jueves, 23 de noviembre de 2017

The Provider

Today I'm thankful because my God provides all my needs according to his riches and glory. Philippians 4:19




viernes, 27 de octubre de 2017

Santa Claus and God

Ivenson, Yenilove, Rosita the Horse, Carlo, Maraya, and Ilayas at the new volunteer house farm.

Yesterday in Supermercado Jose Luis I rushed to get in line at 

 Western Union with Gabriel in my arms. Ilayas, Maraya, and Yenilove followed behind me. They decided to stop and look at stuff and let me go onto the line but Maraya called "Mommy". I didn't stop. She cried "Mommy!" more urgently and I did stop my rush and turn to see what she needed. She asked, "Do you think Santa Claus will give you some money at Christmastime?" I, again, was hurrying a bit and just interpreted that to mean, "Do you think we'll get any presents this year?" 

So I replied with, "I think so." She partially smiled and seemed relieved. Then she looked pensive. "Cause God can tell him that - to give some money for the teachers." 
4th grade

"Yeah," I replied thinking that that was sweet of her and then headed on toward the Western Union line to receive a transfer. As I stood in line I processed what she had just said and how she had said it. At first I thought she was trying to secure presents but she was actually trying to assure timely teacher payments? How adorable. My heart melted. And the thought of God telling Santa Claus what to do. I'm glad she had God as the boss, haha. 
2nd grade

But this just shows the environment my kids are growing up in. Every month we anticipate and prepare for teacher pay day. Everyone knows there is a bit of chaos and panic if things don't fall in line and teachers are paid late like was the case for the month of September. It's top priority that we get them taken care of. But I didn't realize, until she said that, that this was drilled into the six-year-old's head to the point that she was preoccupied about it and understanding teacher pay to be one of Santa Claus' responsibilities. Interestingly enough, here in the Dominican Republic, the law requires a Christmas bonus where employees receive a double salary for the month of December. So it would be nice if Santa could stick that in his red sack!
3rd grade

So we're now finishing up with 2017 and I'm still here in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, trying to do the best that I can to help improve a situation that we stumbled upon when a group of us first did a street census in May 2006, over 11 years ago. This past January I spent 3 days at Virginia Tech and one night in Winchester. Other than that, it has now been over four years since I have spent time in Winchester, VA, where I grew up. The last time was my sister Bridgette's wedding in September 2013. Ilayas, Maraya, and I flew back the day before Maraya turned two and therefore would then have to pay a plane ticket! When I went to VT in January the kids stayed with Daddy. Gabriel was there in my very big belly. 

This makes us sad. It has always been my goal to at least spend summers in Winchester. But we're on a mission and one doesn't stop until a mission is complete, or at least not hindered by such a thing as spending summers in Winchester. Anyone who would also like to see this mission complete can help out by simply sponsoring one of our students for $100/year. 
Gabriel and I at the farm.

My friend was recently telling me about baby sweaters at the GAP that cost $100, only for the baby to quickly grow out of it. This $100 might not go to one's own baby, but I think a year of schooling for someone is more of a lasting investment than a baby sweater. I don't want to assume that most would buy a $100 baby sweater, but something else can be inserted there for each person, probably. Right? 

Thank you. Lots of love, 

Caitlin AKA Catalina



jueves, 21 de septiembre de 2017

We Forgot the Daipers!


Two weeks ago school was cancelled Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for Hurricane Irma. Wednesday was pretty peaceful but we weren't sure when it would start so we stayed in my little office all day long. It's a studio apartment I rent from neighbors who are about 400 meters from our house. It's in the basement of their cinder block house so it's safer in a hurricane than our wooden house with a tin roof on a breezy hill. It's about 12 by 10 feet and thankfully has a bathroom, but no real windows. The electricity went away on Wednesday afternoon and was out for almost a week. 

We stayed in the office until Friday. Thursday was quite a windy day. We watched through the door a bit, opening and shutting it throughout the day. Daddy stayed in our house but came to join us later on. Others like Junior, Willy, and Jameson kept popping in throughout the day as well. I kept telling them to stay put since there were many trees falling and entire roofs flying around. Amazingly, there were no reports of deaths! I don't think I even heard of any injuries. However, it was a bit of a miserable few days with five kids and no electricity in the small room. And boy was it hot! 

Now we are in the middle of Hurricane Maria. It is again a Thursday. We had no school yesterday or today. I don't know about tomorrow. We knew things would start in the night/morning so we made our way here to the office around 9:30 P.M. last night. We brought drinking water, bread, , milk, and a giant mango...but we forgot something very important. The daipers!! Wevli who is now 3 years old is developmentally behind and not yet toilet trained. At all. Gabriel is almost five months old. What were we going to do without daipers!? And if the lights go out? 

Thankfully it is now 11:30 A.M. and things aren't so bad outside. A good amount of rain but not the wind that Irma brought. Junior went and got the daipers for me in the house. Phew! We'll stay in for the rest of the day as we are in the Hurricane Warning Zone. And we still have electricity this time. Thank God this is turning out to be much better than it could've been! However, our hearts go out to the many places that have faced more damage.

Maraya and Gabe

sábado, 16 de septiembre de 2017

He Calls Me Mom

Chinaider and I in 2007. 
I remember one time I told Junior, "It melts my heart when she calls me Mommy". He thought that was funny. He came to live with us when Maraya was 4 months old and often helped me watch her as I tried to get some work done. He was 12 at the time. Lots of this history is shared throughout the blog. Now Maraya just turned 6 years old on the 10th and is a first grader. 

Looking through her school notebook, the teacher asked her to draw her family. Check this out: 



When someone asks her about her siblings she tells about the ones that live in the same house with her and also about the boys who have been growing up next door in the group home. As she learned to talk she learned all of their names. She lists off everyone. 

If you ask Ilayas, he is more selective, including only those that have lived in the same house as us as siblings, starting with Chinaider, then Junior, then Yenilove, and so on. I am 10 years older than Chinaider so I'm not really biologically able to be his mom but God gave him to me in that way anyway. He has always called me Catalina. I never suggested that he call me mom or thought that he would. Junior, on the other hand, I used to long for to call me mom. He would do so on select occasions using it as a soft spot to try to get something from me. And then there was a time when someone called me his mom and I blew up that I was not his mom. This stemmed from his birth mother disappearing for three years and then coming back into the picture, at which point I sometimes felt like the gringa that was supposed to provide the funds AND do all the work but not get any of the love. This has since changed, thankfully. 

I have been taking on this role for kids, mostly boys, since I came here. I have gotten hurt a lot as...well my dad used to say "hurting people hurt people". I have also come to learn that some people have hard hearts and maybe they don't always feel hurt but they live in ways that hurt people with soft hearts. Never did I ever receive a mother's day present from one of these boys... until this year. 

Carlo and Ivenson. Both are orphans in the home. They are 14 and 16 years old now. On Mother's Day they both brought me a nice card. Carlo got me a set of cups and a beach towel and Ivenson gave me a planted flower. This was healing for me. But I am now 32 years old so I am biologically old enough to be a mother to them both. And I think they have seen me in more of a mature and reliable role since they entered the home. Plus, both of their biological mothers have passed away. 

It has been more than 11 years since the initial street census at this point. More than 12 years since I first came to this country on my first week long volunteer trip. Throughout those years, God has provided. He has provided our daily bread, met our needs, and not really anything more. It has been amazing really to see how he has provided. But difficult. I was up for the challenge. But I often wondered when the difficulties would end. When would things click and fall into place? 

I would say that this summer that started happening. As camp approached I didn't know who would be volunteer coordinator or who would fill in the gaps for the weeks of camp where volunteers were few. Click, click, click - Katie was coming for the whole summer as a volunteer but we made a deal and stuck her in volunteer coordinator role. A Godsend. Jeres' cousin came from Haiti as a surprise. After studying medicine in St. Kitts for four years, his English is really good. He also apparently loves kids and had fun with us all summer in and out of camp, and then found a long term role with the organization. A Godsend. On the last day of school, I finally had a conversation with one of Maraya's classmates' moms who I had waved to all year. She's a recent Canadian DR transplant married to a Dominican and was looking for a place to volunteer.  A total Godsend. A cruise ship port shop contacted us looking for volunteer activities for their employees during low tourist season. Not only did they fill in gaps at camp during weeks we were short on volunteers and also do an awesome concert with the kids, but they had great attitudes and brought handy man skills to the school as well! Yet another Godsend. 

Burnt Factory Church in my hometown sent money for us to buy a 15 passenger van. We found an awesome rental deal on a farm with a cute and secure house on it near the volunteer house and moved the program there. We found an adorable mare for just 3,000 pesos, had chicks given to us, and got a great deal on some piglets as well (which turn a nice profit). Throughout the past year animals have been brought back into my life, right after I lost the only one that had been in my life since just before Project Esperanza began. I mean the blessings just rained down. I still had deep struggles in other areas, but through these blessings I heard from God, "You can get through this. It is my will to bless you. Be a good steward."  

And then Chinaider decided to start calling me mom. He writes me messages. "How are you, mom?" and "Have a good night, mom." He'll turn 22 in November. He'll graduate from high school next summer, God willing. He's been renting his own place for almost two years now. I found a few things he did fishy a few months ago and the next time he asked me for help with something I said, "You always want me to consider you but you don't consider me." He then disappeared for a bit. 

My brother gave me my first smart phone (that I lost this summer unfortunately) and I installed the beloved WhatsApp. I received a message that said, "Why do you say I don't think with you" as it translates literally from Creole. "I think with you every day." 

I showed Jeres the message. "Who is this? Is this a message for you? I don't know who wrote this." I did not think it was a message for me. I wrote the person back and asked who it was. Later I got a response that it was Chinaider. It warmed my heart but I was still a little suspicious.  

But in the months that followed he stopped asking me for help and continued helping me as he always had. He told me that he always had every intention to help me and anyone who is cared for by another should have intentions to grow up and help that person. And he continued to call me mom, mom, mom. My heart heals little by little when I hear it. 

Junior on the other hand calls me Catalina. Wevli, the three year old who can't talk much, calls me mom, but also tries to say Catalina sometimes. It comes out as, "Ah-ahh-ina". However, one day I had to print and scan a paper to meet a deadline late at night, left the kids with someone and went with Gabriel down a path I don't usually go. It goes right by the tutor's house who works with the boys. He has a little colmado that sells food at his house and the boys often get food there and hang out on the porch. 

As I sweated and breathed heavily walking up the hill with the 17 pounder to go back home, I heard Junior cry, "Carlo!! Look it's our mom Cataline!" Carlo came out and hollered too. Junior yelled with excitement, "I just never see you come over this way!" I laughed, said hi, and trudged on past them. The darkness that was trying to harden my heart sloshed off and I felt some light shine. 

I'll end with a memory of little Chinaider and how he has made me feel loved throughout the years. During the economic recession there was a backup on teacher pay. One teacher came to my house, my private space, to ask about pay, and asked why I don't go to the United States. I didn't feel like a fundraising trip was the right thing to do at the time and teachers sometimes didn't understand the role that I had in the lives of kids like Chinaider that made it hard for me to run off to the United States, as well as to justify the cost of the flight. 

I retold what the teacher had said afterwards and Chinaider, who was listening, said, "Ou pa t ka fout revoke l!?" which basically means, "You can't fire him, damn it!?"

Chinaider, Maraya, and I in 2015.

martes, 8 de agosto de 2017

Kids Update

Gabriel - 3 months old

Wevli - 3 years old

Maraya - Almost 6! 

Ilayas - 8 and 4 days

Yenilove - Just 3 days til she's 11!

Junior - Now 18. We made it! Whew! 

Thank you to Kyle for the awesome pictures this summer! 

Did I never write anything about Gabriel's birth? Here is what I wrote to friends and family the next day, April 24th:

Born last night around 10.30pm. Contractions started regularly early Saturday Morning so two full days of laboring but never dilated past 3cm. Head would not stay in birth canal. Was trying to come out the front and we couldn't manipulate it into position. But I am thankful they let me give it my all this time. My doula was amazing!  
Doula Calin, Gabe, and I


I think I forgot to write that this birth also ended in a c-section but I think everyone got that from the context clues, haha. So my VBAC-2 attempt failed but I gave it a valiant effort. And it felt a lot less discouraging this time because I was able to max out my potential rather than the c-section happy doctors making the call early. 

Speaking of my doula, if you are giving birth on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, I highly recommend Calin Lisenbee! She, again, was amazing! She squeezed my back with every contraction and then taught Jeres to do it too, relieving the excruciating back pain. She brought me smoothies for days after birth. She brought me banana bread on house visits before birth. She thoroughly answered any and all questions. I just wish I could have had her for the first two births! 
Daddy and Gabriel Dwayne

We ended up with a 9 and a half pound big boy! We argued about the name until... well even after the birth. It was everyone led by Ilayas vs. Daddy. Daddy wanted the name Dwayne which we found out is an Irish name meaning dark or black. Perfect. I am Irish and Jeres is dark or black. I liked it more when I found out the meaning, but not enough to be a first name. And besides, the rest of us had been discussing baby names for months and we all liked Ilayas' suggestion of Gabriel, like the angel who told Virgen Mary she would be having a baby. 

Here are some more fun photos from this summer by Kyle:


Carlo and Maraya

Junior and Ilayas


Ivenson and Wevli

What is this called? Dap? In the river. 
Maraya got in there too.

viernes, 17 de febrero de 2017

10 Years Gone By So Fast!




You may or may not have noticed a Peter Pan theme in this blog. I am quoting the family section of the blog: 

"Someone once referred to me as ´the real life Wendy´ because I flew away to a distant island and began caring for a group of ´lost boys´ who desperately needed a mother.. or a motherly big sister at the very least. Well, if I am the real life Wendy, then Jeres is the real life Peter Pan. And our story is one where Wendy did not return to live with her parents in the civilized world but instead she stayed in a land full of pirates and fairy like characters and truly partnered for the long run with Peter.. with the lost boys by their sides. It's a highly unlikely life that seems to bother some and intrigue others. But despite inexplicable challenges, I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else."



With that being said, one day Jeres played the perfect song and I automatically knew that it must be used for Project Esperanza's 10 year anniversary video. Here it is! I hope you enjoy! 

As we celebrate 10 years here in Puerto Plata, our biggest needs are as follows: 

  1. Get ALL of our students sponsored. The number now is around 225. We have 113 sponsored. We have issues with leaky roofs, sporadic water, lack of fans, chain link walls where solid walls are needed, lack of books and materials, lack of school secretaries and psychologists that hinder our ability to obtain our own accreditation… all of which could be addressed if we had ALL of our students sponsored! 
  2. Finish paying off the loan that helped us to finish purchasing the school in Padre Granero. ($64,860)
  3. Finish paying for the group home land that we have already built on, but still owe a bit of money. ($3,000)

We make monthly payments on 2 and 3 so anyone becoming a monthly sponsor helps out with those. In conclusion, you can help us meet these needs immediately in one of the following ways:



Shoe Shine Boys by Wendy Joseph


Thank you so much for your participation in one or more of these ways. It’s been an amazing 10 years. Here’s to 10 more! 


“Bondye pa janm komanse pou li pa fini.” Translation: “God doesn’t start anything that he doesn’t finish.”

lunes, 13 de febrero de 2017

Trip to VT

Here are a few pictures from my trip to Virginia Tech (Jan. 31 to Feb. 2nd). Thanks a ton to VT Social Entrepreneurship department for sponsoring the visit and especially Reed Kennedy for setting it all up! 

Luncheon with Innovate students.

Before the Wed. evening talk at Pamplin 1045

Signing the board at the Innovate Venture Lab.

Speaking at Burnt Factory Church on Thurs. evening in Winchester before flying out of D.C. Fri. morning.
Even got to spend some time with family! (At cousin Leah Marabella's house in Winchester)
Letter from kids.

The last thing is a letter the kids gave me before I left with a picture of a plane and me standing in the doorway, about to go down the ladder... or maybe after having gone up the ladder... At the bottom in Spanish it says, "Mom, have a good trip. I love you a lot. Thanks for everything. Many kisses. Many, many kisses. I love you, Ilayas, Maraya, Yenilove, y Wevli."

Everything was in one piece for the most part when I got back!