Sunday, July 24, 2016
Greetings from the Dominican Republic! Our group arrived in Santiago safe and sound after a long day of travel. We are adjusting to the heat and the language barrier, while enjoying many Dominican treats like fresh avocados and mangoes (and Presidente beer- for those of us who are over 21).
This morning, the 7 of us (Julie, Tina, Stephanie, Abby, Pam and Melinda), attended the church service at Christo Salvador, led by Father Hipolito, the congregation’s 87-year old priest. We received a very friendly welcome from the other parishioners, particularly the children, many of whom recognized returning group members. Father Hipolito asked Melinda to deliver a sermon, which was translated by his nephew Ernesto, our translator for the week. Melinda did a great job, and got a good response from the crowd. The service was fairly easy to follow, despite my lack of Spanish skills.
After church, we organized and set up our vacation bible school supplies and games. We’ll start school tomorrow, and are expecting 75-80 students to attend. Most of the kids come from the neighborhood surrounding the church. I’m sure they’ll be very excited to get started tomorrow.
Following the service, we were invited to lunch at Father Hipalito’s house. We enjoyed hearing him talk about the DR under the Trajilo regime, and his journey with the church. The food was wonderful- chicken, rice, vegetables, fresh mangoes from the Hipalito garden and flan. We were all extremely grateful to his family for welcoming us into their home. After lunch, we also had the pleasure of meeting another team working at an Episcopal church here in Santiago. The group was being led by Karen, a missionary from the Dominican Development Group. Melinda served with Karen a few years ago, hence the origin of this trip. They traveled from Florida, and will also be teaching VBS and perhaps helping us with our afternoon work.
This year, in addition to our VBS activities, we will be administering a vision clinic to community members. Melinda originally had this idea after observing the need for vision improvement last year amongst the children who attended VBS. She found a non-profit organization in Louisville, KY that provides training and equipment to measure eyes and distribute glasses to those in need. I attended the training session in June of this year, and in July, 650 pairs of glasses were delivered to my house in Brookville. With help from others at Holy Trinity, we bar-coded and assigned a number to each pair in order to create a full inventory. While the organization provided thorough instructions for the entire process, this did take quite a bit of preparation. It also required us to carry two very large duffle bags full of glasses, along with three smaller suitcases of equipment all the way to the DR. Luckily, that operation was very well coordinated by Melinda and the rest of our team.
One small glitch in an otherwise smooth (so far) trip. All was going according to plan until we were stopped at customs at the airport in Santiago. The airport officials were initially suspicious that we were carrying medicine, and even after that was cleared up, we found out that we are lacking the correct paperwork or documentation to take the glasses with us. They were therefore confiscated by customs, and are being held for a few days until…we don’t know. But Father Hipolito will return to the airport tomorrow and we should be in the clear at that point. Admittedly we are all fairly nervous and frustrated about this.
Assuming we are able to have our vision clinic (fingers crossed!), we hope to measure about 15 people per day, so 90-100 in total. (There is a reason we brought so many pairs– the machine will match the best possible fits for each patient, based on age, gender and vision. Therefore, we need a large inventory to pull from). If we are not able to hold the vision clinic this week, we will of course be very disappointed (and frustrated, considering the hours of prep that went into labeling and sorting the glasses!) But I’m sure we’ll find something else to occupy the time, and learn a valuable lesson for next year.
We are all being cautiously optimistic, and are excited to get started with VBS tomorrow. I am personally very excited to meet and spend time with the students. We’ll send another update tomorrow, and will hopefully have some good stories to share. Buenos noches!
– Pam Frontino