Saturday, 1 February 2014

Giving the Family Their Home

The last day and we finally get to sleep in until 7:30am. Which is a good thing because last night after I finished my blog, I was headed back to my room when a sudden down pour caught me in the main building unable to get to my area. Luckily, there at the bar, was the gang from London that had gotten their glasses at Lenscrafters, Steve, Karrie, Tracy and Nick so I hung out with them until the wee hours of the morning when the monsoon finally cleared.
This morning we woke to rolling clouds with gentle rain and breaks of sun but were looking forward to one of the best parts of this whole journey. We headed back to the work site in Villa Samaritano where the family that was going to be moving into the house was waiting to meet us.

We had also brought them gifts of sheets and household items for their new home

The house isn't quiet finished but we have everything paid for so there is a team coming next week to finish and the family will move in by the end of the month. The father works hard in construction and the mother has been very sick. With keeping the 3 kids in school and paying rent on a horrible little shack, money has been very tight. This home will provide the security so that they don't have to worry about have a safe warm place to live. It was a pleasure to bless them and their new home and they were so grateful and excited. After we went to their current rental home in Monte Yylano.
This is what you get for 1000 peso a month,
Mud yard that floods when the river, just a few feet behind, over flows with just the slightest rain
Scrap metal strapped together with fabric used to divide the rooms.
dirt floor, no power or plumbing and worse, the landlord is trying to get them to move out so keeps dumping garbage in their place to chase them out. We were glad to give them a place to go and I'm sure the next month can't pass by quick enough for them. As we were touring this home and blessing the new one, I couldn't help but give thanks for all the generous donations from everyone back home. We may have come and poured the cement and hammered the nails but everyone who generously donated the money gave this family this home. THANK YOU ALL! THIS IS GOOD! We drove back to the hotel and gathered for our last hours before flying home.
I'm finally getting a 5 hour vacation of sun and pool and beach! Well, between the sudden down pours of torrential rain that chase us under cover until the sun warms us again.
Does it seem silly to head under cover if you are standing in the pool? Aren't you wet anyway?
I'm not complaining. It's good to have a few hours together just to be friends and not a work crew, to relax and enjoy each other.
It was still pouring rain when we loaded up for the shuttle to the airport. We were leaving behind Pat, Arnie and Betty as there was another team of their family arriving to continue the building in the village. Our first shuttle had been a regular coach bus but this time we were put on to a small bus with a donkey cart pulling behind for the luggage. Fantastic in the pouring rain! Not only that, there was an accident on the highway that backed up traffic for about an additional 30mins. It was terrible but not uncommon to see a motorcycle implanted into the front grill of an SUV.
We arrived with lots of time as our flight had been delayed 1hr. Shopping at the duty free was an education as we had done some shopping for local coffee and vanilla at a local supermarket. We had paid 27peso for 500ml= $1 of vanilla that was $12 at the duty free, coffee, we paid 175 peso=$4.5 which was now $10. I'm glad we shopped local.
Also, Karen and Brandy got randomly selected for a luggage search so had to go down to security for questioning. I turned to Richard and asked if it was wrong to bride the guards with $20 to do a strip search? They were fine but Karen did tried to pull one on us coming back first and alone to say that Brandy was getting stripped. Richard turned back to me and said " I guess the $20 worked!" They were just kidding everything was fine....we were packing a lot of vanilla! :)
As we waited, we got bored so we decided to have some fun and make signs to greet the incoming team who would pass us on their arrival.
_ It's still snowing   _ Calling for rain all week _ Dominican bucket Brigade_ Be nicer to Arnie and Betty than we were.
It was fun to have them laughing as they arrived tired from their late flight.
On the flight, I was seated across the aisle from a young family with 2 children. The attendant came with a seat belt harness for the child that was in the father's lap and asked "You know how to to use?" To which the father replied " I tighten it around his neck until he falls asleep?" I chuckled but the attendant didn't find it as funny. When she left, I leaned over and said, Nice one! The father smiled back "Notice that she handed it to my wife!" I guess you need to have a sense of humour flying with children at that time of night.
Arriving into Toronto at 2am, by the time we got our luggage and through customs it was 5am before we crawled into bed at Geoff and Karen's home in Waterloo.
I was sleeping close to the ferrets so decided to open the cage. Seamus heard me immediately and came to investigate. I thought he would just want to have a run but instead he scampered over to me for a cuddle then curled up beside me to sleep. He doesn't do that at home. It was nice to know I was missed and still dearly loved.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Ashford School Eye Clinic

On schedule today was the second eye clinic. It was located at the same batay where we distributed food yesterday, Los Union and was to focus on the children at the Ashford school there-kindergarden to grade 8. Arnie and Betty our loving and faithful team leaders were a little concerned about our safety after yesterday incidents with the food but I was assured that things would be OK. People are different with medical teams and that is how they would see us. Also, we had decided not to wear our team shirts so that they didn't associate us with the food that had come the day before. Today my teammates Clarence and Karen(also my dear friend who is on this trip due to my insisting that she join me)
would be helping with the running of the clinic along with Carol who does the local DR work regularly. Since the rest of our team was headed to Puerto Plata to the hospital that was in the opposite direction, we were on our own to navigate public transportation to the school. I had carefully practiced with our translator the pronounciation of our destination stop and felt ready to lead us there. We trucked ours selves down to the highway where we quickly were found by one of the gagua(public buses) porters who escorted us boy scout style across the crazy traffic to catch the "bus"(15seat van with open side door). We didn't have to wait long when we were the 18-20th passengers to get on an had to side across some laps to squeeze in.

Clarence hanging on so he doesn't fall out the open door.
I told Karen to do the head count and she came up with 20. Did you count the 4 behind you? Nope, add those. And of course the lady on the inside of our row of seats needed of first so we all shuffled off, let her out then slid back on. These drivers really fly and we were at our stop in 7mins flat, about 1/2 the time it would have normally taken us. We walked up the hilly dirt road with the donkey, chickens and goats just a few feet away

and were taken by the contrast of the manicured lawns, paved lanes and palms tree we had just left. Roberto, the principal of the school and Carol were arriving at the same time and we unloaded into a small cement building next to the school.

I quickly realized that we were no longer in a new donated medical clinic but in a poor batay and that we didn't have power for the auto refractor. Roberto came back with a patched system of extension cords that looked like chicken wire taped together with plugs attached. Seriously? We were going to attach this very expensive machine to that? What about surges?

We tested it with the frame heater in case it blew up!
Clarence assured me that plugged into the generator roaring outside, the power would be steady. I trusted his knowledge and judgement and set to work. Our goal was to do as many assessments today as we had on the first clinic, 50 as the school had 200 students most of which had never had there sight checked. 25% in 1 day was a good goal. Although we had an interpreter with Roberto and another teacher Anya switching out, my college Spanish and the repitition of the routine actually made it so I can pretty much do a basic eye assessment in espanol now.

There was lots of fun working with the kids and most encouraging was how many healthy eyes with good sight I got to assess. From my experience on Wednesday, I know they don't have the support to keep them that way but it was good to see that there is hope that at least they have a good start and things can change. It was also fun to fit a few of my own pairs of donated glasses as I have a low near sighted prescription with some funky frame that teen girls like.

Most of all it was amazing to take a pair of glasses I had worn on my cycling tour SeaTo Sea-which raised fund for ending the cycle poverty- and give them to a young girl to use to study in school.
I hope they help her see a future and a way out of the poor batay that she calls home now. Back to the power issue, I was still having on/off issues with the power on the autorefactor and mentioned this to Clarence at our lunch break. He again assured me that it would be due to other things drawing power from the generator and not to worry. About 1/2way through the afternoon, the generator suddenly shut down and word got to us that it was out of gas and that was it. Clarence asked what we would do without power? I said I still had power on the autorefractor, a little confused by it myself. We both followed the patchwork line of cords out the window and decided not to ask question and just keep going. The day was long and even I was getting exhausted and I don't know who decided it was a good idea to have the 3-4yrs come at the end of the day. I mean really, they are just too giggly and wiggly at that time, it doesn't matter what country you are in.

Also there were some kids who were a little confused about what I was there for as they came in and opened their mouths. They may not have had their eyes checked but good news is a dentist had been to the village!
This is Jane Huizinga. She is showing you the typical donated glasses that are received. If you were a 10yr old, could you wear these?
When 5pm came around it was time to pack up. Karen gave us the finally tally of 84 assessments with 22 pairs of glasses needed and fitted. Included our translator and school teacher Anya who got a beautiful pair of new Versace frames with new lenses that had been donated!
We packed up the equipment and Roberto gracious drove us down to the highway. As we were pulling out, I saw one of the boys wearing his new glasses. He waved to us.
Without those glasses, he wouldn't have seen us in the truck.
Karen and I were feeling a little stiff after spending the day sitting in one of those tiny kindergarden chairs. It was the only thing available and the best height for the equipment and the children. I was prepared to flag our gagua down at the stop which is beside the local military base, who's marching band was practicing while we waited.
This time instead of one of the vans, one of the cars(4 door standard buick) pulled up. I knew the price shouldn't be any different than the bus which was $200 pesos for the 3 of us luss a suitcase with our stuff. Driver(in espanol): Where are you going? Gayle: Playa Dorado Driver(in espanol):I will take you there(I told you my spanish was kicking in again) Gayle: Quantos peso? Driver(in espanol): $300 peso I just stare at him. That is almost twice the price. He repeats it and holds 3 fingers like I don't understand. I stare back. Gayle: No, no, no. $200(I'll through in some extra due to the suitcase) Driver: NO! Something about gas costing a lot and $300peso. Gayle: No, $200 peso and I turn and walk away from the car and back to Clarence and Karen. He calls us back and gestures to get in. Gayle: $200 pesos, si? Driver: Si, si. Gayle: Playa Dorado? Driver: Si, si. Ok, I wave the crew over and we get into the back seat where there is already another lady sitting. We then told Karen she was riding a lap back to the hotel.
Walking back to the hotel, Karen was complaining that the suitcase was awkward to roll due to the handle being broken. Once again to stop the before dinner whine, I just took it from her and we trucked on. Later she asked if I wanted a break. I said it fine. Karen: I would be more than happy to do it. Gayle: I remember what it was like when you were pulling it and you were not happy. It's fine let's just keep going. We rejoined our team for a delightful dinner where we indulged in some great cerviche- a new experience for some of them- and I ate local again trying the DR dish of mofongo-delicious! It's hard to believe that in 24hrs we will be flying home. Tomorrow I am looking forward to the dedication of the house and to meeting the family that will be living there.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Back With The Crew, Roofing In the Rain

For the first time it was a cloudy morning that greeted us as we headed to the job site. No eye care today. I was with the rest of the team on the construction site putting the roof on to the house before going to the Batay of Los Union for a food distribution program. It was a gentle rain the fell and it was actually a nice break from the burning sun. I know, my friends and family back home in -22C winter don't want to hear me complaining that it is too hot.
At the site, we divided into a few different groups to work on different houses in different stages of completion. Some worked on painting, some worked on re-bar, some worked on the roof
Geoff was excited to try and do some of the electrical installing

His first instinct was to do a really good job but realized for the local worker that took too long and he was just wasting time!
Karen painting doors
Arnie and Dennis getting as much done as possible before the rain came again.

Paul framing the roof.
Sheet metal goes on.

and I was with the group that was pouring cement to put the top header on a house.

Arie mixing the cement.
I thought that block felt heavier than the others! Yup, That was where my hand was.

Our skilled leader was Rudolpho, who worked at the top of the latter as our bucket brigade handed pail after pail of mecla(cement). It was a great system and the local men are always surprised to see a woman lifting the pails and blocks just as the men do. We kept a good pace until Rudolpho handed me the empty pail and I realised that I didn't have another full one to give him and no one to pass the bucket to. I excused myself to find out what had happened to the rest of the team only to discover them all distracted by a bunch of butterflies. Seriously. How was I going to explain this? Loco gringos! We worked until 1pm then headed to lunch at a local restaurant.

That's right we ate local today. Stopped in town at place that John & Jane, the Samaritan Foundation directors eat at regularly. We were treated to an amazing buffet.

Ishcar, our translator this week offered to tell us what everything was but I chose instead just to go with an open mind and not know what I was eating. It was great! Chicken, fried & grilled, yucca, sweet potato, beans with pumpkin, coleslaw all for about 100 pesos or $3 CND
and my first Coke of the week but only because it was in a glass bottle.
After lunch, we drove to the batay of Los Union. A batay is a Haitian swatter community. They don't own the land but over time they have built huts and houses there. However, at anytime, the government could come and just move them out and raze the buildings.
Main St in Los Union

Typical neighborhood street

Field across from the school

This does happen even to batays that have been there for generations. They are the poorest of the poor, farm animals grazing between the tightly packed shanties.

There is nothing that can describe the conditions of these communities. A truck arrived with 125lb bags of rice, beans, salt and sugar, packages of pasta and oil all paid for by the donations that our team had raised before leaving Canada and purchased locally. We then had to divide the bulk items into 200 individual shopping bags that would be a week's worth of staple food for 1 family.

Families in the community had been given tickets and would be lining up and trading tickets for the bags. Once we had the bags ready, we prepared for the distribution. Crowds had already started to gather and it was started to get a little crazy.
We had to have 4 people guard the entrance and hold back people pushing forward. People were shouting and butting in line. We had to ensure that only people who had tickets got a bag, only 1 bag per family and that it was fair and orderly. Amongst the chaos there was grace. It was sad that a few people tried to break the system and cheat but generally there was order. A lot were truly grateful and didn't just take the bag but offered a Gracias for the gift. Our team was available to help people carry their bags home and were invited in. The most unfortunate thing was that one of the local pastors had gotten married that week and in the excitement of the celebration had forgotten to give out some of the tickets. They were in his home and so some families were going to have to wait until tomorrow to get tickets and get their bags. I'm sure for those people a day will seem like forever and I hope this small mistake doesn't take away the joy of the Pastor's wedding celebration. We got back to the hotel a little early tonight and so Layn and I finally had a chance to relax down at the beach before dinner. We splashed in the waves.

She laughed as I worked on my perfect self portrait and it was nice just to have a few minutes to myself. Tomorrow is the second eye clinic and it will be at the AshFord school in Los Union. I am looking forward to seeing if it will very different from the first day. I will have 2 different team mates with me and we are taking local transportation both ways. Another day, another adventure.