My wife Laura and I have been coming to the Dominican Republic since 2001; first as vacationers looking to escape the frigid cold of Alberta, Canada during the long winters. As the vacations came and went we soon began to develop an affinity for the people of the D.R. We slowly ventured away from our all-inclusive resort and discovered a culture on the island fraught with problems and hardship of daily living. Often we would encounter local people who seemed to have almost nothing with which to survive. We toured small villages on foot and saw that most of the people lived in tiny shacks with tin roofs, or worse in many cases. Often we would see throngs of children playing in the dusty streets, many of the barely clothed; some naked. "Was this normal?" we asked. Of course we fully understood that being in another country, in another culture, of a different language and socioeconomic environment that things would be different than back home. The differences though were astounding to say the least. Both Laura and I were stretched with the overwhelming level of compassion which strained to pour from our hearts on to these people. It was all we could do to refrain from going home and emptying our bank accounts to help them. Of course we also knew that this was not the answer. Still, there has to be an answer.
The following is a true story of hardship and compassion revealed to us in the Dominican Republic in May 2011.
It was hot already when we stepped out of the black SUV as soon as it came to a dusty stop. At only 10:30 in the morning it had to be over 35 C, the sun was directly overhead and burned down on our uncovered heads mercilessly. As I moved around the SUV to the rear, Bill was already there lifting the hatch to reveal the boxes of food we had brought to the people of this "batey" in the Dominican Republic. A "batey" is a Spanish name for a village where migrant farm workers typically lived with their families. In this case, the batey of Ascension, near the town of Sosua in the D.R. was where over 2000 of these people lived. The village was largely filled with Haitian migrant workers and their families, but some Dominicans also lived in the village. Migrant workers were brought into the country many years ago by the Dominican government to assist the Dominican landowners with sugar crop cultivation. Crops of sugar cane were grown and harvested each year. The workers were supposed to travel back and forth from Haiti to the D.R. each year but as time went by it was easier for them to just stay and live hn the government provided housing in the 1100 batey's around the island. Over the next forty years as many as four generations of new Haitians have been born in the D.R. Now there are no crops under production in this area; since 2004, many of the factories producing cane sugar closed leaving thousands of migrant workers with no source of income. Since many of these people were born here they have no "home" to return to in Haiti, so they are stuck here; no jobs and no help from a government that does not recognize them.
Before we all jumped out of the SUV there was already a large crowd of clamoring children gathering around Donna, Bill's wife, who was hugging and reaching for hands that stretched toward her from everyone. Each week Bill and Donna would come to this batey with food provisions and medical aid for the people; not all of them of course, just about half of the village is on some kind of food supplement program. The food is provided through donations and many of the poor families now have international sponsors who send money for food and medical support for the poorest families in the batey. Three days a week, every week of the year, they come to the batey to feed and care for the people.
As the crowd continued to clamor around Donna she suddenly let out a tight shriek followed by a rush of tears and hugs to a couple of women standing near her.
Bill moved quickly to her side and it was quickly revealed that a young mother had died quietly in the night two days before. Now at first I had no reaction as I had heard and seen others in different villages who had died of one illness or another; this is not uncommon in third world environments; I mean after-all, globally over 200,000 people die everyday. On this morning however, something was different.
It turns out that this mother had finally succumbed to death after enduring a slow painful death. She had been receiving care from the local Missionary Doctor but he could only do so much. Officially her cause of death would be listed as AIDS related, there was never an autopsy done for these people. She was Haitian living in the Dominican Republic; here only because her family brought her here when she was young to work as a migrant worker in the cane fields. They simply never left; life was so much better here in the D.R. than at home in Haiti. The fact that this woman died after a short tumultuous life is not the only problem either because she left two young daughters behind; now orphaned as their father had also died in the past year.
As the story was revealed to me over the next few days I discovered an almost unbelievable story about the circumstances surrounding this family and I knew this story had to be told. It turns out the two little orphans of this family are aged seven and eight; the elder of the two is handicapped with severe autism, doesn't speak and cannot care for herself. Since their father's death the mother has been bedridden with one AIDS related complication after another; unable to function or provide for herself or her daughters. The missionaries Bill and Donna stepped in providing a food supplement bag three times a week; they secured a sponsor from overseas to help cover the costs of the rice and beans the little family received. It fell on the youngest girl Annie to prepare the food each day for all. It also fell on Annie to rise up early in the morning and haul water from the well; light the fire; dress her sister, feed her and then care for her mother. Often her mother was so sick the only thing Annie could do would be to run and get the doctor; again, there was little he could do aside from pain medication. After I interviewed Annie through a translator I was determined to tell their story, hence this article now.
Today the girls are living with a friend of the family in the same village, still receiving a fully sponsored food supplement each week. More money has been given so that Annie can attend school, truly a blessing for her. Her sister is not so lucky; there are special schools for autistic children in the D.R. but they are expensive and out of the question. Her best hope is for the continued compassion of absolute strangers; who are drawn to the same conclusions for these two orphans as others.
Children like these need to be helped; each of us has the ability to give compassionately and give we should. Help because you can, give because you can, because you have more than you need. Nobody should ever have to live like this, ever.
Anyone can help support the work that is being done as we speak in this village in the Dominican Republic. This could just as easily be any daughter of each of us. Ask yourself this question, "What am I feeling after I read this story?"
If you feel nothing, then I will pray for you to be enlightened as to why we are alive.
If you feel compelled to help, then act on that feeling immediately, do not wait until you are distracted by the next thing that comes along.
The compelling feeling you are having is a gift that all of humanity has been given. It is right to care for widows and orphans in their time of need; right and necessary.