lunes, 28 de mayo de 2018

A Tribute to Jeres' Grann (Grandmother)

First of all, I'll say that it's pretty cool that blogging can be a way to share prayer requests with the world, and then later show how some of those prayers were answered. My last post had some desparate prayers and I'm happy but not surprised to say that God has answered them. I'll share more about that in my next post. 

Here I want to tell a story about Jeres' grandmother who passed away on Thursday, I believe. He went to the funeral and is on his way back now as I write this. The first time we went to visit his family in Grisongarde, Haiti was after the January 12, 2010 earthquake. We went through the south to Port-au-Prince and then ended up in the north where most of his family is. The reason we went to the north was to "search" for a boy named Anol. He went to visit his family over Christmas with plans of coming right back. On the same day as the earthquake, we got the news that he had died. Of course the news came from another young man and he was sort of not serious about the report so we didn't fully believe it.  We checked with the family that he lived with who said the same, but I still had strong doubts. 

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Anol had an extremely special place in my heart. During the summer 2006 street census and the beginnings of our program at that same time, he just delighted me. However, his body was small and frail and he looked younger than he actually was. These must've been the effects of malnutrition and diabetes that wasn't treated yet. 

My mother went back to Puerto Plata with Kristin and I over Thanksgiving break that year, shortly before I graduated. I asked every boy that came and visited us whether they had seen Anol. My heart broke as it came time to leave and he hadn't showed up. Hours before we took off, he showed up, wanting a soccer ball, as we had brought many. He got his ball and left. My heart was satisfied just to see him. 

Throughout the years after that he was always a super helper and protector. He came and learned but didn't advance a lot. He mostly helped out in the kitchen. He found out about his diabetes and we did our best to help him with it. He lived with a family in Padre Granero who had brought him over from Haiti when he was young. They tried their best to help him too. 

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We had a little purple Terios vehicle that we drove up from Port-au-Prince to the north. We went through hours of treacherous mountains without guard rails and finally made it to Grisongarde. Jeres was nervous having not been home in four years and going with Ilayas and I. Ilayas was just five months old. My mom back in Virginia was also extremely nervous as she did NOT want us to go to Haiti after the earthquake, but I felt such a strong drive that I didn't feel like I could turn off. 

There is one main road that goes from Cap Haitian to Grisongarde. It is not paved. It runs by a river that is full of naked people bathing and clothed people washing or fetching water. Houses line both sides of the roads. Many of the houses are made of clay and have fences made of woven leaves enclosing the yard.  There is no electricity and no running water. We went along this road for close to an hour before arriving at a little side road to the right that we went down. We had picked up Jeres' older brother along the way as they had planned to meet at a little town square. 

This side road had just a few houses on each side before it ended. The last house on the left is his grandmother's house. The last building on the right is an enclosed yard with an orphanage run by someone I believe called Dr. Ray. His aunt worked there until she passed away a few years ago. 

I felt refreshed seeing as I had come to think that every single house was along the main road. His grann's house seemed more private, shady, and had little patches of grass in the yard. I found it adorable. It reminded me of the Shire. 

We followed Fernandez, Jeres' brother, into the house. His short (from what I remember) grandmother was there with two aunts, I believe. This is his grandmother on his father's side. His father was killed in Port-au-Prince when he was about 10 years old. The story is that his grandmother then killed the men who killed his father. How did she kill them? From Grisongarde. This means she used mystical means. But this was before she became a Christian. :) 

We hadn't sat down with the family for more than a few minutes when his grandmother exclaimed that Jeres looked like his father, Christo. "I miss Christo!" she yelled and started bawling. His aunts did the same. Jeres hung his head and tears streamed down his face. I was in shock and fought back small tears just at seeing it. His brother Fernandez tried to calm the situation by talking over their sobs saying and repeating, "You don't need to cry when you see Jeres. You should be happy to see him." 

They eventually stopped and we went on our way down the main road to his mother's house. This is where we stayed for what we thought would be a day or two, but ended up being more than a week. Among doing other things, we sought out Anol's mother during that week. She said that Anol had indeed died and led us to his grave. I had a really, really hard time and did things that only the community of Grisongarde knows, along with a handful of people I have told and the millions of people they have told, haha. I won't go into details here. 

I remember at one point I was crying and just not able to accept the finality of it. A pastor who lives across the road from Jeres' mom said, "Haven't you ever had a little brother or sister pass away?" I explained that I had not and the fact that he said that so normally made it all the more sad. We also visited Etienne, a boy who had become mentally ill in the DR and we brought back to his family months prior. However, we didn't arrive in Grisongarde at that time because we ironically found his grandfather in town. He was close to death at the time I saw him. He died in the following months. 

This week... I grappled with verses and the meanings of them. This pastor named Paul and I spent several hours one morning discussing such things. I also spent lots of time with one of Jeres' aunts discussing the same things. I learned so much about beliefs and practices that take place in Haiti dealing with death.  

Finally we knew we had to go back to the Dominican Republic and drove off. I had a really hard time leaving Anol behind. We went by his grandmother's house to say good-bye. I wasn't able to stop crying at that point. His aunt and grandmother met us on the side of the road and we said our good-byes from inside the car. His aunt who they call Ma Paste spoke comforting and strengthening words to me as his grandmother smiled sweetly at me. 

Ma Paste means Pastor's Wife. Her husband was a pastor. When their three children were just babies and toddlers he got involved with a group that was going to the United States. I can't remember if it was by plane or boat. There was an organizer helping them to go, collecting money, etc. She knew a few others who also joined the group. They left on the date they were supposed to. No one heard from them again. All of this was too much for me. But her children were now grown at this point and she had a nice and well kept house. She also struggles with diabetes. 

As we said good-bye and Ma Paste spoke words of strength to me, the grandmother stood by her daughter's side smiling so sweetly at me. I felt a strong bond with her at that moment. Just a week before I was shocked when I met her and immediately saw her fresh and deep pain for the loss of her son, even though it was a loss that took place several years prior. She didn't try to hide that pain in the least. Now I cried rawly and sorely in front of her over the loss of a young man I had a motherly love for. I don't want to misread her sweet smiling but it seemed as though she was comforted by the fact that I was sharing in her pain.

Rest in Peace, Grann. We know that a day is coming when death will be no more. It wasn't the will of our Father that we experience such sorrow and pain, and he'll do away with it as it says in the Good Book.

domingo, 18 de marzo de 2018

Retaining Wall Swept Away!

I constantly experience the power of God as he always provides our daily bread, but not much more. When I say "our", I mean Project Esperanza. This always confirms his presence to me because how else would things be going on this way for 11 years or so? Could an organization always be on the brink of not having enough but actually having just enough for all that time if it weren't for an all-knowing, all-powerful God watching over it and providing the daily bread? 

Since we have moved here to Los Palomos, we have experienced some crazy weather. We purchased this land in 2014. Actually, we are still making payments to pay it off but the first bulk was paid and we took possession in 2014. What drew us to the land was the privacy, cleanliness being one of the first houses one would encounter coming down the mountain, and the stream of running water that passed by it. In this community, city water only comes through the pipes for about eight hours each week. 

We first planted about 14 cacao trees, three of which are left. There was a drought in 2014/2015, I believe it was. It didn't rain for eight months. The nice little stream was dry the entire year. We drove up with buckets of water to water the trees whenever we could, but most didn't make it. We built two houses on the land in 2016. The boys were getting kicked out of their rental and we weren't up for looking for another. It was a team effort. Almost all of the materials were carried on top of Little Blue, my 1987 Toyota. Everyone worked. 

In 2016/2017 it rained more than I had seen and more than the elderly people in Puerto Plata said they had ever seen. Now the creek rose so much that it almost reached the boys house. (It wasn't my idea to put their house on the side by the creek but I was overruled). I was scared seeing how close it got to their house. Also, the sound of the rocks rolling down the creek, that quickly converts into a river, is pretty amazing. I can't quite describe how I feel in our little house with five kids being so close to such power and danger. It puts me in awe.

I believe I have pictures in other posts that shows how close the water got to the boys' house. Luckily, Maryville College heard about the flooding and was looking for a place to serve. They came in May through Peacework and built a retaining wall. Whew. I thought we were safe. I didn't think we would see a year with as much rain as last year. 

On Thursday night heavy rain began. We've had months of rain. There has been hard rain. The creek has been running probably since November or so. It's great to have the access to water, although it is annoying to have to cross every day to get to the road, as there is no bridge nearby. But Thursday night's rain was apparently stronger than the rest. Never had I seen huge rocks come out of the creek and onto the road. When this creek floods, it flies out into the road and floods all of the city. But the source and the power flows right by our houses. We can hear it and we can feel it. 

On Thursday night we had four volunteers traveling from Sosua to the airport in Santiago for a midnight flight. Radame, our bus driver, couldn't get through town as the streets were flooded so much, until pretty much the last available moment, and then they booked it to Santiago. They made it. 

When we woke up on Friday morning, we found that about half of the retaining wall was gone. Saturday night we had more flooding, and more rocks hitting and rolling in the creek. On Friday morning I ran to the man's house who built the wall to show him what had happened. It had been less than a year since he built it. His wife reported that he had gone to Chile a few weeks earlier in search of work. So it's back to the drawing board for the retaining wall. I did notice that the cacao tree near the river bed had moved a few feet closer so I think some of these rocks came right off the river bed that was compromised, whereas others came flowing down the river. Here are a few videos:



I don't know what to say. I feel a little desparate before God. I feel trusting but scared as I often do. I want to feel safe and secure, but I think he knows that that would also make me a bit bored. I am constantly amazed by the rich blessings he has given me, but I also long for financial stability. I long for things to feel as though they are under control and in order. Project Esperanza has always had a bit of a chaotic feel to it and people who try to help "get it under control" often suggest that we cut something out but I've never agreed to that. 

So I pray to Jehovah God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I pray to the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Please take care of us like you always do. You know the things that need to be resolved. You know the details. You know what we need. Please let me see your provisions. Please open the doors. Please send more than enough. Please let us into the Promised Land. 

So we're collecting smooth, round, beautiful rocks and painting them like Easter eggs. 

Love, Caitlin 



lunes, 25 de diciembre de 2017

He Also says Mom, hehe


Shortly after I wrote about how much it melts my heart when kids call me Mom and how Chinaider started calling me Mom at age 22, which still melts my heart, this guy got started!

And he's an early walker as well!


Wishing you the very merriest of Christmas! Although I recently did a study with my Jehovah's Witness friends that was super interesting. There are two accounts of birthdays in the Bible that give accounts of people celebrating their birthdays and both include murders in the celebration. :( Both accounts were of people who did not worship God (Jehovah). Ecclesiastes 7:1 was also brought up showing that the date of one's death is more important than than the date of one's birth. They take this to mean that God does not encourage celebration of birthdays. Candles come from some pagan practice. 

Super interesting, right? So they go on to say that we should not put this big celebration on Jesus' birth either. Nonetheless, we got some presents and put up the old artificial tree. :) 


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.