Friday, August 31, 2012

Let Us Walk Together!!

"If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then, let us walk together."  - Lilla Watson, Australian Aboriginal activist sister

We just came from a weeklong visit to Lecheria, where we worked closely with Dr. John Mclennan and his team of students from Canada.  This visit, more than any in the past, we were able to see the evidence of the many people who have partnered to bring new life to this community.  The signs were everywhere.  We saw the smiles on the faces of people proudly showing off their new, little businesses that have their roots in the financial support of so many of you. 

We received the hugs of gratitude from those who can now afford to get the much needed healthcare because of the dolls and jewelry you have purchased. We watched the determination in the eyes of the young girls learning to sew and seeing their fragile self esteems bloom with pride as we encouraged their efforts.
I experienced the pride of an older woman who was so happy to take me to the nearest little store and buy a soda for our group, "The biggest one you have" she said to the storekeeper. We were humbled and honored to receive her gift.

An update on the water situation is always a priority.  The pipes continue to bring the much needed water to Lecheria.  Some of the pipes are already broken and will need repair on future visits.  However, the water that flows is not clean and there are still parasitic diseases present, especially in the younger children.  Greg and Nathan (from Canada) were able to demonstrate to the people how the water is purified with a few drops of chlorine.  Using simple water testing kits purchased in the U.S., they tested the water before and after the chlorine, providing the proof that the chlorine works!  Chlorine is an inexpensive, easy way to purify water and prevent disease.  Educational tools in Spanish were developed by the students to allow the education of the community to continue through the Nutrition program. "Poco a poco" as they say in the DR. (Nothing happens quickly there...but we will get there eventually!!)

Speaking of the Nutrition Program....called "Ninos Sanos"- "Healthy Children"...We held the graduation program for the 2nd year in a row!  About 60 4 and 5 yr olds, along with their parents, were awarded certificates and a mug filled with goodies! 

There was cake, soda, dancing to celebrate! (OK, not so healthy...but who celebrates with carrot sticks and water!?) There was even a skit put on by the muchachos (young teenagers) about respect and making good choices.

It was especially rewarding for us to see the graduation of the children that were born while we lived in the DR-several of whom we did not expect to live to be 5 yr olds, much less healthy ones!! Muchas Gracias to Dr. John and Sr. Kathleen, whose hard work and dedication have made this possible!

Dr John (with Sr Kathleen on left)
Wilson and his "graduate" son

A group from Texas was there, for their second trip to Lecheria.  They were assisting the community in building "Septicos"-toilets that flush!!  It seems like only yesterday that we were thrilled to have latrines in Lecheria!!

 About 9 families are getting closer to their first "flush". At the time of this writing we are waiting to hear that the pipes are connected to the houses and they are ready to roll (TP that is! :)) Each septico is shared by 4 families and they each contributed money and hard work to the construction of their septicos.


The Texas group also helped the community to start a community garden.  The goal is to start the vegetable plants in the garden and people can transplant them to their space; providing a source of nutritional food for the people.

Greg got a chance to visit the property where a Visitor's Center is being constructed. This has been a project which started 7 years ago with the fund-raising efforts of Fr Fred Conoscenti. After many hurdles and disappointments, concrete (excuse the pun) strides are finally visible. Once completed, this center, which is located between Lecheria and the sisters' convent, will be used to house visitors and serve as a training center for various spiritual and educational programs.

The best part of every trip is seeing and catching up with old friends:

Chichi with her new grandchild

Cindy and Baby

Juana Valentina displays
one of her dolls

Lelani and her "miracle" child

Oh, yes, our liberation, our understanding of our journey and purpose, is closely and forever tied to this amazing community.  We have learned so many of life's lessons from them: how to give and receive love, the value of community, to look for and find MIRACLES, that life's greatest treasures are not stored in our houses and our pockets.  Yes, we need them as much as they need us.  Our hands are forever locked, as we walk this journey of life together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When we first visited Lecheria in 2006, we met Licen. He was an elderly man who had come to Lechería with his family in back the 70's to cut sugar cane. The work had battered his health and left him slow to walk and weary. But the good Sisters had given him a custodial job around the clinic and school, so we always saw him emptying trash and sweeping (and resting).

It was difficult to understand his creole-tinged spanish and his quiet voice, but he had a great sense of humor, so I was always engaging him in silly antics. For example, we had this thing where we would greet each other with, "Amigo!", while sizing each other up and down. Then, we would peek in each others shirt pocket, pull out an item, and ask if it was a little gift (regalito).

During the past February's visit, while playing our "regalito" game, I found that he had an old wallet with 3 moth-eaten (mice-eaten?) U.S. dollar bills in it. I asked if they were of any value or use to him (I didn't think that they would be). "No", he said, while pursing his lips the way Haitians and Dominicans do to indicate they have no interest in the whatever is being talked about. So, I checked my pocket and found a $200 peso bill (about $6 U.S.) and asked if he'd like to trade. His eyes lit up and he looked at me with that "are you sure?" look (he obviously knew it was a good trade for him). "Sure", I said, thinking I'd trade them in to the bank when I got back to the States, and at least get an even swap. So, we were both happy about our trade. Well, needless to say, back in the states, it took a trip to two banks before I could cash my trade in. I'll bet Licen had a much easier and more lucrative experience with his end of the trade.

Licen has a very large family - a wife and countless children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of them live directly across from the clinic, and, at meal times, they would often be seen gathered at Licen's porch with Licen, like the grand patriarch, sitting in the middle. The joke was that half the people of Lechería belonged to Licen's family!

It seems that with every visit we brought some gift to Licen - a hat or sunglasses, or I would leave him my gloves or shoes or some other clothing. He always gave me smile and sincere thank you, and he would seem to have a burst of pride as he walked away. I always had the feeling that if I wanted something from Licen, even something I found in his pocket during our "regalito" game, he would give it to me. There was that trust that God would provide no matter what. After all, Licen and his family had been provided for all these years. When I said goodbye to him each day, he would reply, "Si Dios quiere!" (If God wills it).

During my last conversation with Licen in February, he said to me, "Mi compañero por el camino" (My companion on the path). I was very honored that he would think of me in that way. This man, who had traveled a much harder and poorer road than I, actually saw me as being with him on part of that same road. Wow! I still haven't taken it all in. Maybe I never will. It makes me wonder how many others am I travelling with on a road, yet I don't realize it? Thank you, Licen, for planting that question in my brain.

This past March, Licen passed away.  I'm sure it was sad for many in Lechería. It was sad for Cindy and me. He'll be missed, especially when we visit. We'll miss the sound of the shuffling of the old, sandaled feet and the dragging of trash cans around the clinic. We'll miss that sly smile from his slightly cocked head. I will miss mi compañero por el camino.

Hasta mañana, mi amigo...Si Dios quiere.


Monday, May 14, 2012

February 2012 - A Little Paint Goes a Long Way

During our visit last summer, we had a meeting with the local "Junta de Vecino" (Neighborhood Association) - more like a village council made up of an elected president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. We asked what future projects would be of benefit to the people of Lecheria. One of the responses was beautification of the community - primarily by painting the houses. So, with the help of the Junta and the SHCJ Sisters there, homes with the most needs were identified, and it was decided the visiting groups this spring would be involved in painting projects. 
When our group of 12 St Luke parishioners and friends arrived in February, we were shown about a dozen houses that had been selected. John and Amber Ockerbloom, who arrived a few days before us, had gone out and purchased paint and supplies with funds we had raised or had recieved in donations. Soon the fun began! Painting houses "pieced together" with tin, wood, concrete, and whatever else people can find, is no easy task! Do we use a brush or roller? Very quickly, we found the answer: it doesn't matter when there are many hands helping. As soon as we asked residents for their help, people poured out! Families, relatives, neighbors and friends of all ages came to help! What a great community event we had on our hands. Not only did we share work, but jokes and laughter, too! The "togetherness" experienced made for some of the lightest work we've ever done - despite the heat and strong sun. It almost seemed like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There were a lot of blessed people by the end of the week - proud home owners with freshly painted homes and volunteers who had just participated in a "holy" experience. And Calle Primera (1st Street) looked like a Dominco-Hatian Rainbow Row!

Other projects that some of our volunteers worked on included jewelry making and sock doll sewing - two ongoing projects that bring money to the women of the community. There was tee shirt tie-dyeing and medical visits, and, for fun, baseball games and a trip to the river with the kids.

When the goodbyes were said and the tears were dried, we all felt that it was one of the most fun trips we have had. We really think that it was made special by the evolving sense of community the we experienced. What a blessing for all of us!

If you would like to read another visitor's first-time experience visit the blog of Kim Kavallero, Director of Communications for the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus - American Province. Click on the following link: