I will start this by saying that there are really no words I can come up with to effectively describe our “mission” experience here in the Dominican Republic with Dove Missions (www.dovemissions.org). That said, I have to give it a shot and perhaps my words plus your imagination will get you there.
Since I am all about executive summaries, here is my summary of our day in a couple sentences:
Our family tried our best to make a difference in the lives of Dominican children by donating our time and resources for a day. We gave them some English immersion, some fun and genuine interaction, and I would like to believe that we furthered the mission of providing them a glimmer of hope that there is a positive way out of their challenging circumstances.
Now the details…
What Did We Do?
Basically, we had fun with the kids for a day and learned a ton about their environment. We taught them some English, did some crafts, taught guitar, and participated in some outdoor activities (water balloons, basketball, catch, etc). We also served them their daily snack, which included a multivitamin.
That all seems super simple, but they were clearly craving that interaction. ALL of us were approached repeatedly and almost dragged out to play, interact, or have fun in some fashion. It was really touching to watch the girls come up to Anna to drag her out to play or just kick the ball around. Evan, of course, was pulled into a fun basketball game. Trisha taught a few of the kids how to play guitar and I had fun with some of the boys doing some crafts. It was father’s day coming up so they kept using my hand as the template to outline and then cut out for their father’s day gift.
We worked with both the morning group of kids as well as the afternoon group. For the two hour lunch in between we went into town with the founder of Dove Missions (Liz), Martina (her operations person there), and Jairo (driver and general helper). Great local food and really interesting discussion.
Note: Do not EVER, EVER, EVER rent a car in the Dominican Republic. Whatever crazy driving you have seen in your life, I promise you this was worse. They mostly follow the drive on the right side (mostly) – usually follow the handful of stoplights that I saw (usually) – beyond that it is pretty much a free-for-all with various types of motorbikes and scooters buzzing around like endless mosquitos. No joke. Wow.
What Did We See?
I am not even sure what to say here it was so overwhelming. We spent a few short hours with the kids in the environment of the Dove Missions building (very small and simple). During lunch, however, Liz took us by the neighborhood where many of the kids live. This includes AnaMilka, who is just about to graduate from a private school, which is super rare there. This was funded by a family in Michigan, God bless them.
What we saw in their neighborhood was heart-breaking and brought my daughter to tears. It causes tears to well up in my eyes as I write this.
Here is my best shot at how to recreate that environment where you live: go to your favorite junk yard, where everything is stored outside and unprotected, grab a couch, maybe some sort of shelving, some large buckets, maybe a pillow or two, some artwork, and possibly some carpet remnants and maybe a bonus small chair or two. Oh yeah, you’ll need some metal roofing components for the walls and roof you will craft. Now take all of that to the landfill. You don’t have to climb in the middle of that, but you’ll need to be within 20 feet of the border of it with direct exposure – nothing in between. Now go make a “house” in your 6 foot by 15 foot (being generous) property line. You’ll need a small entry-way (no door) and exit (also no door). Don’t forget your water collection bucket, and then, of course, your waste bucket. And for the full environmental experience, make sure the temperature is at least 85F and the humidity 90% with bright sun much of the time. Throw a few wild chickens and dogs in just for good measure. And no, there is no electricity or running water. Oh, I forgot, now replicate that hundreds of times all around you. Now live there for as long as you can take it.
I know that doesn’t do it justice and that you can’t possibly fathom that. But that is exactly what we saw and walked through. We were literally tripping on garbage of all sorts to get to the house where AnaMilka (above-mentioned student) lives. When the tears started, we turned around.
One of the many things that struck me was the makeshift “living room” one family had made up. In front of the couch was some sort of shelving and on it was a very small computer monitor (flat-screen) setup like a TV. Above that was a boom box. Of course, there is no electricity to be found anywhere – it was a “pretend” living room environment. It gives me pause just to think about that.
I am smart enough to understand that Liz took us there intentionally. Not to torture us, but to give us some perspective on what exactly the kids she is trying to help have to contend with on a daily basis and just how great an experience her mission really is for them. And no, there was no hard sell for money or sponsorship at the end. They were truly grateful for what we did already.
How Did We Help?
This is something that I spoke to both Martina and Liz about – trying to help us understand how our being there for a day made any sort of difference. They both assured me, separately, that the kids LOVE that and it really gives them the English immersion that they cannot get in any other way. Learning English is the key to them getting a job in the DR, since tourism is by far their #1 industry. So if we can help them learn some English and have some positive interaction, then that is a good thing.
Also, having seen the environment around there, and not just the “neighborhood” we visited, I know that just a few hours of fun, in a safe and non-threatening environment, has a ton of value as well. That was clear to see. The kids got to learn and then just be “kids” for a few hours. That was great to see and experience.
Yes, we did make a financial donation as part of the day mission and we also donated a suitcase full of “stuff” that was on their request list. Everything from yoga mats to feminine products – as much as we could stuff in the extra suitcase. So yes, we helped in that regard as well – we didn’t just show up and hang out for a day.
What Is Their Mission?
So what do these Dove Mission folks do? Yes, they provide a “school” of sorts for the kids, and an amazing positive experience for them on a daily basis. But their goal is much more than that. If I can be so bold, I will say that their goal is to “save” as many kids as possible from the brutal reality of their world, which more often than not, leads the kids to a life of hustling for money (in all sorts of way, some less pleasant than others). They are “saved” by getting jobs and/or graduating and going that path. Liz introduced me to a few of the boys that were working at Lifestyle Holidays (the massive resort where we are staying and employs around 3,000 people I am told). And then there is AnaMilka, whose education was sponsored and I am told wants to become a pediatric doctor to help the kids in here area. Both of those paths, I believe, would be considered “success” by Dove Missions (my words, not theirs). I am not a paid spokesperson, just a volunteer that was touched by the experience.
So Now What?
The question that jumps to my mind now, and has repeatedly since we left there, is “now what?” Was that a “one and done” – thanks for the experience and now I’m going to do what I can to block that out of my memory? Do I sell all my possessions and move to DR and join the mission? I’m guessing reality is somewhere in between, but there are almost endless options to consider.
SIDE NOTE: This brings to mine a Dad memory, beleive it or not. My Dad was sponsoring a child I think in Guatemala for like $20/month. He really enjoyed that, and I have to admit that I was fairly skeptical. It all felt fairly scripted to me, but because of the Medicaid process we had to stop all donations and I know that bothered my Dad. Sorry Dad – I know you probably didn’t entirely understand that one. But I can say that after this experience, I do have a much greater perspective on the whole thing. I promise to sponsor one for you now. 🙂
Back to the “what now” discussion…
Liz mentioned that if the Dominican kids ever travel outside of their conditions, they often come back angry for the inequality. She said that AnaMilka was blown away by the abundance when she traveled to Canada (thanks to a generous family there), but when she came back the reality of the inequality hit her and made her angry. She has chosen a positive path to become a pediatric doctor and help make a difference, so that’s good. But that has to be tough for her to wrap her head around.
To be honest, it’s pretty hard for me to understand as well. How do we live in a world where a LOT (not just the super crazy wealthy) live in almost endless abundance and there are still a significant amount of people that live in a setting similar to what we experienced?
Guilty, party of at least 1, your table is ready.
Liz also mentioned that there may be a delayed reaction from our kids about inequality. We should keep an eye on how they discuss it with their friends and how/if it comes up in discussion at any point at home. That should prove fairly interesting.
For those of you that know me, I think you can rest assured that I will do something here, I’m just undecided on what exactly. Evan made the comment that this charity seems “real” and honest. I think their size and the fact that he could see his direct impact was the reason for that. He has volunteered at many different charitable organizations, but most fairly large and I think his real impact on those is hard to perceive. This group is a handful of volunteers and a building in DR trying to save some kids – pretty easy to make a difference in that equation.
Yeah, I know this was a long blog, but there is so much to say here that I had a really hard time keeping it this short.
As far as what to do about all of this, that I am uncertain of. It will be something, just don’t know what yet.
One thing I am 100% certain of, however, is that these folks at Dove Missions are truly amazing people. The work that they do, every day, is truly God’s work and I witnessed, first hand, the difference that they are making in the lives of many, many children.
If you do vacation in the Dominican Republic, I would very seriously consider doing at least a ½ day “mission” with Dove Missions. I can assure you that you will not regret a second of it.
Thank you for sticking with me and reading this whole thing…