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Team One and Two June 14, 2012

Posted by Chris Thompson in Travel Log.

       The whirlwind started! Two weeks ago we had our first team arrive. They were from Edmund Burke Academy, the school Mady went to when she lived in the states. There were five adults and five high school kids on the team, so it was relatively small. The first day we worked on making and pouring the concrete floor for Mitchell’s house. We were able to finish in a half day, but at a pretty steep cost. A majority of the team ended up getting sick from (I’m guessing) a combination of the heat, food, and hard work. We ended up making a “sick ward” in one of the dorms so we could take care of them… Everyone ended up getting better in a couple of days, but that was only after we put IVs in a couple of them.

        Aaaaaanywho, after they got better we worked on priming the inside and outside of the house and painting a couple of rooms at the camp. On our free day we traveled to Batey Seven. The Bateys are extremely impoverished communities near the Haitian-Dominican border. Years and years ago companies pulled in Haitian immigrants (often illegal immigrants) to work the sugarcane fields that are on the Dominican side of the border. The workers lived in little “villages” that are now the Bateys. The companies have been replacing the workers with new machines though, so the poverty level has gotten even worse. Batey translated means “Place of Suffering.” They literally live in “Place of Suffering number Seven” or eight or twenty. When the Beardens started coming to the DR around 13 years ago they worked in Batey Seven. When they first got there the health of the community was so bad that when kids threw up you could see parasites crawling in it. Now they have a health clinic (that gives free medicine), access to clean water, a school, and so forth.

       Even on this trip, though, the obvious need of the community is… well… obvious. I visited last year, so I knew what to expect. The kids mob up when we get there. They don’t ask for food, for money, for clothes, for anything. They just want to be held. They come up to you and grab onto whatever they can reach. We just walked around for about an hour when we visited, and I never had a leg, hand, or patch of arm that wasn’t covered with a child. I will never do the description of the Batey justice. They have nothing (literally), but still laugh and love and enjoy life more than almost everyone I know in the states. We have a lot to learn.

       We took EBA back after a week and picked up team number two the next day. This group was an adult group from Grace Fellowship, a church in Greensboro. I was amazed at the experience that was represented in the group. Most of them have been on trips here at least a couple of times, about half of them have come on around five trips here. Almost all of the guys work or have worked in construction. And every single one of them was incredibly open and loving from day one.

       This group was scheduled to work in Batey Seven. A man named Alberto is the pastor of the church in the Batey. I’ve never met a harder worker than Alberto. He is considered a “master” (an actual title here) stone mason, and when he starts a job he works till dark. His house is open to his kids (ten kids) and their kids, so it is always chop-full of people. Two bedrooms (two beds), a kitchen, and a “living room” of sorts houses the entire family.

       Our group split into two. The other group worked at the church and medical clinic on various tasks. They painted the clinic, cleaned and sealed the roofs, laid forms for new beams to go across the roof, and built trusses. We worked on extending one side of Alberto’s house so that his family would actually fit (or come close to it). We laid block and built the walls of the new side, tore down the old roof, lifted and scabbed the crossbeams, and then re-tinned the house.

       The best part of working in the Batey is, hands down, the children. I didn’t think that I would be able to work at all. How do you separate yourself from a small, hungry, half-naked child to go work? How do you put a kid down to go eat in a building with bars on the windows while kids hang from the bars and shout out “Americano!!”, how do you ask them to let go of your hand or hop down off your back?

       Lucky for us, the kids love to help. I think the eight to ten year old boys that followed us around made more concrete and moved more blocks than the rest of us. The worksite was constantly bordering chaos because the kids were proud to work beside us. They were proud to work, proud to extend a helping hand to one of their own. They loved showing us the tricks of the trade.

        More than anything, they loved being recognized. I tried to learn as many names as possible. After the second day they started quizzing me on their names. A swarm of twenty little boys would run up and start pulling on me and they would all be shouting out “como me llamo????” I would try my best to go through and say “hey _____” with their names. The joy that leapt across their face when they realized that they were known was priceless.

       We think they need our help. We think they need our medicine, our water, our structures, our clothes, our standards. No. False. Wrong. Compare their lives to ours. We think their river of blessings is running dry and ours overflows, but that’s only by our standards. Compare their joy, their love, their faith that life will work out, and their contentment with ours. We lose. They don’t need our help, and they don’t even really want it. It’s not what they want most at least. The most important thing to them is the look in the eyes, the smile, the pat on the back, the hug, the acknowledgement that they are human too. We have a lot to learn from them.




1. gtpspdirector - June 14, 2012

So good to see you are making an impact there, and that you too are being impacted! Study Abroad is about more than academics, and the service you are providing is tangible. Keep it up!

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