Deryl drove the group to Cabarete to Transformation House, a clinic/home run by a Canadian couple where we had taken a sick baby 9 days earlier. In Muñoz, we have a fair trade art shop where we have volunteers who take shifts to sit at the shop and sell items to anyone who comes, as well as explain Project Esperanza to them. Traffic is slow and we haven't had a ton of sales (although the volunteers get 7% commission when we do make sales so it's not completely volunteer) but having people there all the time is great because they gain so much insight into the lives of people in the batey, build relationships, etc. About two weeks ago, one of our volunteers reported to me that there was a really sick baby in the batey. I went with her to visit the family and talk to the mom, who had just returned from Haiti and found her baby very malnourished and sick. We offered to take the baby as it was clear that she wouldn't make it much longer in the conditions she was living in, her mother struggling to care for herself, along with her five children, and now this sick one was too much. She wanted us to take her so we did.
Plans changed as we moved along. She stayed the first night with our group at our hostel, but it was quickly decided that she needed to go to a doctor. So we took her to the children's hospital in Santiago, which is public. Emilie (art shop worker) and Luckner (staff) took turns spending the night with her at the hospital. Laura (art shop worker) visited some days. After five days, I returned with Laura to get the baby. We (my kids, Luckner, and I) then took baby and Emilie to Cabarete to find the Transformation House, as someone from Centro Medico Cabarete had suggested that we contact them. I had been in touch with the director, Cindy, by phone and e-mail, and they were expecting us that day. It turns out that this place is a very large and comfy house set up to treat sick kids and babies. There is a nurse working 24/7, a receptionist there during the day, as well as the doctor. Cindy oversees it and volunteers also come in and out. The day we brought her, she was the only patient. Four other kids had been abandoned there so they were now running an orphanage, really, with the rotating nurses caring for these healthy kids, two of which are HIV positive, but still healthy. Emilie stayed here with the baby for a few days. They then said it was okay, she could be there without a volunteer.
Luckner, Maraya (3 mos.) and Zette's baby (1 year) - Photo taken by Emilie Richardson.
So yesterday, Diane and others, including Melanie who found the baby that first day with Emilie and Laura, wanted to go to the Transformation House and would be driving down. I asked if I could jump in on the ride as I wanted to visit again and to meet with Cindy, who I hadn't met in person yet. We saw baby who had unfortunately started coughing a little bit again, but is at least in a safe and capable place with a doctor on hand. The plan is to take her back at the end of the month. After our trip, I visited her mom and family. I'll tell about that conversation shortly and will stick to chronological order of the day. We didn't stay at Transformation House for long but I had some great conversation with Cindy. The most interesting information I got from the conversation was about adoption. While I am very pro-family and want all Project Esperanza social work to always be pro-family, keeping families together, empowering parents rather than using their poverty as a way to take their children away from them as I think happens at times, I have seen that adoption is the best solution sometimes. This is the case when the situation is already too overwhelming, and of course at times when there is no family to care for children. Additionally, we have been thinking about adoption in the future after I had to have a second c-section in September. The doctors here won't allow me to try to give birth without an automatic c-section for six years. So if I would like to ever give birth not by c-section again, in this country at least, it would have to be six years from now, (5 years and 9 months now..). Although we are poor and already have two kids, we may not be able to hold off that long before having another, so I've been talking to people in Port-au-Prince about adoption, which would be the ideal location for us to adopt from.
However, the information I got from a woman there is much different than the info. I got from Cindy who is in the process of adopting a little boy, who is from the DR, but didn't have any paperwork. They have had to do it all through Haiti. I was told before that the way things are now, an adoption would take between three and four years and the child wouldn't be allowed to leave the country until it was complete. Cindy reports that she got in touch with a great Haitian lawyer through a friend, traveled to Haiti with the baby and baby's mother who was 15, and got the mother a passport and their guardian papers in one short trip. They returned back to the Dominican Republic with baby and mother and no one asked any questions at the border. They still have to have the adoption approved by Canada and Haiti before being able to travel with their son to Canada, but he does live with them here in the DR. So this gave me hope for our potential effort to adopt and also insight in order to advise others or facilitate.
The night before I went into labor with Maraya, I had some exciting revelations. I got a vision and a desire to do an online law program, hopefully to be able to represent International Justice Mission on the island in the future, but also just to be able to better work with human rights, social work, and perhaps international adoption. I have spoken to a counselor quite a bit from one law program and she assures me I can get my tuition covered through financial aid, so if all goes through, I would love to begin in April. The other profession I feel the need to learn is to be a midwife, as well as some general nursing skills. Lastly, I have lots of experience in education, but found a Montessori certification program online which I would also love to do. I pray that God guides me to further my own education while continuing to provide the best care for my family and organization. I pray that I don't get overly excited and get going on any endeavors when the time is not right.
So we made it back to Muñoz around 1pm. There was a parent teacher meeting in Padre Granero at 3pm which I needed to be at, but we had some time to kill, so we first went and hung out with Garry in the school in Muñoz. He is both the morning and afternoon director, so he normally stays in the school between 12 and 1:30 when there is a break. We found him doing exercises and he said he was just about to bathe. I found that funny that he bucket bathes in the school bathroom, but not surprising. Students started coming in early, excited to get started early on their second to last day of exams. While Garry was bathing, there were six students in the school. One little girl started crying and I asked her why. Another boy had hit her. I talked to them both and asked him why he did that. He started at me blankly. I talked to him about doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. He stared at me blankly. I asked him if he liked to get hit. He stared at me blankly. I said that if he didn't like to get hit, then he shouldn't hit others. He stared at me blankly. He is likely hit often, as many kids in the batey are. Some kids that are used to being hit don't respond at first to any sort of correction unless it is physical, because that is what they are used to. I went over the Golden Rule with him perhaps three or four times and asked him to repeat it back to me but he, guess what, stared at me blankly. I asked him to apologize and he did. We then sat there for awhile and watched Ilayas kick around a ball with kids, sliding and laughing on the dusty floor (we can't afford someone to clean and Garry takes care of it, but hey, it is dusty sometimes), until Garry came out. I then coerced Ilayas to accompany Maraya and I to the baby's house. He kept holding his hand up, signaling me to wait, and saying, "esperate". Finally I got him to come by emphasizing words such as juice, friend, and baby.
We ran into the baby's 9-year-old sister Alexandra on the way to her house. She was actually the one caring for her baby sister while their mom was in Haiti. I forgot to mention that the baby is 1 year old, 10 lbs., and had pneumonia, which is better now for the most part, along with a cleft foot, but her biggest problem is malnutrition. Cleft foot could potentially be fixed by surgery when she is bigger and stronger, but we'll need special assistance for that of course. Alexandra helped me by carrying Ilayas over the muddy path to her house, as I carried Maraya. I updated mother Zette on her daughter. I said that they really want her to go and visit. She said that she couldn't leave her kids, they didn't have proper clothes to go, and she didn't speak Spanish well. I said that when we went to get her at the end of the month then I would go with her so she could at least go once and that way I could translate for her. She agreed to that. We then talked more about her family, which I don't feel like writing out here, for the sake of time. Basically, she is widowed twice and left with five kids. Her main income is from her 12-year-old son, her oldest, who does little jobs such as carrying water, and brings home 50 pesos every now and then. However, she thinks life would be better for him in Haiti with her aunt who would better discipline and make him go to school. If she had the money to send him, she would. We talked for awhile. I told her that I needed someone to go to Padre Granero with me to hold the baby in the car. It is not illegal to hold a baby in a car here, as opposed to putting him or her in a car seat, as long as they are in the back seat. I do have a car seat but the back seat of our car is... well somewhat disconnected and it would not be safe to attach the car seat into. The seat belts are.. well I'll have to look but I think they're ripped off. Our car is really a piece of work but it has been getting us from point A to point B lately which is the important part. She told me that Alexandra would go with me and ordered Alexandra to get ready. She threw on a white dress and Zette started unbraiding, combing, and rebraiding her hair.
Before we went on our way, I asked Zette one last question. I told her that I was going to ask her a question and would she tell me her true thoughts. She nodded. What would she prefer? To take the baby back and raise her or have someone adopt her. Sometimes mothers are very quick to ask you to take their baby, which Zette had said nothing about. We had already talked about when the baby is released from Transformation House at the end of the month. She will take her for one week and I will take her every other week to oversee her being team fostered by five of my willing female neighbors. Lots of maternal energy around here with few babies for them to care for. They always want to take mine, which I don't like to share, so when this came up, I asked if they would like to help, which they agreed to. We'll see how it works out though when the time comes. But for the long run, what did she want? She said that she wanted someone to adopt her, but only if they would bring her back to visit sometimes and not forget her. I nodded and totally understood. Throughout my e-mail conversation with the woman in Port-au-Prince, I argued that this is why the adoption process is made complicated. Yes, the system has been abused, but I really think the main point is that the mothers and the mother countries, specifically Haiti as that is the one that have been seeking to know the most about on this issue, wants the best for their children, but they don't want to be forgotten. It's not that they are irresponsible or not trying to raise their children. (Okay, sure that is true in some cases, but not in all where adoption occurs.) It's not that they don't love them. Their situation is tough. International adoption could be made easier, shorter, and less expensive, I predict, if it was done in a way that attaches a commitment to the adopting parents to serve the mother country and perhaps the baby's family, stay in relationship, and give back. I think that perhaps a minimum amount of service time in the country (I suggest three months) before the adoption, along with an educational component, and then perhaps visits at least every three years, would be a great system and would not only end up helping the one adopted child, but the family and the community. When people maintain a relationship with someone in need, they can't help but to help them. It would also weed out anyone adopting for the wrong reasons.
Right before we reached the turn to get to Project Esperanza's grassroots school in Padre Granero, we stopped at a little cafeteria to get a meal. When I turned off the car, it shook a little. Jireste called me shortly after and reminded me to put water in the radiator. I assured him that I would, although with having my hands full, I didn't manage to do it and the car shook more and smoked more each time we turned it off until we returned home that evening. Alexandra said that she hadn't eaten anything all day but she still barely ate her chicken, rice, and beans, and kept wincing and holding her stomach. She said that her stomach had hurt for about two weeks. Perhaps she has worms. I'm going to tell Melanie to see if she wants to go to the doctor's with her since she has been going with other children from the area and plans on going back to Cabarete soon to visit the baby.
We made it to the school, the meeting got started late as usual, about ten parents showed up, and as usual, I was amazed by the beauty of this little school. It is sooo full of life. It is sooo full of character. The director is full of energy and enthusiasm. The teachers are a disciplined team and work together like a well-oiled machine. And the kids are beautiful. They have dangers and negative influences all around them but they are positively influenced at school, I know that, and they are beautiful. When it was my turn to talk, I shared some of these thoughts, recognized the three parents who always come and thanked them for that, and talked about the possibility of having more consistent English teaching volunteers after the New Year. I told them the benefits and precautions about this. I told them the same thing I preached at our English camp last summer. I'm not promoting anyone to learn English to find a boyfriend or girlfriend or to even gain anything financial. I built off of something Met Oreste had said that education is more important than money. Money without education is really useless. Of course, non-educated people have to feed themselves, and that is not what I mean by this. I mean that a foreign boyfriend or girlfriend sending you money when you are not advancing yourself just keeps you and your community in a child-like state, and your boyfriend or girlfriend and his or her community in a dominate state. And when someone doesn't know how to spend money, it's arguably better that they remain without, or without large quantities of it. I am interested in people learning English because countries that speak English like the US have their stuff together. There is a lot that Haitians and Dominicans can learn from them/us as far as running a society. And if you speak their/our language, you can more easily learn, not to abandon your home, but to change it. I got some nods from parents on that one.
Met Oreste teaching his class in Padre Granero. Photo taken by Emilie Richardson.
Our precaution is that people (students, parents, teachers), with the potential presence of more foreign volunteers, don't do self-serving things in an attempt to win the favor of volunteers and get something out of it, but instead stick together and think of the school as a whole. There should be no gossip or division. United we stand. Divided we fall. Like it says on the Haitian flag, inyon se la fos! Our soccer coach always says it in the hand circle. But this division really only sets the wrong stage with the volunteers, who should also be working together. Individual relationships are great and special, but the health of the school is most important, and relationships that are based on money and where deception and competition are used to obtain are not good.
Another precaution is that the teachers maintain authority, order, and a set schedule. English teachers should have a set schedule and that should be followed. Too many times I've seen order be lost at a school because the Haitian teachers are too quick to submit to visitors and visitors are too quick to take on a leadership role. We don't want this. The other teachers said encouraging things, we had a conversation about proper punishment, and then report cards were handed out. Four lucky kids were invited to join Met Willy on Saturday to watch a play in town because they had the best grades. This was set up by Laura. Thanks Laura!
As I was asked by teachers about when their next pay check would arrive and as I struggled with my non-answer which is not my fault as I can't force anyone to donate or lead fundraisers but I do my best to communicate the needs... Louie, the basket maker called. He was waiting for me at the shop, and I knew Laura and others would be soon. So they let me go with my non-satisfactory answers and we headed back to Muñoz.
Laura had brought Luckner along for our batey soap opera meeting. And it was a good thing that she did because many of the people who signed up to participate and said they would be at the meeting either didn't show up or showed up, but then announced that they had to go bathe and would be back, etc. This is often how things get started when we start a new thing, as is the case with the batey soap opera. The reason why we are doing this is because we have tried long and hard to get a little movie theater going in the school building in Muñoz and, despite the fact that we have had instability in our electricity, a situation that I am almost positive is almost fully resolved, there has not been much interest among community members as they are not used to movie theaters. They simply say that many of them have televisions in their houses. So Laura, who has experience filming and editing, came up with the idea that we do a little batey soap opera and show it on the big screen in the school each Saturday. We will show a perhaps 20 minute episode each week and then play BINGO. I think this will be a real hit.
So anyway, we had a meeting with the few people who showed up and stayed. We came up with a small story line about a couple who goes to the disco, then end up making each other jealous by dancing with others, leaving the disco with others, then they reunite later on in the night and decide never to play games with each other again. This is a likely scenario but we wanted to make sure that as we portray likely scenarios, we promote the positive way to deal with them, not the negative. After planning the first episode, we filmed the first scene in one of the group member's houses. It was quite entertaining to see them act. But it got dark quickly and we headed home. Ilayas, Maraya, and I were exhausted after the long day. Ilayas had napped in the art shop while we did the meeting (on the mattress we put in there for Rafael, the night watchman), but Maraya was in my arms and was starting to let me know that she just needed to lay down in a safe and calm place, nurse, and sleep.
So I drove, Luckner held Ilayas, (although Ilayas is fine sitting by himself in the car), and Laura held Maraya. As we pulled out of Muñoz, it started raining. I realized that I had never figured out how to turn the lone windshield wiper on. I called Jireste to ask him and he said that it didn't work. I told him I thought that I had seen him use it not long ago. He said that now it didn't work. I continued pushing all buttons and pulling all levers to try for myself but had no luck. So I felt that I had no choice with my exhaustion and cranky kids but to attempt to drive through the rain without a working wind shield wiper. It wasn't raining that hard, and stopped at times, but the windshield still got covered from splashing water. We stopped several times and wiped off the windshield. I kept having thoughts that I would run into something and as we neared Padre Granero, I actually did. There is no median and then all of the sudden there is a median, which I saw at the last minute and crashed into. Surprisingly, the little car just took it, I turned the tight steering wheel to the right, and we fell right back into place. Ilayas stopped whining out of surprise and Maraya started crying. It wasn't long before we parked in front of Laura's apartment complex where she got out, Maraya got some nursing in, and we took a little breather before going on our way.
The rain was very light on the rest of the way, the babies were content for the most part, and we made it home safely, thankfully. I had Luckner arrive home with us to hold Maraya and then gave him moto money to make it back to the hostel. Maraya nursed and then was knocked out for the rest of the night. It was about 7:30 pm at this point I believe. Jireste had made a delicious meal which Ilayas and I scarfed down, but was later informed that I took more than my fair share. I felt bad about that, but did feel rejuvenated after the long day.
Not every day is this busy, but some are. Before I had kuds, it is pretty safe to say that I ran around much more. Some of my most busy and productive times, also, are getting up for hours in the night to work on computer tasks such as updating sponsors, recording finances, working on the website, etc. A few Christians who have tried to correct my practice of Christianity have reminded me that it is faith that gets you to Heaven, not works. I remind them that, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds," (James 2:17, 18). I also remind them that Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field,” (Matthew 9:37, 38). I don't know why these people try to correct me, rather than joining me and getting something done together.
P.S. I went and did the English lesson and then finished this post later.
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