Day 8 — Coming Home

Coming home Saturday was an adventure in itself.  First there were the goodbyes with people we had shared such amazing experiences with.  Then we got to the airport and everything went fairly quickly.  Once past customs, I was able to pick up a few last souvenirs and grab some lunch.  I had just started eating when I heard my name called over the loud speaker.  At the gate desk I was told that when they scanned my checked luggage they saw something and wanted to open my suitcase in front of me.  I think it was just a random search because they were searching all through the luggage of about 25 people — the suitcases were scanned right there and then they looked everywhere inside, not for something specific.  It delayed the plane’s departure while they put the luggage on the plane.  Fortunately, two of our group leaders waited for me with me carry-on stuff and my lunch.  Thanks Liz and Devon.

By the time we got to Toronto, I had a sore throat.  By the time my plane to Ottawa took off, I was coughing.  Friends met me at the Ottawa airport and it wasn’t long before I was home and enough unpacked that I could get into my own bed again.  The hotel we stayed at in the RD was nice but there is no place like home.  I’ve been home almost a week now and have spent most of that time in bed coughing.  Heading out to the doctor’s tomorrow as I’m pretty sure this is bronchitis.

I’m still processing my thoughts about the trip — there was so much to take in and there’s so much going through my head that it may be a few days or even weeks before I’m ready to do a wrap-up for this adventure in the RD!  It’ll help once my head clears up from this cold and cough.  Others on the trip had developed a cough before we left so I’m hoping they fared better than I did.  Cheers from back home in Ottawa!

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Day 7 in the Dominican Republic

Today we got a chance to visit the national offices of Compassion DR.  Not every country that Compassion International operates has their own national headquarters — only 3 besides Canada and the US.  We got to meet people that worked with software that scans letters from both sponsors and sponsored children, people who developed training videos to save Compassion workers on the far reaches of the island the long trip in to the offices in Santo Domingo, and we met people who translate all the letters into the language of the recipient.  There were stacks of letters they were translating just that day — 45,000 letters from sponsored children a month, and 15,ooo from sponsors per month.  It’s totally mind boggling the amount of letters that get translated every day.

After our visit to the offices, we went to have lunch at a burger place called Mustard’s.  We had pre-ordered before our tour so it didn’t take too long to get our food and drinks and we enjoyed the outdoor setting and lovely breeze.  It was in the downtown area and next door to a pizzeria and another restaurant with a red pig in front of it.

On the corner, there was a huge pig made completely of bottles and forks.  Totally amazing.

Down the street from the pig was a bowling alley where we all showed up and played a couple of games.  It was a huge alley on the second floor of a building that held many enterprises including a comedy club. It was decorated for a couple of birthday parties so we enjoyed the colourful balloons and cakes.  On the trip, home we took a different route and saw many interesting shops and street vendors.

We met for dinner at 7:30 in the private meeting room followed by a debriefing for the trip.  But in between we had to say goodbye to Tony, our Compassion trip organizer, and all of our wonderful translators.  It is very sad to say goodbye.  It is truly a blessing that they made our communication with the children and moms everywhere we went so easy, not only translating but sometimes getting the conversation started in the home visits when some of us felt awkward or weren’t sure how to get started.

We spent a bit of time reflecting about our time here and what we’ve learned but I believe it is going to take some time before we fully realize how this trip has impacted our lives and hearts.  I’ll be writing more about that after I get home.

There are lots of things I haven’t commented on but will do some of that over the next few days.  Right now, the packing is done except for what can’t be done until morning, an early start is scheduled to get to the airport, more goodbyes need to be said, and I do want to read a bit more of my Steve Berry book before lights out.  (Ha!  The lights have been going on and off all evening!)  So, Cheers for the last time from the Dominican Republic.

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Day 6 in the Dominican Republic

Today was the last and best of our days with kids because almost everyone on our tour sponsors at least one child in the Dominican and got to meet with them today, some for the second time but most of us for the very first time.

Compassion DR booked a resort villa for the day and we headed out by bus, arriving about an hour before the 3 buses with the sponsored children, most of whom arrived we their tutor from the Compassion centre where they’re registered and one or more parents.  We were introduced to our child and then went off to one of the poolside tables to get acquainted.

At first, my boy, Eduardo was quite shy but his mother said he had been awake most of the night and kept asking, “How many hours until we go?”  We talked about what life is like for him and what he wants to do when he finishes school.  Unlike most DR boys, he doesn’t want to play baseball — he wants to play basketball for the LA Lakers.

After a while, Eduardo, Ronaldo and I changed into our swim suits and went in the smaller of the two pools.  Neither of the boys knew how to swim, so first we tried floating and then when they mastered that and they felt comfortable, they were able to swim and tred water.  We had a lot of fun.  Then we headed for the basketball court where Eduardo & I taught Ronaldo to play basketball.  We did that until it was time for lunch.

Afterwards, it was time for the sponsors to give the children the bags of things we had brought from Canada for them and for their parents or siblings.  It was such a joy to see their faces light up with pleasure and gratitude.  We had a time of prayer together and then had a wonderful group picture and it was time to say goodbye.  It was very hard to leave.  I learned a lot about Eduardo and his family.  He had a sponsor before but his sponsorship ended and he had been very excited to get a new sponsor so quickly.  Even though it was only about 3 weeks ago that I took sponsorship, he has already sent me a letter so I’m looking forward to receiving it and will send him a letter tomorrow with the pictures we took attached to it.  He has a small photo album with pictures of my family he can add them to.

Here is our group picture.  Eduardo and I are in the front right; he’s wearing his new Blue Jays cap.  Cheers from the DR!


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Day 5 in the Dominican Republic

Today we visited another centre in the same area as yesterday.  It was much nearer a village with stores and gas pumps but still rural and the same situation of nice houses next to vacant properties, houses half built, and fields with cows and other farm animals.

The property for the Compassion centre itself was pretty amazing.  The church purchased an empty warehouse and the adjoining field and proceeded to put a church, a cafeteria, classrooms for tutoring, and an area for basketball all inside this warehouse.  In a shed outside, they even have two ambulances.

As part of the Compassion Intervention Program, the church submitted a proposal to build a baseball stadium in the field so that boys from 8-15 would have the opportunity to develop not only baseball skills but self-confidence and would have a safe place to do safe activities.  The proposal was approved, the ground was prepared, the dugouts built, and stands put in place.  They have a coach who played for a time in the major leagues who has trained them well.  They are awesome players.

In addition to serving the children snack, we were once again greeted with hugs and music, and a welcome from the pastors.  Three girls even sang a hymn in English for us.  Very brave of them.

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We had a tour of the complete facility including classrooms decorated with artwork just as we would see back home.  Then we had an information time about the programme followed by another scrumptious buffet lunch.  Then it was time for baseball.  Not all of us Canadians played but those who did played well.  Sometimes, though, it seemed as though the Dominican team was letting us score runs.  Nonetheless, they came out on top.

Then it was time to go home so we presented our gifts to the staff and prayed for the centre and the children it serves and took a picture.  I think the kids look great in their uniforms.

Cheers for now from the sunny DR!

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Day 4 in the Dominican Republic

After another scrumptious breakfast buffet, our Compassion group had morning devotions, some information about the day ahead and we climbed on our bus, ably driven by Pablo.

It was about a 3/4 hour drive to today’s Compassion centre, a church and centre literally in the middle of nowhere.  But what a church and what a welcome.  This was a lovely church along the lines of most that I’ve seen in this area of the world but with a lovely tile floor and platform with beautiful curtains hanging behind.  Once again, we were welcomed by smiling children, music, and this time a brief play about King David.  We served the children snack and then brought some games, bubbles, colouring pages, skipping ropes and soccer balls from the bus and everyone had a great time!

The pastors at this church had a vision for the community and with the help of Compassion have implemented many programmes beyond the survival programme, child sponsorship programme and the youth programme.  Besides the school which is next door to the church, the church also owns the next building which is a vocation training centre, a bakery/pastry kitchen and store and a water bottling plant.  They gave us a tour.

They train people in skills such as baking, hire them to work in the kitchen or store, and sell the bread and water for less than they would have to pay for water alone in other places.  They provide work for some of the moms in the kitchen of the school preparing lunches/snacks and provide bread on contract to the government to schools in the area.  Some of the locals buy the bread and go out into surrounding communities and sell it, so it provides income for them, too.  The money the church makes from the bread and water goes back into their programmes and makes a better life for  more and more members of the community.  This should be a model for other churches around the country.

After a lovely lunch, we split up into small groups again to visit homes and take a box of non-perishables to families who have a child in the Compassion sponsorship programme.  We were lucky because it was a short walk to the family we were visiting and it started to rain.  We received a very warm welcome from a mother who works at the school and centre making lunches.  She has two boys, one 5 and one 13 months.  She said she was very lucky to work there because she can take the children with her.  The rain was very loud on the corrugated metal roof but it was solid and non of the rain came in.  Her older boy told us he wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up and that he’s a good hitter.

Maria is one of the lucky ones.  Her sister owns her house and lets her live there so she doesn’t have to worry about rent.  Also, she has a good stone floor.  It is her prayer that he boys will be healthy and will stay on the right path, loving Jesus, and that she will be able to be strong enough to keep providing for them and also stay on that path.  We’re shared pictures on our phones of our family members and she asked us each what we did back home in Canada.  We also showed her pictures of snow and my beautiful balcony view of sunsets.

After our visit with Maria and Matteo, we returned to the centre where we prayed with the Compassion team there and presented them with bags of toys, clothing, and toiletries.  They were so happy with our gifts but also so grateful to us when he realized we were all sponsors of Compassion children.

We had some extra time before our daily debriefing so were able to get some rest after our series of long days.  One of our team was ill today and others are finally over jet lag but everyone is full of amazement at the joy we see in the faces of these loving people who live in extreme circumstances and the hope they have in their own futures thanks to the help they get from the church and Compassion, DR.  They are grateful for so much even though they have so little.

Our dinner tonight was at a waterfront restaurant in Santo Domingo, about an hour’s drive from our hotel.  We got back late and headed straight to our rooms as we have another full day tomorrow.  Here, finally, are some pictures of the sorting of the gifts we’ve been taking to different centres we’ve visiting.  These were taken by another team member and show the huge amount of necessities, toys, and sporting goods that 31 team members brought with them from Canada.

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Cheers from the Dominican!

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Day 3 in the Dominican Republic

Today was the first day that we went out into the communities to visit Compassion centres.  The one we went to was about 45 minutes from the Hampton Hotel where we are staying.  We took 5 large suitcases & bags with us to I’ve to the centre at the end of our visit.  These are the bags we filled last night after sorting all of things we brought from home for this purpose.  Here is a photo of the Compassion centre staff with the suitcases of items:

When we first arrived at in the village, we were welcomed in the church where once again young children were the musicians and singers.  They gave us a great welcome and we all introduced ourselves and they tried to say each of our names.  Some of them were really hard for them.  It was a lovely church with a tile floor.

When we were finished with the singing and introductions, we went to the Compassion centre 3 doors down the street and helped distribute the snacks to the young children and then sat and talked with some of the moms who have infants in the Child Survival Programme.  Most of us got a chance to hold these precious little ones and learn more about the moms and how the Compassion programme has helped them.  We learned about the play room, how often the mothers come from the time they know they are expecting until the baby is 1 year old, and programmes available to help the moms to learn more about hygiene and about how to have their own home business.  It was really interesting and the moms were really sweet about sharing their stories with us and letting us ooh and ahh over their babies.  This is one of the implementers and the baby toys for child development.

Then we had lunch in a kind of community centre across the street and returned to go to visit some of the moms in their homes.  The family my team of 4 visited with a translator and one of the implementers from the centre.  We had a lovely visit with a lady from Haiti who lives in 2 rooms with her husband, an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 1-week-old.  She was very welcoming and open about her situation.  She paid $20 US monthly for these two rooms and her husband usually made about $40 US/month.  They were delighted with the box of food we took them and the mom allowed us to take a picture before we left.

Then we returned to the centre and gathered what we needed from the bus to play baseball (some of us just cheered).  We played two innings against kids who clearly love baseball, work on their skills, and played extremely well.  They did a bit of an exhibition game after they played us and they were awesome.

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Back at the hotel, we had some time to decompress and some of us made it to the pool for a bit of a swim before we met to debrief about our first day of visits.  Dinner and a chance to socialize before heading to our rooms to relax and get ready for bed.  My relaxation is writing my blog to keep you folks at home informed.  Tomorrow will be another full day of activities, so Cheers! for now.

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Day 2 in the Dominican Republic

Day 2 was an extremely full day.  It started off leisurely enough with a buffet breakfast in the dining area downstairs.  Delicious food, cold juices, and sitting with new people and getting to know them.  Lots of time to pack for the day as we had many diverse activities planned.

It started with church.  We arrived during Sunday School and we treated with the group of about 40 children singing.  One of the little boys (about age 9 or 10) played the drums for the singing.  He was absolutely amazing — natural talent.

The church service was wonderful— lots of singing and enthusiasm, our translator was excellent, and the pastor and the congregation made us feel really welcome.  Three girls danced to a hymn and did a beautiful job.  Even though we couldn’t understand all the words, you really caught the feeling of praise and love.

After church, we drove to the beach and changed into our suits and tested the water while our meal was being prepared.  It was a fairly long wait as we’re a large group — about 35 counting the translators.  We didn’t have a lot of time to swim but it was so nice and cool at the Caribbean coast and it was a great break in what turned out to be a very long day. Here are some photos of the beach:

From the beach, we headed to Three Eyes National Park.  The 3 eyes are underground lakes.  We had to go down 95 stairs to get to the first level where we could see the first lake.  Then down more stairs to get to it.  It was very beautiful and I’m really glad we went there.  We saw all three underground lakes; I took lots of pictures and hope you will enjoy them.

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From the park, we went to the colonial city of Santo Domingo where Christopher Columbus first landed and where his son built a fort and a home to live in.  There are some really interesting buildings in the area and it is a great place for shopping and restaurants.  We had pizza on the rooftop of a restaurant there before returning to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, we all gathered in the meeting room with the suitcases full of things we brought for the Compassion centres we’ll be visiting and sorted them and repackaged them.  I hope to share a picture of that with you tomorrow.  Cheers until then.


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