Friday, November 2, 2007

Day Two in the Field - Santiago, Dominican Republic

Today was pretty much what you would expect in the wake of a tropical storm. Dayanara (communications coordinator) and Rosa (field officer) took me to a community known as La Otra Banda -- "The Other Band". Our driver took us as far up the muddy hill as he could, but then we had to get out and walk. We found out a few minutes later that his efforts at gaining traction had really done nothing but gain him a flat tire.

We had two families to visit in this community, so we slogged up a hillside so steep we had to form a human chain to keep from succumbing to the call of gravity. And the mud -- gooey, stickey mud, the kind that will suck your shoes right off your feet. Good thing my wife let me know right before I left that my favorite pair of boat shoes really wasn't her favorite anymore!

I'll tell you the rest of the story in pictures.

Photo 1 (above):

The two families we visited were oddly similar -- and the similarities ran beyond just the fact that they only lived a few hundred yards apart. Both are desperately poor. Both have large has four children and the other six children. Both moms are named Dilcia. And both of their oldest sons, though not out of grade school yet, have to work in the mornings selling shelled peas or fruit salad (one even works taking out the neighbors' trash) to help their families stay afloat.

Then they go to school. If they don't find a ride with someone, they have to walk. The walk is two hours each way.

One of the children has epilepsy, and the doctor won't let him start school yet even though he's six. That means mom can't work. And with the rain, the boys wouldn't be selling fruit salad today, maybe tomorrow, maybe even for several days, so things aren't looking good in the pantry.

Sponsorship can't fix all their problems, but it has given them the gift of hope. Both moms have big plans for their kids. Through the educational help they receive from Children International, they're going to break out of poverty and make better lives for themselves. One of the boys even dreams of being a college professor.

At the end of our visit, we send someone to the corner store and make sure both families have enough food to last for several days, and then we slide back down the hill to our waiting van.

Photo 2 (above):

Concerned about the welfare of our sponsored families, we set out for the river to view the flooding from the storm. On our way, we met this sponsored youth crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a flood-swollen canal. I, too, got the privilege of making the crossing several times in search of the right picture...

Photo 3 (above):

I didn't even TRY to cross this one...especially since Rosa reflected ruefully that she had already put her leg through this crosswalk some time back.

Photo 4 (above):

These houses are in the danger zone since the Yaque del Norte river is on the rise. Some residents of this area have already been evacuated by the government.

Photo 5 (above):

I took this shot from a catwalk running alongside a huge red span bridge, hanging over the Yaque del Norte. We had to weave our way on foot across four lanes of crazy traffic that didn't seem to care whether we made it or not. Notice the flooded-out house in the river in the lower right hand part of the photo. The placid city scene with the famed Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution rising behind the river seems strangely incongruous with the chaos below.

My Internet connection here is sketchy at best, but I hope to upload more photos by Friday morning. Check back!

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