lunes, 21 de octubre de 2013

Batey Soap Opera - M & J's Story

I am terribly sorry that I haven’t yet posted Part 4 to An Eventful Week. This summer was so very busy, as well as the start of the school year, but I have to post that and another post I want to write about my kids and family. But this post, I just have to write now.

A volunteer a few years back named Laura had a great idea. When she saw that we were not getting much of a turn out at our make shift movie theater, held in the school to help to raise rent money, she suggested that we lead members of the batey community to film their very own “soap opera” which we would show once a week. That would get a good turnout, for sure! We began working on the first episode but kept running into sound problems and Laura had to leave without us ever getting very far, although we did form a group that was interested, planned the first episode, and film some. I actually wrote about this in a previous post.

Well, I just was recounted a story of something that happened among a couple that lives in the batey where we have a school and fair trade art shop. This event has “batey soap opera” written all over it. Also, being in law school and writing frequent essays where we are given a fact pattern and then asked to decide what offenses different parties will be charged with, this situation also resembles a “batey fact pattern”. 

First, let me talk a little bit about that word batey. What is a batey? Well, here in the Dominican Republic, it is used to describe a housing complex where there are usually a lot of Haitian immigrants, but not always, who usually live by sugar cane plantations, and live really hard lives. The inhabitants of the bateys normally do agriculture work, such as harvest the sugar cane, and throughout history, have had little to no opportunity, such as the government owning the housing and the people not really having much freedom or opportunity to move up in life, and the government denying children born in the DR and growing up in the DR any sort of citizenship. These problems hold true today, and the DR actually just passed a ridiculous law that apparently will attempt to remove the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian decent for up to 4 generations.. so taking away citizenship from people who already have it! Anyway, I have heard volunteers and visitors refer to the batey where we work in Muñoz as a slum or a refugee camp. 

Rooftop view of the batey. Photo taken by Nicole Salvitti.

A medical geography class from VT that was doing a study abroad program in Punta Cana has visited us a few times before. Their teacher is on our board of directors. The last time they came in March 2012, we did a census of the batey and they actually created a map as well. The census showed that the batey, which is about the size of a football field, has 172 households and just over 550 people. So just imagine that. We found these very similar statistics when we visited tent cities in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. One of the biggest problems this batey faces is that over 75% of the households have no toilet – indoor or outdoor. We’ve done some work here, but that’s another story. In this blog post, I want to tell the story of a couple of our artists.

We’ll call them by their initials to protect their identity. M was involved with our artist group ever since it got going. Her partner, J, got involved later on as we began letting some very interested men join. Both have been consistent sellers ever since. I enjoyed observing them as they attended our sessions, and seeing them interact. It gave me much insight into the lives of a couple living in such a situation, and my heart already hurt for them a few times seeing the challenges that they face, while also realizing the love that they have for each other. They have two kids – a 4 year old boy, and a little girl who is about one year old.     

M’s mom is someone I visit with frequently. The other day I visited with her for a minute as we came by with some visiting chiropractors. She had a cast on her wrist. I asked what happened and she didn’t fully answer but said, with no explanation or guarantee that she was telling the truth, that she fell. This evening I met with our watchman and maintenance man for the school and art shop and we went over the artists’ pay sheet for this past month, as he was going to go around and pay them. He said that M was waiting for him, and I said that she did not sell this month, but that one of J’s items had sold. He said, “Well I can give it to M because you know J is in prison.” I did not know and was surprised, sad, and inquired.

He told me a story. There was a rumor going around that J was having an affair. Not long ago, two of his sisters had come over from Haiti, with a friend. A rumor had been started that he was having an affair with their friend. Apparently M’s family was taking part in this rumor, and J, outraged, went to M’s family’s little house, which is right along the main street, sided with palm boards and painted pink. I didn’t hear the full details, but I know that J demanded that they tell him who saw him with this woman, and denied the accusations. It ended up in a fight that took place in the house, where J had a stick of some sort, M’s mom’s wrist came out broken, and M’s sister stabbed J in the leg with something. J left the house, and upon hearing this, others encouraged him to return to apologize.  

So J returned, his mother apparently went along, to apologize. But M’s stepfather, who was not there during the fight, was enraged, and threw a rock at J. J dodged it, but his mother took a hard hit. So in the end, both men, J, and M’s stepfather, ended up in prison. And both M’s mother and J’s mother ended up injured. M’s stepfather was released by his employer he is fortunate to have, but J remains in prison for his full term of 3 months.

What is the moral of the story? There is a high divorce rate in the US, that is true, and I think anyone would agree that that is sad.  Families are meant to last, and when a family breaks up, it takes a strong toll on everyone involved. The Bible says during creation, and Jesus later repeats, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19:6). I don’t say this to place judgment on anyone who has gone through a divorce by any means, and I’m sure anyone who has gone through a divorce found it to be a painful experience.

But volunteers have observed and inquired about an even higher turnover of spouses/partners that seems to happen here in the batey. It is not uncommon to see a parent with a child and spouse, but the other parent of the child lives nearby.  They had a previous relationship that ended, and now there is a new spouse. Of course this happens in the US, but volunteers have observed it happening much, much more in the batey. Some couples stay together forever, but there is an extremely high rate of splitting up and getting together. I would say from my observations that there is more such turnover in the batey in Muñoz than in the barrio of PadreGranero where we have a school as well. And the difference here is that the batey is on a tourist excursion route and tourists who pass by daily have a huge impact on the community. Prostitution is an even bigger temptation for people living closer to the tourism, and it just destroys families.

When volunteers have mentioned this to me, I share my thoughts that it has a lot to do with the little to no personal space that these families have. Their houses are very small and they rarely have yards, but are connected to other houses with very thin walls, and again, in this one batey the size of a football field, there are 172 households. Then there are two other bateys right nearby. Can you imagine having a natural argument with your spouse and all of the neighbors knowing about it, picking a side, and adding commentary? Can you imagine fetching water from a common tap shared among 10 houses and a rumor starting that you are having an affair because of the way someone observed your conversation with the person who was at the tap in front of you? Stress, stress, and more stress.

I also share my thoughts about the effects of healthy and functional families as compared to unhealthy and dysfunctional families. I think it is fairly common knowledge that if a child has problems at home, it affects his or her learning in the classroom. How can we have strong individuals who can change their futures if the families are constantly undergoing stress? And how can families function healthily without a little private space!?

So what is the solution? Well, there is lots that could be done to change this, but what we are doing is the fair trade art shop. If we can increase art sales, (and a big opportunity here is partnerships with stores in the US who would purchase from us in bulk), then we can provide a steady income to our artists. More income means the potential to live on a larger plot of land with more privacy.

So if this story touches your heart, consider purchasing something from the art shop, or promoting it to an individual or business that you think would be interested. You can also share this story with others you think may want to help. Thank you for caring and supporting. And long live M and J!!!  


miércoles, 26 de junio de 2013

An Especially Eventful Week - Part 3 of 4

Good news to announce before getting back to the story. We were unsure as to whether or not Elisenia was HIV positive or negative. Her test came out positive previously. But we were told that it was not certain since she was younger than two. This test measures the presence of HIV antibodies, not the actually presence of the virus. (Just found this link that has a little more info.) If the mother was positive, she can pass the antibodies to the baby without passing the virus. Lo and behold, this is what happened as her 2.5 year old test came out negative! Praise God! I have been putting out the word for potential adopters and have made some contacts but still no one is seriously planning on adopting her. So CONANI, the child services agency of the government, has told me to allow them to place her in an orphanage in Jarabacoa. I asked if her sister Alexandra, 10 years old, can go as well. They said yes. I plan on visiting with Alexandra's godmother and Elisenia's father's cousin sometime soon.

Other news, we went and invited Enelbi back into the house. He was on sanction ever since September, but he is back, and we are all happy to have him... even if he does have a strong case of ADHD. :) Now, back to the story.

I had heard that he (Wildolf) had a stealing problem and he just seemed like a sketchy character. He also didn’t seem very humble. I didn’t ever want him around and always treated him a way to let him know that he’s not welcome. It is important to understand how close living quarters are here. Houses are quite small and close together and neighbors are everywhere. Haitians in general are known for grouping. So I learned long ago how to welcome and not welcome people. However, in the months leading up to this incident, I started to trust him a little bit. 

I did not know much about him or his family, but knew that he had family of some sort around whom I thought he lived with. He started coming to the door, asking me to hold money for him. He was working.. I think painting, and trying to save up. So this made me happy and I was glad to do that for him. Then he just started doing favors. If he saw I was getting a bucket of water out of the cistern, he took the bucket and got it for me. If he saw I was pulling chairs and placing them outside for a teacher meeting, he said, “Why didn’t you ask me to help you?” and began helping.

One Sunday morning Junior begged me to allow them to open the Centro de Juegos and I stood my ground, saying we would open at 1pm so we could go to church or do church at home. Sometimes we go to a church but when we don’t, we do church at home. The boys also have Bible class once a week in school. This morning we put the chairs in a circle outside under the cherry tree and did church. A neighbor who was waiting for the Centro de Juegos to open, nagging Junior as to when it would be opened and causing him to nag me, sat with us. I liked that. He wasn’t going to go to church himself. He was chomping at the bit to play Nintendo. But before he could play Nintendo, he had a little fellowship and heard a little of the Word. Wildolf also sat on a rock nearby the circle. We start by praying and then share praises from the week. Each person is asked what God did for them that week. We end by asking for prayer requests. Each person is asked what they would like God to do for them. I included Wildolf in on this and he asked God to give him work. I thought at this point that we could allow him to take a few shifts in the business, but as he is not a member of the program, made a decision to bring it up at our next meeting to ask others what they thought. But I found him to be more humble and felt for him, although my heart was still hard because I know that that helping him would be complicated and there are limits.

The next week, Ilayas, Jennylove, Maraya, Junior and I walked over to the land that Project Esperanza purchased for the future boys’ home and school. We ran into Wildolf along the way. He told me that he was looking to change 1,000 pesos so he could buy a gallon of water for Cesar. Cesar is the man who sold us the land. He lives on a plot right next to it. He said that he couldn’t find anyone to change the money. What should he do? I didn’t know his relationship with Cesar and was confused as to how Cesar was sending him. I just said, umm.. look around to see if you can change it but if not, tell him you can’t find change. But really, he would’ve found change if he had kept looking. But again, I didn’t know their relationship and how much service he owed Cesar.

We continued to the land and did not see him anymore. As we passed Cesar’s house which is right next to the land, he was with Cesar on his porch. We said hi, said that we came to pick mangos, talked a bit about how they are still too green, and then went on our way. Wildolf walked up with us and sat on a stump. Junior ran off to the baseball field nearby and watched a game. Maraya cried over her hand that had been scratched in a recent fall. She soon calmed down. Then Wildolf started talking to me. He started talking about how much he suffers. How he struggles to feed himself, he sleeps in a different house every night, etc. He said, “Maybe I suffer like this because I don’t have a mom.” He then told me about his life, how his grandmother raised him, his father abandoned them. His mother left them with his grandmother to go to the Dominican Republic. She ended up passing away in the Dominican Republic. I should’ve said, “Probably the problem is more so that your father abandoned your family and he andd your mother did not stay together. But probably also your father was unskilled, uneducated, and had no economic opportunity, and having lots of kids looking to him for food was a stress that he didn’t know how to handle or chose not to suffer through.” Anyway, he said that he has three sisters in the area and let me know who one of them is, as I had met her but did not realize she was his sister. He said that he was not currently able to live with them because of arguments that they had and that they didn’t really want him around, etc. I could’ve said that point also, “So humble yourself and work out your problems with them. Don’t come asking me for help,” but I know that young Haitian women in the Dominican Republic have as little opportunity as young men and the opportunity that they most have access to I like to highly discourage. He went on to say that he doesn’t know why God created him.

To this I did reply. I said, “God isn’t the cause of your suffering. The problem is with Haiti, no work, etc. This is something that Satan has created, not God.” I was glad to have memorized, with the boys, years ago, a verse in Creole:

Tout pi bel kado, tout pi bon fave nou resevwa…  (James 1:7

He agreed strongly saying, “It’s true. It’s true.”

He told me that Cesar always asks him to haul buckets of water for him and never gives him anything. Sometimes he gives him food. I told him that I had thought of talking with the other boys about giving him a few shifts in the Centro de Juegos. I didn’t want to mention it to him without talking to them first, but felt very much like I had to let him know that I was thinking of him in some way. He said that he had another problem which was that he didn’t know how to read or write. This would be a problem since he would have to record the times that people start playing, stop playing, and the money they pay. He had never gone to school. I asked him why he didn’t go to adult night school at the public school. He didn’t realize that they had the very most basic classes for adults, but thought they only had higher level. I told him that I would help him register in the fall and he agreed.

He then went on to ask me to loan him 3,000 pesos (about $80 US) to “saca” a motorcycle to do moto taxi work. Agencies here will allow you to put a 2,000 peso down payment and then pay daily for a year to pay off the motorcycle. Many, many men who are uneducated do moto taxi work. Willy has done it on two different occasions now. The first time he was not very disciplined with it and ended up giving back the motorcycle, but this second time, he has done very well and has done six months so far I think. I strongly objected because it is very dangerous but he just didn’t want to sit around anymore. He did this before the Centro de Juegos had started. However, I am highly determined to not let other boys do this in the future. And a big part of doing that is making sure they have other work opportunities.

I told him “No, no, no”. It’s a big responsibility. He doesn’t even have a house, he says. I just kept saying no. He kept trying to change my mind. He kept repeating how much he suffers and how he doesn’t know why God made him. I eventually left, telling him I would think about it, just to get him to stop talking about it. I should’ve just said I didn’t have any money, but the truth is that I did, and I have been bad about lying about that in the past, and now am determined to be strong there and lie.. lie for good and protective reasons. 

We walked home. Let me just say how tough I used to be. I used to be extremely blunt and sharp tongued. But people let me know that they really, really didn’t like it. I still can be this way when I need to be, but it’s not really fun, especially having little kids with me. But I was that way because, for example, we go outside to play with a ball and several kids come and take it from Ilayas and “exert dominion or control over it”. I am quoting that from law school – that is the tort of trespass to chattels. So in order to get them to go away, I have to speak sharply and tell them blunt things.. because they often don’t listen if you ask nicely. And I was always afraid of people influencing me and trying to convince me to take a different route or do something that I don’t want to do. So I made them get away, like any good mother animal would. Now I have tried to be nicer and friendlier. But as you will soon learn with this incident, I need to be attentive. Friendly yet still attentive and ready to pull out the guns when the time is right. Yes, that is what I need to do.

So Wildolf came to the house again begging for the money. I told him, “No, no, and no.” It wasn’t a good idea. He had already answered my good questions proving to him that it wasn’t a good idea, such as where he will store it. His answers weren’t good, but I think that that doesn’t matter to the person giving the answers. They have already convinced themselves that the answers are good so convincing them that they aren’t is a whole other time wasting, energy wasting debate, and I really don’t have a lot of time or energy these days. So he started in again on how much he suffers and how he doesn’t know why God made him. I just wanted him to go away and knew I had the money in my safe in the other room so I said okay. Mistake. I didn’t tell Jireste about this because Jireste had been trying to convince me that a good business venture would be for us to saca a moto and then allow someone else to taxi on it every day. That person would pay the daily fee to the company, give us a small amount, and then take the rest for himself. He knew that it would work. I didn’t, and again, I don’t like motorcycles, although I still go around on them most days and pray for my life the whole time. I got into an accident on one a few months back and vowed to not go on one again but without a vehicle, there is really no other choice since private taxis are expensive and we are far from public guagua or carrito route.   

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it.
If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

miércoles, 5 de junio de 2013

Part 2 to an Especially Eventful Week

 Now, a normal week is very busy with the kids, law school, and Project Esperanza. However, this week had an added element due to some conflict and violence. This afternoon after coming home from Muñoz where I organized art shop stuff and oriented Miguel, I spent some time viewing and taking notes for an online lecture in Criminal Law, and then tried to read, but was interrupted every 10 minutes, more or less, and gave up. I wasn’t even interrupted by my kids at this point, but by people coming to the door for their needs. One teacher came to receive his pay and to talk. Boys came one by one for headaches and a discussion over the freezer in the Centro de Juegos business that only one was willing to carry back inside after washing it and no one else wanted to help. Saturday is also when they receive their weekly food rations so they came for that. Around 6pm I ended up locking the doors and ignoring anyone who knocked. I felt physically unable to get up. Jennylove and Maraya took naps and Ilayas watched videos, which he can navigate by himself on You Tube – Scooby Doo, Super Why, Dora, and Diego are the hot ones these days. I just was so physically exhausted. After Maraya woke up, she pulled my head and hair and forced me to get up. I layed on the floor and was present until Junior and Jireste entered, settled, and everyone went to bed.

So what made this week even busier than normal? One was Miguel’s arrival. On top of meeting him at the airport and orienting him a bit , I spent a large chunk of Friday searching for a bike for him, and purchased one at a good price that, as far as I could see, would work well. However, when Chinaider checked it out, he pointed out spokes that were falling out, the thing that holds the chain that is crooked, and one other thing I don’t know the name of that needed fixing. So now we’re working on exchanging it. I could’ve sent Chinaider in the first place but having never purchased a bike here, wanted to check things out for myself.

The other thing that made this week busy was an attack to the boys in the boys home by a guy around here named Wildolf. I can’t call him a neighbor since his family lives in other neighborhoods. He does not actually reside in this community, but he just hangs out here all of the time. I’ll explain what happened and then give some more history and details.

On Monday night, I got up in the middle of the night, worked on the computer, and remembered that Ewode had some change for me because I sent him to do something and he didn’t bring me the change. I felt a little nervous about that so I went to their house to see if he was up. I could hear them talking from outside so they were up. He gave me the change and I ended up bringing them some soup we had left over from dinner. He told me that there had been an incident at the boys’ home that night around 10pm.

Let me give a current update as to who lives in the boys’ home. Willy and Emso are the two older members who are responsible.
Emso, (left), their teacher Met Sonel (middle), and Willy (right)
They are both around 21 years old. Chinaider is 17. Enelbi, who is 13, was put on sanction in September and we plan to invite him back within this week. Biby is also older, around 20, and is just staying for a few months. He had been involved before, mainly through the soccer team, but had gone to Haiti and come back. I told him he could stay for one month, but he could not find steady work, like most Haitian men around, and so he is working in the Centro de Juegos. I knew that he was making an effort though because he had put in days of work, but that really just can help someone get through a week. When he moved in, Junior moved in with us since the average age of the household members became much greater than his. And I plan on inviting Enelbi back when Biby moves out, which should be any day now. Soccer team is all set to function this summer. So potentially at the end of the summer we will invite in one more boy, and that will be a complete house, (and the house is small). Two “big brothers”, one “middle brother” and two “little brothers”.

We did purchase a plot of land and plan to build and have a program for 12 boys, but we don’t yet have the funds to build or to maintain such a program. So for now, I would like to raise funds to level the ground and enclose it with a cinderblock wall. Then we can use it for gardening for the time being. I don’t mean to be pessimistic and assume that it will be years before we have the funds to build, but am just making plans for the meantime, however long or short it may be.

So this evening, Emso, Willy, Biby, Chinaider, and Ewode were in the boys’ home, and Wildolf was visiting. We don’t really like there to be visitors and just ruling that out generally avoids lots of problems, but I will soon explain how Wildolf was trying to creep his way in. A discussion broke out between Chinaider and Wildolf. Chinaider had accused Wildolf of spreading a lie about him. Wildolf denied and apparently told Chinaider that he would cut him open. This comment alone, which all of the witnesses agreed on every detail of the event, enfuriates me. First, he shouldn’t have been in the house. Second, now he is threatening Chinaider in his house. Biby shoed them both outside, thinking that a fight would break out. Wildolf apparently went outside first, took up his stance, and told Chinaider to come outside so he could show him who he is.

Now, it’s important to note that Wildolf is 5’5” at most and 115 lbs. at most, I would say. He is quite small and perhaps 20 years old. Chinaider is… I should measure him.. maybe 5’10” now and perhaps 170 lbs. Apparently nothing lasted long. Chinaider punched Wildolf, and Wildolf ran away. Perhaps Chinaider should not have punched Wildolf… but then again perhaps it was necessary. I do not like violence but I also don’t like it when people don’t know their boundaries, intrude, talk crap, etc. I was sleeping at this time and didn’t know that Wildolf then came and got Jireste, telling him that Chinaider was beating him up. We live perhaps an eighth of a mile down the road from the boys’ home. The Centro de Juegos is also on the same property as our apartment. It’s just a two apartment building with one downstairs and one upstairs. Jireste went with him to the house and Wildolf started accounting that Chinaider has said x,y,z but threw in a lie, saying that Chinaider had said something about Jireste as well. Biby then apparently said, “Who said something about Jireste?” and punched him as well. Again, I completely believe these testimonies, since everyone told me the same thing, and they are not so close or corrupt as to all agree on a common lie. They also had nothing against Wildolf to be “out to get him”.

After Biby punched Wildolf, Wildolf left and Jireste came home and went to sleep. He didn’t wake me up to tell me about it, thinking it was an incident that had passed. But shortly after, Wildolf came back with two Dominican friends, one who had a gun. The door was open but upon seeing this, they shut the door. He began threatening, saying he would kill them all. He threw rocks, breaking the door. Before the door was shut he threw rocks, almost hitting people. I didn’t know this at the time, but he had apparently busted his brother in law’s head open with a rock during a fight months previously.

So now let me give a little history….in part 3.

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it.

If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

lunes, 3 de junio de 2013

An Especially Eventful Week - Part 1 of 4

We had fun at the beach when Crystal and family visited in April.

First, I’ll just start by saying it’s getting hotter and we have no water. Here in our neighborhood, water usually comes through the tap once a week for maybe 8-12 hours. We fill up the cistern (large, square, cement water storage thing in the ground) and fill up a few trash cans in the house, (one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom). We also have a small tinaco (a round tank) on the roof that fills itself up but never seems to work properly and we rarely have water coming through the taps except for this one day a week I am referring to. I just had to flush the toilet with a jug of purchased purified water. We have to flush the toilet by pouring water into the bowl at a high enough height to create pressure to flush it.

Why does this happen? Why does city water only come through the taps once a week? I don’t know. Something to do with the water supply company Corraaplata is it called? I went there once and asked if a group of students could visit with someone to ask questions and they said yes, with an engineer that works there. So I plan on setting that up for a future volunteer trip. I’m sure that there is a solution to this water problem that would involve more organization and effort, something that I will critically state this country is lacking.

Miguel, our new art shop manager, arrived on Friday night. I am so glad he is here and hope he adjusts well! We left home at 8pm to get him from the airport and got home at 11pm. His flight was delayed. It was Maraya, Ilayas, Jennylove, Junior, Jireste, and I. We went in our neighbor taxi’s new van which he purchased to better accommodate our volunteers and summer campers. He will get more work this way, it’s true.

So, let me quickly update on a few things:

“Ewode” and“Jilande” – now live in a little house with tin walls our landlord constructed for them in our yard. Angelina is currently with another woman caring for her until we finish with a judgment as to who will have legal guardianship over Angelina. Jilande seems to want to live with Ewode now, but when she is near her mother, she treats him very poorly, leaving him all day long and late into the night, sometimes all night with the baby, running around wearing the shortest skirts possible. When she is here I see she sits at her house and stays right by Ewode’s side…for now at least. But Ewode has proven to be a great father from what I have seen.. as well as a really great partner to Jilande who she is blessed to have. And Jilande’s mother thinks that the baby is hers, although like her relationship with her daughter who at age 15 she sent to live with Ewode, she doesn’t seem to want to put in the necessary effort to raise her, she just doesn’t want anyone else to. And if the baby’s father wants to raise her, what right does she have to raise her anyway? So we’re heading back to the court. They told him to come back with the baby’s papers.. which is just a record of the birth that the hospital gives. She is not declared yet and has no birth certificate. He thought that he had this paper, but then learned that Jilande had given it to her mother who is storing it, and hasn’t been able to get it. After explaining this to the court, they said to come back on Monday.

Elisenia and siblings – She is doing well, although still quite developmentally behind and I would really like more expert opinion since the doctors who check her out just prescribe the same cold medicine over and over, as she remains very succeptible to colds. Here is a picture of her in shades with Eriverto (her caregiver's son and also a student on scholarship through our org.) and Maraya

She is now 2.5 years old and Maraya is 21 months. She can crawl and loves to eat, but she still doesn’t talk. That is what I want to learn more about. She makes noises and signs, but doesn’t speak words really. But she is very happy and alert. After her **younger than 2 with HIV positive mother** special HIV test was sent off and lost, we still haven’t retested her but her caregiver is aware of the possibility. The normal test should give a valid reading now and so I should take her, but have just been so busy (although I could send her caregiver, although she has never been and I planned on us going together) and am also nervous, but ya, gotta do what you gotta do.

Elisenia’s brother and sister Junior and Jennylove are doing well here with us. If we can’t adopt them because of funds, I would like to at least get their guardianship papers and one day try to get a visa so they can visit the US with us. I see that we gel more and more as a family every day. It’s pretty cool. Here is a video of Junior’s hen who hatched 9 chicks and a few pictures of the kids. He has one more setting and so does Chinaider. 

Jennylove and Ilayas going to school.
Junior and Maraya - two bosses.

Other siblings Alexandra and Elideau are still in Muñoz. Alexandra is with her godmother and Elideau is with a woman from the community who has a foreign partner and although she is from the batey, she is financially better off. Elideau’s student sponsors are seriously researching adopting him! I have been helping facilitate from this end and have a meeting with a CONANI lawyer on Monday morning as well. CONANI is the social work agency of the Dominican Republic. I am interested to see how this works, as I know lately people have had more luck adopting through the lawyer in Port-au-Prince who I visited a year ago, but the adoption agency Elideau’s future family is using in Ontario, Canada has given them specific people and offices to speak with here and believe they can take things quickly from there on, so we will see! I have been talking with many other adopters through e-mail and continuing to learn lots.

Law school – I really love it...but apparently not as much as I love Project Esperanza. When I sit down to work, I find myself doing a billion Project Esperanza tasks first, and then getting into law school stuff. I try to put Project Esperanza on the back burner, and would if someone would take over my role, but just don’t seem to be able to put it off to the side. I want things to go well so very, very much! So I am behind on law school but working hard to stay on pace. Mid-terms are coming up. I have taken many, many quizzes and written four essays so far. I thought my essay grades were horrible but apparently they are right on track as students hardly ever score over a 75 on law school essays, my advisor says. There is a woman who helps me 6 hours a day, 6 days a week with the kids and with housework so I can dedicate that time to law school. Before this I never hired anyone to help out in the house except Jireste’s aunt Mari for the first month that Junior, Enelbi, Elisenia, and Ebo were here last March (2012). I always wanted us to handle our stuff in our house, but it just became impossible.

Alright, now let me tell about this crazy week... in part 2.

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martes, 12 de marzo de 2013

Story of a Family...

We recently took this off of our website since it is from a previous year, so I thought I would post it on my blog: 

Below is the story of one of the many families you can help through sponsoring a student:

This is Lilia (right) along with as many family members as we could round up for the photo during this house visit, and one neighbor. She and her family are originally from Haiti but live in the community of Padre Granero, Puerto Plata. Project Esperanza has run a grassroots school for Haitian immigrant children in the Padre Granero community since December 2006. Lilia’s family has been involved in some capacity over the years. One of her nine children, a daughter, was a student in the school this past school year (2010-2011) and a few of her sons have also participated with our soccer team Supesta.

Although we both knew of each other previously, we officially met this past April when, while visiting others, she called me over to her front porch. She presented her two youngest daughters to me and asked how she could get them into the school. I talked to her about the procedures for registering that year and also invited her to an Easter egg dying event we would soon be putting on with some visiting volunteers. She was thankful and planned on attending.

Not long after this, within a few weeks, a missionary named Brad stopped by the Searching for Life School for Haitian Immigrant Boys who are in a program transitioning from a lonely and defeating life on the streets where they shine shoes and sell sweets to a life with more opportunity where they are part of a residential program with responsibilities and education. I was sitting out front keeping track of attendance, tardiness, and playing with my son who was a year and eight months at the time. Teachers were inside with the students running class.

Brad and I caught up with each other’s work in the Puerto Plata community and he then told me about a Norwegian couple that was vacationing on a beach neighboring the community of Padre Granero who, during their three week trip, had met and formed relationships with about 9 boys. These boys explained to the couple that they rented a small room together having no parental figures around and sold shells on the beach to get by. Many, if not all of them claimed to have come over from Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. The ages they gave ranged between 10 and 16 years old.

I asked Brad the names the boys had given, knowing that Haitians often give fake names when coming to the Dominican Republic. I told him that I would ask the boys in our program about this as many of them are from Padre Granero and there are, indeed, many boys who live in the area without family who split rent on small rooms and live together. I had never heard of nine in one room, but I said I would ask around and see what I could find out. The boys had really captured the hearts of the Norwegian couple and they were looking for the best way to help these boys, which is why they had contacted Brad, knowing he was a missionary in the area. However, Brad was not really involved in the Padre Granero community or the Haitian street vending, shoe shining kids community, which is why it was good that we met up. After giving all of the details, Brad went on his way and we planned to be in touch.

Within the hour, class was dismissed and the boys came outside. I told a few of them what Brad had said and they quickly knew who I was talking about, giving me real names, some of whom had been part of the residential program before, some whom had been part of a day program in town we used to run and have stayed involved in the soccer team, and then others I didn’t know.  They mentioned that Lilia had five or six of these boys staying at her house and that her own children often beg on the beach as well or sell shells to tourists.

I wrote an e-mail to Brad relaying this information and sending pictures of a few of the boys they mentioned who have been involved in our programs so that he could verify that they were the same, including the fake names the boys had confirmed that these boys give.  It seemed as though the fake names of some had changed throughout the years so I was out of the loop. Brad confirmed the photos and names and was thankful for the insight I was able to provide. I suggested that we speak to Lilia to find out her involvement in these boys’ lives and perhaps suggest that the Norwegian couple give her some support rather than trying to do something through anyone else or directly through the boys while they are away in their home country. Brad also wanted to this, as well as to have me see the group of boys in front of him to tell what I knew of each of their histories.

So we set out to do this. I knew that I would come off as a bad guy to some if I were to have to reveal lies but I also know that “Honesty is the best policy” and generally don’t care about being the bad guy when necessary.

We arrived at the section of Padre Granero where Lilia lives and found three of the boys sitting on the street. One of them I knew well and his brother is actually a member of our residential program and had been one of the ones who provided me with information. The other two I had seen around, I believe one used to come to soccer practice, but I did not know their names. I informed them the reason for my presence and told them that I had heard that many members of the group they were a part of lived with Lilia. So we were going to talk to Lilia. They looked a little uncomfortable or perhaps “busted” at this and quickly went on their way. There were about 20 young male bystanders, some who began making statements such as, “Ooohh, they’re going to talk to your mother.”

We quickly arrived at Lilia’s house. I greeted her and introduced her to Brad and company. She greeted everyone warmly and invited us to sit inside. I explained her the reason for our presence and she quickly explained that she had just found out that morning that the kids had found some foreigners who wanted to help them but they were being very secretive about it and didn’t really want her to know. I asked her what her relationship was to these boys. She said that three of them are her own children, biologically, three are her husband’s sons who she cares for, and the other under her care is a boy that her husband picked up on the streets of Port-au-Prince five years ago, brought him to her, and he had lived with her ever since, with the exception of leaving the house for a few months before returning. Three of her children, a mix of female and male, had been living with her mother, their grandmother, in Port-au-Prince before the 2010 earthquake but came to live with her shortly afterwards. There were neighbors and other family members in the house confirming everything she said. Her husband is a passer which means that he travels back and forth to Haiti each week, showing people the route through the woods on foot when they don’t have money to pay off guards and delivering items family members living in the Dominican Republic want to send to family members in Haiti. This means that he is present for just a few days each week, and sometimes not even that. However, he is able to provide for his family through this work to some extent.

Brad was surprised to learn what she had to say. He asked her to go to the beach with us to confront them and point out which boys are hers. With some coercion, she got in Brad’s vehicle and went along with us. Brad took a route to a part of the beach that I had never been before. We ended up on the edge of the barren beach where Padre Granero basically collides with the first hotel complex. We quickly ran into several boys. Lilia began calling them over, using their real names as she was unfamiliar with the fake names they use. Three sat on the other side of a canal, refusing to come over, one hiding his face. Little by little we collected a group of nine boys who sat together on a stone wall lining the canal that led water from other sources into the ocean. Seven confirmed what Lilia had said: they were either her biological children, her stepchildren, and one was a boy she had cared for for five years. Some of the boys had found the husband of the Norwegian couple and come over with him as well. Brad ran ahead to prep him for the truth, as he was shocked, disappointed, and even in disbelief at first. He and his wife had already bought lots of cooking items and food items for the boys, as well as given the deposit to rent a new house and trusted one of them with it.

We had a conversation with the boys about telling the truth and the right way to seek aid. Brad preached in English and I translated into Creole. I also threw in some of my own input, especially about respecting Lilia, understanding the role that she has in their lives, and not ever wanting to cut her out of that role but to support her in it. The Norwegian man took away to get over his surprise and at one point asked them one by one, “Who washes your clothes? You look clean.” One by one they pointed to Lilia or answered, “My mom.” By the end, it was a comfortable group that I think had been successfully corrected along with bystanders that were pleased with the justice of the situation. The boy who had the money for the other house to rent returned it to the man, in response to his request. Two other boys in the group who were not Lilia’s children had their own situations and actually do lack caregivers in the area. But the core of the group had been deceptive as they had led Brad and the couple to a room, saying that all nine lived there, when in reality seven live with Lilia.

Lilia continually stated that she would not allow the boys to even come to the beach except that it’s hard because they are distracted as she sometimes lacks money to give them proper meals and they have nothing to entertain themselves with at home. Some who had been in the school no longer wanted to go but preferred to go to the beach and she had little support there. There are some Haitian mothers who send their children out to beg, but this is generally looked down upon in the overall Haitian community. I saw that Lilia was overwhelmed and understandingly so with caring for so many children, a large majority that are boys of similar ages, primarily by herself. We declared the importance of education to the boys and argued that it is the best pathway out of poverty. Of course this situation just wrenched my heart further to improve the school, to have meals available as many people request, to have more extra-curricular activities, etc. However, our resources have been limited to do anything more than maintain rent and teacher salaries, which has been difficult.

The Norwegian couple returned to their country the next day, a bit confused as to how they could help this family in the future. Brad and I have stayed in contact as he is immersed in other projects he has going on. And I have stayed in contact with Lilia and her family, as she has with me. When volunteers came and went door to door to homes that had students enrolled in the school this past year in order to register and create student profiles, we first visited Lilia’s house. I spoke to her about posting her family on the website in order to represent all of the families that need support for the education of their children. She agreed.

This is just one story of one struggling parent. Unfortunately, amongst the families involved in our grassroots schools, there are so many more stories. Luckily these boys fell into the hands of well-intentioned tourists. Many kids who walk the streets in this way run into pedophiles, who seem to come to this country in search of vulnerable and unprotected children, and other people who would rather use them for their own twisted interest than support them in a healthy life. The parents don’t deny that life is tough. They ask for your assistance. Will you consider supporting just one student by donating $100?

This testimony is written by Caitlin McHale, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Project Esperanza. To read more personal accounts, thoughts, and lessons, check out these three sites:

lunes, 28 de enero de 2013

Hard Stuff...

Okay.. so a lot as been going on. I talked to Crystal on Skype the other day and we caught up on things we had talked about through e-mail but then she asked me what else was going on. I didn't feel as though I could say anything because as is often the case, if I open my mouth to tell the situations that are flying through my mind... I'll be explaining details about the distribution of a few donated laptops and the parts that were not working and the hurt that each recipient, who are both teachers, felt over the idea of receiving the one with the problem and the love that I have for them as Haitian women who have such hard and brave lives and have been such role models in the community of Muñoz. But it wouldn't have come out that way.. it would've come out as so and so asked me to ask so and so for a laptop for her and she said she maybe could find one and then I found one from so and so.. and Crystal would have had a hard time following and I would've gotten lost as I was telling it.. And then there are about five things like this that I could've told... so I just froze and didn't say anything.

But here are a few updates. I'll just blurt. I need to do law school stuff but also feel the need to purge this first:  

1. I started online law school. I especially like criminal law. It is hard to keep up with and keep up with Project Esperanza stuff. I long for a day when we are sustainable and have one or a few paid folks to take care of things like giving reports.. although I don't mind the mindless activity of copying from a spreadsheet to a Word doc. the names and amounts given for the year, then sending them to Kristin who will print them and send them out. If the kids are up then I can do this sort of work since I can't really concentrate on doing much law school reading while they are up. One reason why those giving reports aren't sent out yet though is because we want to send the 2013 Winchester restaurant night calendar out with the ones going to Winchester and we are still waiting to hear back a confirmation from a restaurant.

2. The giving reports show that our income for 2012 was more than in years past which is great and I know we are moving in the right direction. Although there is still debt to teachers, it has closed a lot and they have continued getting their raises over the past few years. However, a lot has been invested in things like art shop and volunteer housing and I just feel sick over the thought of having to defend decisions to invest in those things and just want them to pay off already so that I wouldn't even have to defend decisions..or think about defending them. Jireste has been opening the art shop in the absence of an art shop manager and we put the colmado on hold for a bit. No one wants 7% commission it seems.. I am burnt out on doing HR stuff too.. posting on, receiving all these applications and resumes, contacting references, trying to find out who will even come soon enough and who will even come with the compensation we can offer.. and it turns out this time, after talking with, I believe, more than 10 people and contacting references of many, no one has come to serve. In offering to one person and waiting on another, the other took another job, etc. One woman still says she is coming but seems to have been having problem after problem that has kept her from booking her flight, and while she may be completely telling the truth, after someone who was supposed to come in Oct. had us looking for apartments for her, had concrete plans as to when she would come, when she would start working with us, where she would stay the first week before she found an apartment... well she never showed up and never answered any e-mails or calls afterwards. Anyway, the monster truck place is letting Jireste go by every day at 1 (starting tomorrow) to make sales and give out brochures so hopefully something starts rolling and we went and offered 15% to some guides who say they will stop...

Here is what I want to say to anyone who would say stop trying to do business ventures - we can't just sit here and beg!!! But balancing providing the services the organization has been committed to since the beginning and investing in these businesses... it's hard... So anyone who is in our FB group has seen posts I have been making about a hole (debt) now to landlords and a lack of hope for the future of the schools.. but we have downsized the school in Muñoz to finish the school year and then will reassess at the end of the year, depending on how things are going (and if the guides would just stop I am sure there would be a huge turnaround), and a few new monthly sponsors have come on board as well. So I am very grateful for that. 

3. Some people have asked for an update on Elisenia lately. She is doing fine although I'll admit with my schedule and my own kids, although she is right across the street, I don't get to spend much time with her. I pay Adeline each month (or Project Esperanza does, rather), get her daipers, her milk, Adeline gets a little food money for her as well to include her in on her family's meals, and Adeline sometimes goes to the doctor with her and gives me perscriptions to get her the meds. But she is talking a little and trying to crawl. We have been giving her peanut butter in her milk but I will admit that she still looks malnourished. I could take a picture but honestly feel sheepish to do it, even though I have every right to. But I am just so used to comments people make when people take pictures and the accusations that they make. And for other people it may be true. Maybe people do go and sell photos and make a profit and the model stays here unpaid. Or maybe they go and show people and it doesn't generate any support or they don't even use the pictures to try to generate support. Maybe it does generate support but the person having his or her picture taken still feels crappy about it. UUuggghhhh there are just all of these negative comments I feel people could say about me for taking a picture in the house that she is in and I want to avoid that. I'll do it at some point. Not Adeline.. she wouldn't say anything, but she has ignorant neighbors who likely would. Ahh, I'll get over it and do it and post it soon. :) Sorry about that rant.

Now I can't write much about Elisenia but I could write a book about Junior, Elisenia's brother. If you haven't read this blog since its beginning, if you read the first posts, you'll read about a malnourished baby we took in and the situation with her father who died, then her mom who took off after we took her in as she was close to death and took in her brother as he was 12, not wanting to go to school, fit into our boys home nicely although unlike the others, he had never been on the streets, but was at risk with the recent family situation. Shortly after we took them in, the mom took off and her three other kids by themselves in Muñoz. Since then, other families in the area (also impoverished) have taken them in but they are still at risk for sure...not that all kids in extreme poverty aren't at risk, but when you don't have your family, I think the risks are just that much higher. 

While I don't get to spend much time with Elisenia, I spend a lot of time with Junior, and he spends a lot of time with our family. I wrote to my mom to tell her that something has changed in my relationship with Junior to where I used to have my heart guarded and he was one of the boys in the home but over the past month or so something has happened to where he is now my son and I think about him and worry about him the same way that I do my biological kids. And I am admittedly scared to death about this. I am scared to death for his future. And I'm scared to death over the thought of growing attached to him and something happening to where he would no longer be with us. And I'm also scared to death over the thought that he might not want me as his mother the same way I now want him as my son, and we've had lots of awkward and emotional conversations lately and I now understand a lot of what I have read about adoption.

We have cared for boys from the streets ever since the street census in 2006, and even though they have often stayed on mattresses on our living room floor when there was no appropriate home for them at the time or room for them in the home, I have always guarded my heart to the point where my attachment wasn't the same as my attachment to my own kids. I will say that I had a very strong attachment to Chinaider and Jeres and I both still do now that he is back, but he went into the streets and went to Haiti for awhile and my heart was broken and I got over it, I guess. This is likely why I am scared to death over what is happening here with Junior. Something else dangerous that seems to be happening, I never have bad feelings about boys' biological mothers. The normal story is an absent or dead father and mother in Haiti who is very poor and not able to take care of her kids. This is how they end up in the Dominican Republic. They normally maintain a relationship with their mothers but know that their mother cannot care for them and they can't presently care for their mothers either. I am not saying that I have bad feelings about Junior's mother... I don't..not bad necessarily, but probably just the same feelings as anyone who has adopted would feel about a biological mother who has abandoned the child you are raising and mothering...especially if the adoption is not finalized and the future there is uncertain and your heart is on the line. Ouch. So the way I see it, there are two reasonable choices... to make him go away and not be near us so our hearts won't be at risk of breaking over him one day, or to adopt him and protect him and build him up so that he can be a strong member of the family. And after writing it out... making him go away doesn't seem reasonable at all... so that leaves us with only one choice really.

I told my mom this and mentioned that I had learned that some people who adopt hold fundraisers to pay for the adoptions. I had told her before about a need I feel I have to adopt kids. Not a ton of kids... but just in reference to going to the US for any length of time. I just would/do feel absolutely sick about it without having a family.. our family with the current members, and then some adopted kids. Something would not be in balance and healthy for me if I were to do that. She said she would pray about it and asked for details and... I haven't had the chance to send her any yet because I am still praying and mulling over it, talking to Jeres, observing these family dynamics, having awkward conversations as I said.. wow. Oh, not to mention, I don't know how Jeres would survive without having some fellow Haitians around.

Also with the news of these kids, the 6-year-old, Jennylove, is now living with a teacher in Padre Granero and his partner. Actually, his partner is teaching in Muñoz and it was after hearing about the way the little girl was being treated and seeing some evidence, she took her home. They have asked for help with her on several occasions and the brother Elideau's student sponsor, Sarah, sent some help and some gifts, as she did last year, but the partner is one of the teachers who has just lost her job in Muñoz, the teacher in Padre Granero is... well I'll just say I give him preferential treatment when it comes to paying teachers based on need to the point that some teachers are owed quite a bit but now he is not and has been needing to borrow quite a bit and it's really not fair to the other teachers. And they have not put her in school. I am not trying to criticize them and am glad that they took her in, responding to what they judged as an abusive situation, but am just explaining the situation that she is in now as far as her future is concerned, etc. So this is her situation. And the point is, I feel led to take her in too. And I would love for her to be an addition to our family as well. And I told my mom that too. 

Lastly, I have mentioned here a few times a certain organization I like, International Justice Mission, and I think they now don't mind that I share that they are coming for a visit very soon and I hope and pray they will see that our missions align and want to partner! (They are investigating the possibility of working in the Dominican Republic.) I have also been thinking a lot about the boys' home and program in the future (whether near or quite far) and so much want to buy a piece of land for sale nearby here and build a house and have a complete program with the soccer team as the primary outreach to boys on the streets. But I want to have a different role than in the past. I want there to be paid staff (Willy and Enso along with a woman to cook and clean and then regular and vocational teachers) who I support and stay in contact with, but as far as interaction with the members of the home and program, I want to be the person who talks to boys when they are either being really problematic or really struggling and maybe come and do bible study once a week... but not be their family member as I have been up to this point. I have quite enough family members in extreme need as it is and I need to stop right there, although I love them so much, but realistically speaking. There needs to be very specific qualifications for someone to enter the home and a cut off as to when they must leave. It has felt cruel having this before with 1. seeing members of the home as family members and 2. not having been able to give the proper vocational training prior to an appropriate cut off time so that they would have a fair shot upon moving out - although anyone who came of age who didn't want to help and didn't want to listen and go to school got the boot. But the point being, I have learned so much and feel like I know what needs to happen to create a successful and lasting program for the future. Again, I hope and pray that IJM will see this work as valuable and alligning with their mission and want to partner.

Oh, and lastly, my conclusion on adoption after caring for other people's kids now is this: If the mother or family is going to raise the child, then get your stuff together and raise the child. Through our organization, we have been able to help mothers in Padre Granero and Muñoz where we have the schools and in Muñoz have been providing meals, artist training, and the fair trade art shop. In both communities we have, on several occasions, when funds are available, helped out widowed or abandoned mothers who were struggling with rent, food, and start up money for street vending. But I resent this idea some seem to have of a free child raising service that allows one to be released of the dutied of motherhood and return when it is convenient. However, I sure am not judging... I'm just one quite honestly beaten down individual trying to protect myself from another. We won't even get started on the fathers, although what can you say if someone is passed away as is the case often, but many abandon as well. I would say that the battle to create healthy families and avoid unhealthy ones from forming better begin when the parents are 12 at the latest... thus the need for the boys' home and the grassroots schools.  But wait, I didn't finish my conclusion on adoption. If the family is going to raise the child, then raise it and minimize the abandonment time and hurt to the child. If the family is not going to raise it..and I think this decision should be made within the course of a year and would be interested in learning more about U.S. law and procedure here but in the DR things are often a free for all... if the family is not taking the responsibility, then quick! Get the child in a family! Give the child a chance at a secure and lasting attachment. Take away the rights from the family and protect the caregiver/adopting parents whose hearts are on the line. My heart is breaking thinking of kids growing up with no secure attachment. Teenage years is hard enough for those of us with loving parents... good God. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for your support. I feel better after writing. Amen.