Sunday, March 31, 2013

130331 Still before the Storm

The last couple of weeks have been very calm for Elder and Hermana Haws.  The biggest news is that their new neighbors finally moved in.  Joy and Jim Crismon from Pleasant Grove, Utah moved in on March 9th. 

This is the Crismons standing in the front entryway to the Almacén del Obispo, which also serves as our front patio.

Food projects have been the main focus of the past two week.  Los Haws’ have now introduced the project to 14 units of the Church.  Each group is urged to find their own techno or adviser.  Quotes for materials are finally starting to arrive.  More research is needed to make the Chicken projects fly. 
 How many laying hens should be purchased up front?  How many fryers will a family be able to manage and market?  What breed thrives best in the country? Without enough experience in this area it is a little bit of the blind leading the blind.  We are still looking for that great “expert”.

With the arrival of the Crismons ADR graciously gave the group a tour of their facilities.  ADR is one of our Wheelchair Partners.   They offer amazing services to the poor of this country.  If you have been reading our blog you have heard their name mentioned several times.  Here are some more pictures of their facilities:

                                                               Carlos Zometa 
Carlos is a member of Rotary International in Santo Domingo.  5 years ago he started helping ADR.  He is still active in Rotary, but now he donates every day of the work week except Wednesday to ADR.  He is a wonderful man and a great friend.  The following are a few pictures from the tour he gave us and the Crismons this week.  We love their manufacturing plant of wheel chairs and prosthetics.


So what is the still and what is the storm?  Getting to work from home has been the still before the storm.  Next week the storm starts as we meet with our Neonatal Specialist, Dr. Jensen and the Ministry of Health in what we are sure will be very long meetings to develop a very important training for doctors.  Also coming up in about four weeks will be the arrival of our Wheelchair Specialist, a physical therapist, who will conduct several days of training for our wheelchair partners.

Sunday we drove to Los Llanos to introduce the Food Initiative to a little humble branch of the Church there.  Here are a few scenes from our visit.

In spite of the face Wallace is pulling as he examines “Guandules”, we love guandules!  They are something very similar to peas, but grow on a small tree or bush.

They are selling gas   (there is gas) not hay for the cows and gas

Saturday, March 16, 2013

130317 One Arm One Leg Ramon Meristi

One tragic day, thirty two years ago, 13 year old Ramon Meristi accompanied his father on horseback as they approached a railroad track.  A train loaded with sugar cane approached.  The events that followed are not clear, perhaps because the boy’s memory blocks them and perhaps because he failed to communicate completely to this missionary.  Perhaps it was a frightened horse.  Regardless of what caused it, Ramon’s loving father made the terrifying decision, without concern for his own welfare, to sacrifice his own life under the train in an effort to push his son out of the way out of the jaws of death.  He did save Ramon’s life, but the train unsympathetically sliced off the boy’s left arm at the shoulder and left leg at the hip leaving him scarcely even a stump of either limb.

Surely words cannot express the pain and anguish Ramon suffered during the months that followed.  His mother, heartbroken because of the death of her husband and a hopeless witness of Ramon’s suffering wasted away until she left this world.   Ramon and two other young siblings remained to struggle on alone.  Ramon’s sister is living in La Romana.  His brother drowned in a fishing accident.
For 32 years Ramon has been basically alone in the world without means or resources.  Is he bitter?  Does he curse God?

We think not!
It is true his source of income is begging on a street called Sarasota in the city of Santo Domingo.  It is true he hops wherever he goes.  It is true he suffers and continues to face many trials such as hunger, sickness, setbacks and every other natural human emotion.  But to the condemnation of the rest of many of us, he is happy with life and constantly wears a huge smile to prove it!

Fortunately he does not stand on one foot completely alone.  He has a wide circle of friends.  We even felt drawn to him.  One of his best friends is Adela who sells her wares of telephone cards on the same corner as Ramon and provides him a place to safely lay his head at night in her own humble home.  Between his “work” corner and the place he calls home, many people share with him the little bit they have and a few people driving in the streets within the safety of their protected environment of metal and glass offer him bits and pieces of alms.  Sometimes he goes to places there are lots of people window shopping.  He throws his hat on the ground to receive offerings and dances the bachata and marangue on his one blessed leg to entertain.  Every day and all day, he hops through life with a huge smile on his face.  Can we not have the same happy countenance ourselves?

We came prepared to find a way to purchase him a prosthetic leg or arm using humanitarian funds of the church.  We figured we knew what was best for him.  To our surprise, he kindly said “No”.  He has walked on one leg for 32 years.  The good Lord blessed him with exceptional balance and strength in his good right leg.  To him, hopping on one foot is “normal”.  He could not walk on a prosthetic limb any more than you or I could walk on stilts all day.  He feels he would be uncomfortable and throw a prosthetic limb aside in preference to what the good Lord has granted him.  He believes (and is probably correct) that here isn’t enough stump to attach limbs anyway. 
We asked him how we could help him.  His answer was that if we could help him find a little humble place of his own, small and humble though it might be, just something he can call his own and be safe at night from the winds, rain and storm that would be his dream come true.

Can we help him?  He already has helped us!

There are chiriperos (street vendors) of all kinds at every major intersection trying to sale their wares.  Windshield vendors are a common site.  Wallace always took an hour to change the wipers when he did it back home.  This fellow was particularly pushy when he saw Wallace was taking pictures of chiriperos.  In the time it takes you to say “No!” “Don’t touch my windshield wipers!”---in that amount of time he had removed our existing wipers and put on different ones.  Wallace told him to take it off.  Our truck is brand new and hardly needs wipers.  In the blink of an eye he had change it again---at least we hope he put the same one back.  He was really really fast.  He would have completed both sides in less than a minute.  We wonder how many he changes in a day?  He was a friendly guy.

This is Jose Carbonal.  He is our neighbor.  He sits right here ALL day long and rarely moves.  He is kind of looney, but a nice dude.  We made the mistake of giving him some reading glasses we had laying around so now he is asking for all kinds of things---which we haven’t given.  Wallace says he is going to put him to work cleaning up the street.  If he does not, we will give him something.  At least he is watching everything that happens---We wonder if that makes us feel better?


This is a home built in the 60s.  Trujillo owned it at one time.  Later it was a clinic, then a home for children and finally vacant and taken over by gangs who stripped the home and made it into a den of thieves.  Finally it was rescued by a neighborhood group who got rid of the drugs and gang and are turning it into a school to rescue youth who are getting into trouble.  It isn’t our perfect project, but the stake president is enthusiastic about it and would like to help them.  We will see.

We witnessed the most amazing thing today.  We drove into a stake center parking lot and found the building filled with people.  The stake, under the leadership of the Stake Relief Society president had organized a health clinic.  Everyone in the neighborhood was invited to receive free health exams and medicine and vaccinations.  Doctors and nurses came to volunteer their time and resources and hospitals donated medicine.  It was an incredible sight to see.  We have never seen a better member organized service project and what is better they did it all by themselves!  It made us feel wonderful.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lamoni's Sheep

There are many Dominicans firm in the opinion that the Dominican Republic is the land of the Nephites and Lamanites.  Wallace used to scoff at the idea, but now Wallace and Edith both believe this is indeed the land of the Nephites and Lamanites!  To us it fits better than any other explanation of Book of Mormon geography.  Someday we will explain that, but this blog is not about that.  It is about Lamoni’s sheep.
We didn’t even believe there were sheep in the DR, but here are pictures of Lamoni’s Sheep.  They may look like goats to you in this picture, but trust us, there is a difference and they are known by all as “sheep” in the DR.

Wallace started talking to them as we watched them graze.  He must have said something very interesting to the sheep because suddenly they reacted as a group.  Unfortunately we were not prepared for this startling reaction from the herd (flock?).  Before our camera was ready and rolling they all came running as a group to the fence.  They acted most pleased to find a human being who could speak their language.   Unfortunately, they soon lost interest in the conversation, ended up ignoring Wallace.  It was probably due to his limited language skills which actually sounded more bovine than sheep- like.  Maybe it was because what Wallace had to say exhibited almost zero knowledge of sheep affairs.  They disdainfully tossed their heads and with nose in the air went on their way ignoring further attempts at communication below their dignity.  Perhaps Wallace needs to develop his sheepish vocabulary?
One of the significant differences in the Dominican Republic is their respect for the Dead.  Back home we dig a hole and bury the deceased with a little marker above ground to mark the spot of the honorable ancestor.  The distinguishing feature of a cemetery is grass, flat markers and or some bigger stone in neat little rows. 
Cemeteries in the Dominican Republic are different.
DR traditions include the fear that if you go to a cemetery when you are ill, you run the risk of dying of that illness.  When you see a funeral pass by, you must cross yourself or you will be possessed of the dead.  When you pass a graveyard, don’t forget to cross yourself for protection and out of respect.
The dead are given homes to live in.  Check some of these out.  They are more solid homes than possessed by many of living!  We suppose they need to be since the dead are going to spend a very long time there, they need to be made comfortable.

We love driving up the windy dirt mountain road to the little town tucked into the mountains overlooking the city of San Jose de Ocoa in the valley below.  The mountain vista and clean air are refreshing and the faith and humble spirit of the wonderful people renews our own.  This week we visited the school to see a couple of water filters in operation and to review Whalicon Mateo’s garden and chicken project he put together without any help from the church.  Our encouragement to have gardens and chickens is paying dividends in a few places.

We visited another hospital this week in planning for another humanitarian project.  It is difficult to explain the inadequate facilities and difficult circumstances endured by doctors, nurses and patients alike.  This hospital serves a very large community and attends to all kinds of emergencies, childhood problems, births and some surgeries----all without the most basic of equipment.  There is so much need.  It pulls at your heart strings to think of the suffering!  Here is a picture of Edith examining their only dilapidated wheel chair sitting in the back of the building. 

Yet what was our astonishment when we were told the government had built a brand new hospital about 5 minutes away which was equipped with modern medical tools, but it has sat with doors shut, idle full of equipment because they can’t afford to pay anyone to work there except the 2 guards who protect the building!  Couldn’t they have thought about that before they spent the money on the building?

Edith looks younger every day.  She taught the branch council this week for about 20 minutes all by herself.  Her Spanish is getting pretty good.  Wallace is very proud of her

President Gvenony Soriano, president of the Monte Plata branch standing in front of his home

A finger exercise device made by Innovacion Orthopedia out of 8” PVC pipe.
Road jam on our way to Parra.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

130302 Sight Unseen

Dr. Mike Pingree from the USA was here this week to set up a vision project.  We visited 3 hospitals.  We visited INDEN (a diabetics hospital) and recipient of last year’s project, then CECANOT, a top notch public hospital who the church helped in 2009.  We were amazed to see a public hospital with up-to-date vision equipment.  Thousands of people were there standing or sitting in LONG lines.  Waiting in long lines is the norm here----a standard byproduct of public medicine.  We are happy to say that the vision equipment donated by former projects is still functioning well and helping many, many people. 

Our visit to the 3rd hospital, Los Americanos (nickname) was really special. We discussed a new project with Dr. Elias Santana Hospital staff, Nicole Hunter and Dr. Evelyn Diaz.  In 2010, we helped them create a low-vision clinic and provided equipment they use in their outreach program into the “Bateys”.  (See our February 17th post if you don’t remember what a Batey is.)  This year we will help them develop a clinic in La Romana.  We are excited to move to this South East area of the Island because we have no current projects there.  We like working with Los Americanos Hospital because they serve the poor---the really poor, even Haitians that have no documents are treated in their facility, because doctors donate their time without pay.

So what do you suppose a person feels when told they are going blind?  Frustration, heartache, and disappointment?  We experienced a taste of what it is like with Yelsia Gomez de Segura, one of our Church members that Dr. Pingree made special arrangements to see.  Sister Segura had been told that she would go completely blind and that there was nothing anyone could do to help her see.  We met with her last week to inform her that the Dr. had agreed to look at her eyes. She was elated and extremely hopeful. The big day was last Thursday.  Dr. Pingree found that she had an organism in her eyes since birth that had destroyed the center part of her eyes.  While that part of the news was disappointing, she was strengthened to learn that she will not lose her peripheral vision and with magnifiers she would be able to read.  The hospital donated 3 magnifiers to her.  She was so excited!

Her day was complete and full of happiness with the timely arrival of a big box containing the Book of Mormon in braille.   This surprise package had been ordered by Elder Darrell and Sister JoAnne Hammon, missionaries who recently fulfilled their mission and returned home. The timing was perfect.  Yelsia has learned to read braille and is now teaching others in her community.  It was a full day and we were grateful to be part of it.

Ever in search of a solution to the water situation in El Cigual, Wallace found a potential solution.  It is a small bio-sand water filter the Rotary Club International has been installing in a lot of communities in the DR.  It consists of about 3 inches of coarse sand, 4 inches of smaller sand, and 15 inches of very fine sand and a bio-layer that forms on top packed into a light weight plastic container.  The water quality is very good that comes out.  The water is free of parasite eggs, pathogens, etc---just good clean water.  Each home would receive a filter unit.
Is this the solution?  We shall see. 
We want to visit the homes of families who are actually using them.  We were cautioned by a former missionary that in spite of the fact the filters do their job wonderfully well, old habits die hard and only a very small percentage of families end up using them very long.  The filters end up sitting in the corner gathering dust as a flower pot.  We feel very conscious of the money we are spending so we are going to do some investigating before we suggest this as the solution.