A Routine of Helping

November 5, 2015, Caminante Office, Boca Chica

Good morning from Boca Chica!

There’s a certain joy to be found in knowing that you are appreciated for whom you are without having to put on a brave face becoming someone you are not. I feel loved at Caminante Education Project because Sister Denisse and the other staff  let me know that I am valued and needed.  Here at Caminante, the long-term employees and volunteers give encouragement to the newer staff and volunteers in ways that are contagious. Whether it be through a smile, helpful and hilarious critiques, or a simple greeting each day, team members are there for you.

I am now in my second year as an intern. My job roles include preparing for group visits from the United States, teaching English to kids at our community college called La Casona (The big house) and supporting our programs with the street kids. In addition, I am a photographer for Caminante. I travel around to Caminante sites and document the happenings of the community. I work with our educators out in the field spreading the news that all children have the right to an education,  guaranteed under Dominican law.

Some personal notes regarding my state of mind and body here in November of my second year:  
My Spanish is better than I ever imagined it would get and I am learning more everyday. I learned the language without a tutor due to problems with scheduling but that did not end up being an issue. I do not consider myself fluent yet; however my vocabulary is now extensive, and when I am relaxed, I can carry on at a conversational pace. Comprehension-wise, I can understand 95% of spoken Spanish and am learning to read written Spanish as well.

The day to day life is not easy- the water I bathe in, while appearing clean, is neither filtered nor heated. I buy giant jugs of fresh water and keep fresh portions in plastic containers in my refrigerator. Power outages are frequent to the extent of every two or three days for sometimes hours at a time. One learns to charge your appliances whenever you can and to be prepared for future outages by exploring other locations to charge your appliances. Find a friend in the large hotel industry nearby or even travel around to the next town over to seek out power. Candles are good buys for the apartment!

I would not change any of those experiences for the world. I chose this job because I wanted to experience life in a developing country and place myself in a situation outside of my comfort zone. That is exactly what I received initially in my first three months. I went through a period early on where I was sick every few days with either diarrhea or fever or colds or chills. I learned to eat a steady diet and my body adjusted accordingly. I stopped buying everything and began cooking pasta. My roommate, Julito, a fellow staff member at Caminante who is from the Dominican Republic, started doing more of the cooking.  That saved both our lives!

A note on what this all means and why this journey was important to undertake: 

I left my comfort zone of a law firm in Atlanta and dived into relative poverty in the Dominican Republic. I have an apartment and a Global Ministries stipend and for me that is enough. It certainly felt like I was diving into absolute poverty before I realized how lucky I am compared to my Dominican colleagues and the kids I help.

Was I really heading into poverty then? Or was I discovering what it means to be rich of the soul?
I have tried new foods, gone cliff diving, swum in crystal clear lagoons, and walked Boca Chica’s beach at night looking at thousands of stars I never imagined existed.  I have come to meet or know Dominicans and Haitians from every level of society and have been welcomed unconditionally into their homes and sacred places. On my route to collect food for the boys’ lunch, I greet my afternoon girls class as they return home from school. They shout my name and exude joy.

Through it all, I have learned that none of this has been for me. I gained skills through living in a foreign country and spending time with Dominicans yes; but the real purpose of my presence here has been twofold:  Firstly, I am here because the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ believe in this organization and therefore desire a continued relationship with Caminante here in Boca Chica;  Secondly, I am here to accompany Caminante and Señora Denisse in sharing the love of God and offering hope to all we encounter in our mission.

Thank you all for walking this path with me!

Until next time,

Henry

Happy Holidays!

Where I am in life is peace and tranquility intersecting in a glorious cacophony of marvelousness.

 

Today is January 25, 2015 and I am happy to bring you the latest edition of my blog here at Caminante. My life through November, December, and January so far has consisted of a roller coaster of differing emotions and work speeds. During November, I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving with a wonderful family that invited Andrew (Roommate and Cinematographer), and Deondra (USA Peace Corps) and myself to their house for a traditional American meal. We were all very grateful for the hospitality! Thanksgiving embodied for me the fact that all around the world there are souls willing to go that extra mile to welcome others.

After Thanksgiving, there was a deep breath before the storm of Christmas parties, all the country seemed to quiet down as people set up decorations and started their shopping. Naturally, the quietness did not last as the third week of December was entirely a Feliz Navidad. More and more tourists began to visit Boca Chica and our streets became jam packed with people. Caminante matched the Caribbean spirit by ramping up everything. The administration dispatched us to different sites to hand out presents, listen to summaries of 2014, and encourage as people shared their goals for 2015.  We have so many different groups that all desired their own end of year recognition and parties. The women’s health group had their own party, the different vocational classes had their own parties, and last but not least, the kids had their party!

La Casona has a set of stairs up to the fellowship hall where we were having the party that Friday. Those stairs were shaking that day as 140 kids filled the hall!

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That day was wonderful because there was this sense of peace in distributing presents to kids. There was a palpable light in the eyes of the kids that wonderfully warmed my soul 🙂

After the Christmas parties, I was able to do a quick trip home from the 23rd to the 30th. I’d like to share a story from that visit home that captures the essence of why I love the ministries of our churches, here in the Dominican Republic, and in the communities and churches where you, my readers, minister to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and share Christ’s love.
One evening during the holidays our extended family was at dinner when someone asked me “What are you doing in the Dominican Republic?” I told about the various programs and ministries of Caminante, what we were doing in Boca Chica and surrounding communities. Then I mentioned going each weekday at 11 a.m. to the back door of a local tourist hotel, and collecting leftover foods from the kitchen to feed children. I had been working there for two months before I learned that many of the children we fed actually slept at night right on the beach and on public stairsteps, for they had no homes. For some of them, the weekday lunch was their only regular meal.

My Mom’s cousin was sitting beside me, taking in the whole situation. He volunteered: “My church in North Carolina raises money to purchase just-add-water meals that cost maybe a dollar yet feed six people for a day. Then we have huge packing parties, where we put the dried food bags in boxes and ship them to a processing center, where they are sent overseas to refugee camps and to countries where people are hungry.”
While washing dishes later, my aunt shared with us how her congregation in Virginia went through a process of trying to discover their mission in the community. Some of their church gifts were being hospitable, a commitment to community service, and an accessible location of their building. They asked “Why not partner with the local food bank and serve a meal one night a week to whoever is hungry, rich or poor, young and senior?” My aunt says that project will be launched on Jan. 21, food and room at the table for anyone and everyone, every Tuesday evening. My young cousins are so excited that they will get to be among the greeters and servers.
As my Dad dried and put away dishes, he told what his downtown Decatur, GA, church is doing. This January they are partnering with local high school students to raise $17,000 to pay for 60,000 meals for hungry neighbors around the world. The church will host a fellowship meal and invite diners to donate whatever they would spend on a restaurant meal. And the church’s gym, closed for 7 years in disrepair, is being renovated and transformed into Maker space, where it will be alive, creating and building new projects, and relationships.
I am grateful to be serving as your Global Missions Intern in the Dominican Republic, and I am grateful for your ministries in your own congregations and communities. God bless you!
H

The Tapping of Rain on the Windows

Greetings to all!

Today  is Monday, November 17 and I am writing a new blog update! I am currently in a driving rain storm while the temperature hovers around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. My friends, the later the calendar becomes the more I feel that I have been transplanted into a different world where the normal laws of seasons do not apply. Christmas is coming and it’s going to be a hot one!
I am healthy, happy, and feeling increasingly as if I have been placed in the perfect location for personal growth. My Spanish classes continue twice a week with Lisa at a steady pace. We’re currently working on the past tense which is always a challenge with the irregular verbs! I’m also teaching English for free on the side to three students in my off time. I’m about to expand that operation to the entire office this week and everyone seems excited about that. I’ve been able to prepare for all this because it’s been a relatively slow month here in the office as we anticipate Advent craziness!
For the last month since my last post, I have really settled into Boca Chica and the surrounding towns by shadowing Julio “Julito” Luis Sanchez. His is a great story worthy of a blog post all its own but I will keep it short by saying succinctly that Julito found his way to God with Caminante, and has in return given back tenfold to both the kids and adults lucky enough to know him.
The process of shadowing Julito involves several aspects which I would like to highlight here. The first aspect of shadowing Julito is to always be a presence with which people want to associate. Somedays he and I will go to parents’ houses to talk and simply be a presence. We enter, shake hands with the men, kiss the cheeks of the women, and then chat with the parents about whatever they want to talk about. Everyone ends up happy because Julito is just that brilliant at small talk and discussing Caminante’s mission.
Other aspects of my shadowing involve visiting the coconut jewelry shaping workshop (you have to see it to believe it.) We use a buzz saw, sanding machines, and a up and down saw machine to create incredible jewelry. Then, we sell them to raise funds for our missions. We don’t keep any of the proceeds for ourselves but do have groups that buy jewelry in bulk to resell in the US to raise money for our mission as well.
In addition, I shadow Julito to play baseball and soccer with the boys. This happens every Tuesday morning on a nearby beach. Normally we play baseball. (Baseball is the national pastime here and I’ve seen five year olds that could probably play center field for the Braves.) However, one day I got to suggest soccer as the sport del día. That day, I got to show proper soccer techniques and then we did a scrimmage. Of course, the scrimmage became a gaggle of kids chasing a ball around. After laughing quite a bit and trying to teach passing, Julito and I challenged the fifteen or so 6-9 year olds in soccer. My life was coming full circle that day as this soccer-playing-kid began to experience memory after memory. Thanks Dad.
Our mission at Caminante is to be here. Always we strive to fill in the gaps that appear in the social fabric of the Dominican Republic.
To be quite honest, that’s so much easier to write here than it is to do. It would be really easy to feel overwhelmed at the challenges in front of us.
That’s why I have colleagues here 🙂 I’m never alone and constantly have companions to help me and give me advise!
My life continues to move onward. The pace varies week to week but the sense of fulfillment never wanes.
May you be blessed wherever you are today. Remember who and whose you are as you walk on this amazing path with me.
Blessings and peace,
Henry

A Whole New World

Hi everyone!

Today is Friday October 17, and I am once again writing in the Caminante office regarding my experiences since my previous blog post. My dear readers, I must apologize for the sparsity of information from this end- I had promised myself before I stepped on that plane in Atlanta that I would take time to soak it all in before attempting to make sense of it all. Here is me writing an attempt at encapsulating what must be one of the most wonderful environments I could have possibly landed upon.

There’s a certain peace to living here: The power goes out and the water stops working- the bus is “late” or the meeting starts an hour later than it was supposed to- but no one minds. We just keep moving because tomorrow the Sun will rise and it will still be 88 degrees and the kids will still need our help.

Life goes on here at whatever pace you take it.

Since my previous blog post on the 30th of September, I have spent my days slowly getting to know all the different communities in which Caminante works. Each day is a joy because I feel loved and embraced by the community I have joined. I have begun to learn the names of my neighbors and the local kids that greet me. Each has a story about Caminante and how this non-profit has embraced Boca Chica.

My role here is still being defined as I end my third week. A potential clue as to my future probably stems from my recent visits to several schools in the Boca Chica area. Another Caminante volunteer named Julito and myself have begun to consistently visit a class in a rural community called Gautier. We visit this classroom every Tuesday and have begun to establish a rapport with the children in the classroom.

In addition, my role here is that of a guide for the incoming groups from the United States. I welcome the groups at the airport, provide context regarding Boca Chica and the surrounding environs, and I operate as a present resource for whatever needs might arise. I just completed an entire week (October 9-15) with a group from Oklahoma. I think it is safe to speak for the group and myself when I say that we will never be the same. This place changes you for the better in ways that are impossible to describe in English or Spanish.

I am going to try and begin posting daily now due to a backlog of information that I wish to share with you all. Three weeks without information means that I have a fair bit to share, and you all have been incredibly patient!

PS: A slight correction to my previous blog post is that my Spanish teacher is actually everyone. I’ve been learning from absolutely every person that I’ve encountered. I have been assigned an actual Professor as well- her name is Lisa and she’s very nice. We’re going to be having our classes every Monday and Wednesday in the Caminante office’s side annex with actual chalk and a chalkboard.

PSS: The streets just hum with activity from fruit sellers with carts to these small trucks with megaphones on top that blast fruit advertisements. Occasionally, you’ll see a flatbed truck that’s just all large speakers blasting advertisements for absolutely everything. The entire apartment shakes when they pass by.

PSSS: If you’ve never had fresh passion fruit (called Chinola in Spanish) please try and find some when you can. It is the nectar of the gods.

Hola a todos! Hello Everyone!

Hi everybody! Henry here, today is Tuesday, September 30, 2014 and I’m writing my first post on this blog from the Caminante office in Boca Chica, DR. I’ve been here since Thursday afternoon so it is time to write. Please feel free to share this web page link with your friends and family. I plan to use this page to record my experiences and memories as we move forward on this journey.

This URL is https://steppingoutonfaithblog.wordpress.com

To recap what has happened since Thursday the 25th of September:

On Thursday Caminante staff picked me up at Las Americas Aeropuerto. They next brought me to a restaurant on the Caribbean Sea where I ate Arroz y Pollo (rice and chicken).  I got to see my apartment and meet my awesome roommate Andrew who is a cinematographer.

On Friday, we visited some of the many Caminante projects. I sat in on discussions on women’s health, Dominican identification policies, and human rights. I also met my assigned Spanish tutor: Helkin. Helkin (pronounced El-kin) teaches Spanish at a public high school in Andres. He is very patient and kind with me (he’s also like 6’5 which can be intimidating initially).

I’d like to finish with a story about Thursday that encapsulates the esprit de corps of Caminante. After I saw my apartment, we walked fifty yards to the main office of Caminante. The staff emerged from their offices to greet me and welcome me. I could tell immediately that this was a really tight knit group that loved each other immensely.The staff played off each other with ease and really fed off each other’s energy with a passion that only comes from time and love.  I am so honored to be a part of this non-profit here in Boca Chica!

I’m really happy to be here representing the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Division of Overseas Ministries as a Global Ministries Intern.

Please feel free to comment below with questions, spelling corrections, or other sundry tidbits.