I love my team!
So I’m here…scandalous humidity and all…and I’m having a stinkin’ awesome time of it!
I must take this moment to give a shout out to Team 4…an amazing bunch of kids who have been a pleasure to hang with this week…I see how hard they work, each shovel full of dirt or armload of bricks bringing us one step closer to finishing our projects, and I’m reminded of why I do what I do! My team is a great bunch of newfies…and the rest of us who have become adopted newfies…there’s just something about being around Newfoundlanders that makes you feel at home, even when you’re far away.
We’ve done so much this week, it’s hard to recount it all. We’ve been building two schools in separate communities. I was extremely excited, because not only did I get to show a little muscle by wielding a pick-axe, I also got to use a real, bonafide machete for the first time! And…as irony is a major player in my life, I didn’t actually hurt myself with it, but I did get a massive bruise on my leg later on in the week by tripping over a wheelbarrow…seriously, who doesn’t see a wheelbarrow?
We also visited an orphanage where there were around 30 mentally and physically disabled children. We spent the day playing with them and feeding them…each one had such personality, and they were so happy to see us! At first, it was kinda hard on the students…and me…to see their living conditions, and how most of them were confined or restrained in their beds and cribs. But, once we started walking around, saying ‘Ola’, and picking them up, their faces just lit up and none of us wanted to leave at the end of the day.
The one experience that affected me the most, this year as well as last, was visiting the Haitian workers in the local garbage dumps. Because of the poverty and political situations in Haiti, many people immigrate illegally to Dominican Republic…immigrating usually means walking hundreds of miles over the mountains, or saving up enough money to pay someone to smuggle them across the border. But, once they’re in DR, they have no legal status, no access to government health care or education, and because of the racism that exists between Dominicans and Haitians, the only jobs that they can usually get are low wage labour…or if they can’t get that…the garbage dumps.
There were two little boys in the garbage dump that day that changed my life. The first was Roberto. I was walking around with my students, and we found Roberto rummaging through a pile of garbage, away from the rest of the group. Through Spanish and some broken French (thank God for those years of immersion!), he was able to communicate to us that he was looking for aluminum pop cans. The four of us started to help him search for them, in mounds of garbage under sweltering heat…after 20 minutes, I’d found two myself, and the rest of the students had found five or six. Roberto gave us each a huge smile every time we put a can in his sack…and I asked him how much money he’d get once it was full. He said it was 4 pesos, which is around 12 cents CAD…we tried to find as many cans as we could after that. By the time we had to leave, his sack was only half full. I wanted to give him all the pesos I had with me, but I knew that would have started a riot with the other 50 people in the dump…and I also knew that helping him, hugging him before we left, and showing him that some gringos from across the world cared about him, gave him much more dignity that throwing some money at his situation.
The next little boy’s story breaks my heart. I remember seeing him last year, but I didn’t know his story then. He’s taller now, but he is so very skinny, and his hair was turning that reddish colour that shows that he’s been malnourished. Christal was talking to him with our translator, trying to find out where he was from, and who his parents were. We learned that he’d come from Haiti, but his parents had both died when they got here. There was a lady in their village that looked out for him, but he was an orphan, mostly on his own, and had to find a lot of his food from whatever wasn’t rotten in the garbage. When they asked him his name, he got really shy, and we had to ask him again. Finally, he told us that he didn’t remember what his mother had called him. That’s right about where we started to cry. We had to leave right away, so that we wouldn’t disrupt the people’s work anymore that day, but we drove out to buy some food for that little boy and brought it back before going home. We’re also keeping in touch with the bossman at the dump to make sure that that he doesn’t get forgotten anymore.
When you do humanitarian work, it can sometimes be so overwhelming…it can feel like you’re a band-aid on a gaping wound…like you can’t possibly work hard enough or have enough money to really make a difference…or that there’s so much evil in the world that your little efforts at ‘good’ aren’t going to be able to turn the tide.
But then you see the smiles on the children’s faces, the sweat running down the backs of the workers, the tired, but wise eyes of the mothers…you know that they are so grateful for everything we’re trying to do. They are no different from us…they have the same passions, the same hope and dreams and potential…we just happened to be born in Canada, and they in Haiti or Dominican Republic. As the great prophet Bono wrote “Where you live should not decide, whether you live or whether you die.” I believe that with all of my heart, and know that my small contribution…added to that of the rest of our Hero Holiday teams…compounded by the people we go home to influence…will truly effect change in the world…and well…we’re just getting started!