Thursday, June 23, 2011

We've moved.....

Please visit our new home at

  Bookmark it, update your feed, and check it often.  

Hurry up, we're waiting for you.

Team Caminante.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

bats and balls for the street boys

Here is an email I sent back to Laura Gorretta, development officer at Hiram. It is an appeal for baseball equipment that shares some stories of our times here along the way.

Hi Laura,

Things are going so well down here in the DR. With both our science education and Nursing projects, the number of children showing up to see us is swelling daily. We now are seeing nearly double the number we expected for each day (for example, yesterday, both groups served over 100 children each). And the room was packed yesterday too for the microfinance group's presentation to local working adults.

One of the groups in greatest need down here are the "street boys," with whom we have developed a direct and close relationship through their guardian from Caminante, Julito. These kids are mostly Haitian (ages running from 5 to 15 or so) and the number of them Caminante is serving has swelled since the earthquake in Haiti. Some work the streets all day (mostly shining shoes) at the behest of their parents and some quite literally live on the streets. Let me tell you a couple stories about them, because I think they capture what we are seeing here:

A couple days ago, a little boy named Victor (9 years old, maybe) showed up early in the morning at our hotel because he heard "Julito is going to give me vaccines and clean my teeth." He was so excited. Of course, the reality was he was going to be seeing our Nursing students later in the day (and they did see him).

Last night we heard that the police had rounded up many of the street boys. Why? Because the police found them carrying coloring books and they assumed they must have stolen them. The police weren't buying that some "Americanos had given them to them." Of course, they were in fact gifts from us. Our Nursing students give out a small medical kit and a coloring book to each patient they see. Luckily, Caminante has a relationship with the local police and they called Julito. He had to come in and verify the story and gain their release. It's heart-breaking to think that a simple coloring book is grounds for suspicion for these children.

So, this is all a very long-winded (but I think necessary) prequel to my request. I know we have at least a couple direct contacts with the Cleveland Indians organization. Might we convince them to get the team to donate baseball equipment (whether used or new) to Caminante? Julito works hard to occupy the street boys every day, providing both education and recreation. Without official paperwork, the boys often can not get into school (part of what Caminante does is to get this paperwork created and processed for the children, but this takes time). Of course, even once in school, most kids are still only getting about three hours of schooling a day.

Last Saturday, our group from Hiram got to play a baseball game with the street boys and everyone had a great time. Cristina Marques took a portrait photo of every boy in a swinging stance. We could send along copies of these photos as a way to sell this idea and also to give the Indians a very tangible sense of who they would be helping (I could imagine a before and after photo; maybe they could be wearing an Indians jersey in the after photo). The recent investment of other major league teams in the Dominican Republic might be another hook.

Really, we're just talking about 10-20 gloves and a few bats (of course, cleats and uniforms would be a real bonus!). We're only here 8 more days, but if it were somehow possible to announce such a gift while we were still here, I think it would be a real gift to our students to see the reaction of the boys to the news.

I could see this as a real PR boon for the college, the Indians, and Caminante.

Thanks for listening,

p.s. I just discovered this: just about 10 days ago the Indians opened a major training camp about 10 miles away from where we are located (Boca Chica)! The camp is aimed at serious major league prospects, so this opportunity would be something rather different (showing a commitment to the local community, as opposed to scouting for talent). I had seen the camps for the Marlins and Mets, but didn't know the Indians were here too (these camps are located in the Batey, that is, the slums in the old sugar fields; the contrast between the facilities and the neighborhoods nearby is incredibly striking). Plus, another hook is that several Indian players are from the DR.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 4: Amelia's Perspective

Today was filled with new things I have never seen before. We traveled to the Batey as well as saw a Homework Room. We also went to visit a community center that was not far from the homework room where Natalie, the Peace Core Worker at Caminante, teaches a group of girls once a week. While we were there, a little girl came in selling bananas. At first I didn’t think much of it because this entire trip we have been bombarded by venders selling us things. However, Julito (one of the Caminante Educators) was very adamant that everyone buy a banana. When we met with Erin and Alex (who had both worked at Caminante) at Hiram before the trip I remembered they said “do whatever someone from Caminante says", and so I bought 2 bananas. Our group ended up buying all of the little girl’s bananas. Julito brought her into us so that she could thank us. I never saw her face from where I was sitting but I saw her back. She was wearing a sundress that was tattered and torn, and it could not hide what I saw on the back of her right shoulder. Before coming on this trip, us nursing students studied a number of images of different types of physical abuse. The little girl had about a 2 inch circle of numerous cigarette burns. She would be beaten if she did not sell all her bananas. She was safe for tonight but not forever.
            I do not know her name, but I know that she just like many other children in Boca Chica and in the Dominican Republic share this burden. As a child my parents believed in “spankings” for punishment. My parents never left a mark on me and this was an acceptable punishment at that time. I know growing up however that just 1 spanking hurt. I have never been beaten and it is hard for me to even imagine what kind of quality of life these children have after they work long hours and then come home tired and hungry and are beaten.
            As a nursing student we will identify the children we see that have been abused. We will pass the information on to Caminante and they will be responsible for taking further action. We will be looking for any signs of physical or sexual abuse. Next week, will be difficult, especially when dealing with this issue. But, if I can save just one child from one beating, I have made a difference.

Lacey's Day 4 reflections: e-mails to my mother about our mission

Every morning since I have been here, I have been updating and e-mailing my mother about what the group has been doing, what I have experienced, as well as my reaction to it. This is one of the more in depth messages I have sent, but it explains our daily routines, which had changed drastically since I had first told her about them. I believe this message also embodies the feeling all of us are experiencing when it comes to helping the children down here. We are all so ready to get started, help out wherever we can, and also gain memories that will last forever.

Today, we are going to what is called a batey. It is a living community for Haitians that come to live and work in the Dominican. The living conditions are very poor and I know it is going to be an emotional experience. It will be hard to see the little kids who have nothing, and are denied basic rights, because they do not have the proper paperwork. Since they don't have this Dominican paperwork, and sometimes don't even have Haitian paperwork, they are not able to attend school and in many cases, they can't receive medical treatment. It will be hard, but will also be a learning experience. We will also be going to our first homework room today. These are the places in which my group will be teaching the lessons. We found out the logistics of everything yesterday, and I'm so excited to get started on Monday. We will be teaching for 6 days while we are here, next Monday through Saturday. There are two, three hour sessions per day, one in the morning, from 9-12, and one in the afternoon, from 2-5. We will be spending two days at each homework room and will be completing about 6-8 lessons in that time. We had to simplify some of the lessons even more, because we were informed that the kids range from ages 6-12, and the majority cannot read or write, and there may be cases in which the children have trouble focusing. It is going to be a challenge to keep these kids on task, but we have shorter lessons and have a lot of activities to keep them interacting with the material. I think it is going to work out just fine! Caminante was very impressed with our lesson plans and all of the work we put into them. They have decided that they even want to use them to teach adults the basics of science, because they don't have an understanding either. They are going to do workshops for the parents of the children in the homework rooms, so they can learn the material themselves, but also help to reinforce the information to better their childs learning. They also told us that they plan to use the lessons during the summer, when they have camps of about 1000 students or more! I didn't think we would have this much outreach, but I am very excited that we can impact as many people as possible! That is what I am most excited about. If I can impact at least one persons' life, I am more than happy, but the fact that we will be able to convey this to many people is beyond anything I could imagine. I have also had the chance to work on my Spanish. My professors are very impressed with my ability to read and understand the language when others are speaking. I am working on my talking skills, but I am still a little rusty. I was able to present my overall lesson plan and goals to the Caminante staff, with only a little bit of help though! The four years that I took in high school is coming back to me pretty quickly and by hearing the language all around me helps as well. I will keep you updated!
I love you so much!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Amelia M.'s Day 3 Reflections

Today I had the opportunity to learn how to make a coconut necklace which is sold for profit by a few of the “street boys” which Caminante works with. This was an opportunity for me to get a glimpse of part of their daily routine. Victor Manuel walked me through every step of the process and held my hands in order to show me what needed to be done since he does not speak English. I enjoyed having the opportunity to do this with him. All of the boys seemed to be perfectionists when it came to making this jewelry. They wanted it done just right. After the pendant for the necklace was complete the boys surprised us by telling us it was ours to keep. We will finish making our necklaces later.
            Although some may see this as child labor, I did not. It seems as if Victor had the opportunity to choose he wouldn’t mind continuing doing what he does- making coconut jewelry. The shelter in which they use to make this jewelry serves as not only a place to work, but also as a safe haven for these boys. This small place is keeping these boys safe from the dangers which exist on the streets. It is allowing them to feel pride for their work. No one is forcing the boys to do this. Although it is not the greatest of all possible situations and opportunities for these boys it is better than shining shoes on the street. The relationship these boys have with Caminante has dramatically changed their lives. They may still be doing work, but it is done through a very committed organization. Julito, is not only an educator for these boys, but he is also a mentor and friend. He shows them respect and in return the boys show him respect. The boys were very excited to be able to make their jewelry with us.
            Throughout my stay here I have noticed that not only are these boys hard workers, but the staff at our hotel seem to be working 24/7. I don’t think I have ever witnessed them not doing any work. It would make more sense that such a hard working group of society would be more economically stable. I will continue to learn about disparities while trying to understand why these problems exist.

Reaction to child labor

In the United States, child labor is not something that is often confronted. There, children are devoted to their schoolwork and having fun. Most people from the US would probably think of putting your child to work as a form of abuse. Here in the Dominican Republic, however, we have encountered quite of bit of child labor. We have learned that sometimes parents will even send their children off on the streets while they stay at home and do nothing. Of course my reaction to this is, "what kind of person would do that?" If I had kids I would want them to be educated, and I definitely would not put them to work, where they could get hurt. But, at the same time, I can somewhat understand if the child's family cannot otherwise get by without the extra money; they could possibly need it to eat. The boys who make coconut jewelry at Caminante also work, but this seems different as well because they would otherwise be on the street, which is more dangerous. They even get a sense of accomplishment by making the jewelry, which we saw. The work with the machines (to polish the coconuts) did seem like a lot for such young kids, but at the same time they seemed to know what they were doing, and were very careful about where they placed their hands. In this kind of situation, the children working seems okay- but I have to say that in most cases child labor is unnecessary and wrong.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 1: Hello Santo Domingo!

We just landed. It's beautiful, sunny, and hot! This is quite the contrast to the rainy 45 degree weather we left behind in CLE. As we arrived at the baggage claim, we were warmly greeted by Marta, a Caminante employee, who guided us through customs. Even though we are a large group, maneuvering through the airport was a breeze. As we left customs and exited the secure area in the airport, we were surrounded by a large crowd of people waiting for family and friends.  Sr. Denise quickly emerged through the crowd and welcomed us all with warm hugs.  Our hotel in Boca Chica, "Hostal Zapata", was just a 20 minute ride from the airport and it brought us directly to the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Within 15 minutes of settling in our rooms, we all took our first dip into the hotel "pool".  The first 2 hours in the DR have already surpassed my expectations. We are having dinner with Caminante at Sonny's restaurant tonight (a former graduate from the Caminante program). We are excited to meet the rest of the staff and get to know our new Dominican friends. If our first day is any indication of what's to come, then this journey is going to be even more amazing than we anticipated.  I can't wait for tomorrow...