Feb 212013
 

For most of us, vacationing at the beach is a pretty normal thing.  At least in my family, we try to get together once a year and head to a beach in North Carolina or Virginia and enjoy the sun and sand.  But for others, the experience of going to the beach is something unprecedented and foreign.

One year, we decided to take all 60 of the boys in the orphanage to an island only reachable by boat, at the end of the week.  Most of them could hardly contain their excitement throughout the week.  When we pulled in with a couple of buses early Saturday morning, the boys were packed outside and ready to go.

And so the adventure began.

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If, the pictures don’t describe it all, it was wild.  None of the boys had ever been on a boat and few had ever been to the beach before so they were experience firsthand the wonders of gritty sand beneath your toes and that stinging sensation when salt water gets up your nose.  Seasickness was also a new experience for many.

It was amazing to see all the children interact with one another and discover new things about the beach and the ocean.  They did a lot of the same things we do at the beach.  They tried to make sand castles (unsuccessfully), they buried each other in the sand, they brought tubes and toys into the water and just lounged around for the afternoon.

Seeing the orphans experience something I think of as a pretty normal experience, was eye opening.  They were so full of joy and fascination and excitement.  I would give up an entire week again any day just to see the way a beach lit up those tiny little brown faces on a warm day in the Dominican Republic.

 

Feb 142013
 

One of my first friends and one that I came to know very well was named Santiago, which translates to James in English.  Santiago is much prettier than James (sorry to all the James out there) so that is what we called him.  He too could sing, like one of the other boys, Ronnie that I wrote about earlier and Santiago also played guitar.  On top of that, he is english was almost flawless and he taught a class at the high school.  By todays standards, he would be hailed a renaissance man.  In the Dominican Republic, he was rejected by his family, tossed in an orphanage at a tender age and was ridiculed growing up due to his part Haitian descent.  There were no hand outs for him, except that he was lucky enough to be dropped off at an orphanage that was growing better and better each day.
Santiago has been at that orphanage since he was maybe 6 or 7 and is currently 19.  He is a gifted, amazing kid with lots of potential, but he has some struggles before him.  He finished high school two years ago, and was even teaching some of his one classes his last two years of high school.  He passed the difficult exam to get in to college and the orphanage was even willing to support him throughout college (college in the D.R. is only a couple thousand dollars for all four years).   However, he has no birth certificate and therefore the government will not let him attend college.  His father went AWOL after he dropped Santiago and his two brothers off at the orphanage and it has been increasingly difficult to locate him.  When they finally did, he didn’t have any birth certificates or any knowledge of where they might be.  Santiago persevered and is now petitioning the government to give him a birth certificate, but he is running into many barriers due to his Haitian descent.

It’s heart breaking to hear stories like these of teens who are denied college because of things like race and irresponsible, careless parents and yet it is the reality for many.  For now Santiago continues to teach classes at the orphanage and fight for an opportunity to go to college.

Feb 072013
 

My first year working at the Rose of Sharon Orphanage, our team was assigned to “pick rocks”.  I didn’t really know what that meant until we got there.  Our job was to go down by a riverbed and pick up big rocks and put them in a truck.  We would eventually take them back to the orphanage and place them on the other side of the wall because the ground was deteriorating there.  What they didn’t tell us was that this dried out riverbed was the hangout spot for tarantulas.  Big, hairy, creepy, crawly, nasty tarantulas.  I nearly dropped the rock I was holding on my toe, when I picked a rock up and found one of the black eyed beasts staring at me, the entire size of the palm of my hand.  As I screamed and dropped my rock (luckily not on my foot), the tarantula stared at me, unmoving, with those beady black eyes…

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Some of the boys heard my screams and came running and were elated to find such a big nice tarantula.  They quickly produced an empty Pringles can– clearly they had come prepared.  Then with squeals of excitement and gasps of triumph, they succeeding in prodding the tarantula with sticks and fingers into the Pringles can.  I was amazed.  This type of incident was repeated throughout the afternoon as more tarantulas were found.  By the end of the day, they had 6 or 8 of these beasts and I wondered what their plan was.  I soon found out.

When we returned to the orphanage, they amalgamated all of the tarantulas and simply played with them.  They made little rings out of paper sticks and had two tarantulas fight.  They tried to feed the tarantulas leaves and they even found a toy truck and pushed the tarantula around on the truck.  I was surprised at the ingenuity of these little boys who came up with such creative games to play with spiders.  I would not have enough come close to those black beasts, but these children who owned next to nothing were nothing short of delighted to play with these menacing creatures

One last picture!

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