can do to really prepare for it.
The home was a five minute walk from the project. At first I wondered how bad it could be – most homes we were walking by weren’t elaborate or large, but they seemed safe and cozy enough. We walked down some stairs, through the alleys and eventually down a narrow path of dirt and broken cement. When we came to the home, immediately to the left of us was open sewer drainage – littered with garbage and the obvious smell. The home was a patchwork of boards, tin, cardboard and plastic bags. The interior was cozy – a small kitchen space with a miniature stove, a table, curtains hung around, a small TV in the corner wired directly into an extension cord going up to the ceiling and a number of chairs and benches. This is where Ricky lived.
In this house with Ricky were 8 other people that we could count. His grandmother was the primary caregiver, and her son and daughter lived in this home and raised their kids there. We didn’t meet Ricky’s dad because he was at work (something that happens sporadically, sometimes with a week or two between day labour jobs). We asked all kinds of questions and talked about many things. We learned that papers (birth certificates specifically) are a very important thing in the Dominican and not having them means that you cannot go to school easily, essentially meaning your future is in jeopardy. Ricky’s mother didn’t live in the house and was not a part of his life at all. They ate rice and beans mostly, and occasionally chicken when they could afford it. It’s the little details that stick with me – the boy in front of me chewing on what I think was a plastic clip from a toy gun and then chewing on the spring inside of it; the picture on the wall with the mark on it of a baby that we later found out was the lost child of Ricky’s aunt who lived with him; the smell wafting through the propped open door with the hinges pulling out of the wood.
We asked about Ricky and what being a part of the project had done in his life. We were told it was helping him immensely – he cared more about his schoolwork, wanted to read and learn things and got into less trouble. Ricky himself was shy and didn’t want to speak much, but we could tell through the words of his grandmother and aunt that they had great hope for him, and that what he was learning was inspiring them to hope and work for better things for the other kids.
The family sometimes went to church, so we took the opportunity to share a bit with them, read from the one bible in the house and then prayed for them after we gave them a gift of some food basics (and cookies). After we finished, we walked back and toured the centre where we saw classrooms and the office, as well as experiencing the transparency of those in charge as they answered our questions and encouraged us to go through the kids files to see the kinds of records and checks they have in place. Their systems and structures are so well throught out to love these kids and care for them holistically.
There are thousands of details I’m leaving out, but what a day. I’m still processing, replaying moments and trying to figure out what it all means, but I’m sure of two things. First, within our world there are a lot of broken and hurting people who make my struggles and challenges seem like nothing. Secondly, Compassion is doing amazing work here and are making huge a difference one child at a time – in the name and with the hope of Jesus.