Walking Together in CommunityOctober 1, 2009
Caminante, meaning "To Walk One's Path", is the organization I'm working with as a Global Ministries intern. The name was created by the first children that participated in the program because it represented their main form of transportation, walking, as well as a symbolism of their different walks of life. Since I arrived a year ago in the Dominican Republic this name has taken a whole new meaning. The goal and vision of Caminante is 'to walk together with children, youth, young adults and their families in the construction processes that allow development of all potentials in order to create a society of rights and duties for all men and women'. This goal reflects the directions of Micah 6:8 "For what does the Lord require of me, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God". For the staff of Caminante this is exactly what they are doing, but walking along side the children and youth in the communities in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
At first it was very challenging, learning how to adapt to a new environment and culture. There were many differences outside of the obvious language and culture such as learning basic daily survival skills; how to wash my clothes without an automatic washer and dryer, making sure I was using clean water to drink and cook with, survive for periods of time without electricity or water, and adapt to the oppressing sun and heat. As a young woman I pride myself on independence, by felt I had regressed to the life of a child, completely dependent on others for the basic necessities of life and at times unable to fully communicate through the language and cultural barriers. Through these experiences I was humbled and recognized that this is the same as our faith and relationship with God. North Americans so often pride ourselves on our independence and accomplishments in life we forget that nothing was achieved without the presence and help of God. Through each of these learning experiences I saw God working through others to help me understand and become acclimated to life in the Dominican Republic.
At the same time I was learning what it means to be a missionary that accompanies a partner organization and what it means to walk along side children, youth and their families in their daily joys and struggles of life. Most of the children in this community know the realities of poverty early in life. Many have been forced to work at some point, selling snacks to tourists at the beach, shining shoes in the city park, or merely begging for money in order to help support their families or fill their stomachs. As a result of the interaction between locals and tourists there arises a problem of sexual exploitation. Children get mixed up with tourists specifically searching for sex who abuse and take advantage of the youth. The staff of Caminante walks along side these children to assure that their human rights are respected and that they are not completely stripped of their humanity through their struggles. This includes but, is not limited to, education and vocational programs in which youth are in tutoring programs helping them to reach their highest potential in school, vocational programs to learn a trade skill and give them a hope for the future, health education specifically related to HIV/AIDS, assistance receiving medical attention when needed, psychological attention and counseling, legal assistance in relation to the Law protecting the rights of children, and accompaniment programs for children in situations of the street and affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. Each of these programs has a focus based on Christian values and discussions of future goals and dreams in life.
One of my jobs is teaching English in their homework rooms to young children and to youth and adults in the vocational center. The best part of this job is the relationship building with my students. The kids run and attack me with hugs as I enter the homework room and are then all ears to participate in a fun activity learning English. I love getting to know the young girls that walked more than an hour to come to my English class and stay after class teaching me how to pronounce words better in Spanish, and giggling after I still sound funny saying a word. They may be teaching me more Spanish than I teach them English.
I had the opportunity to visit the home of one of my students, a young girl, age 11. In her home they make candy too and many kids living nearby all walk along the beach to sell the sweets to the tourists. Now I recognize the importance for her learning English. I also am humbled by the fact that she walked an hour through the Caribbean heat to attend my class, bought breakfast with the 10 pesos she probably made selling sweets and was gracious enough to offer me her breakfast. The overwhelming kindness and sincerity of people to give all of what they have is a lesson in itself for us to follow in our daily lives.
In a community that is predominantly dependent on tourism, speaking English is crucial especially to acquire one of the better paying jobs in the town. All of the children are required to learn English in school; however, more often than not there isn't an English teacher, so the regular classroom teacher is attempting to teach a language that they don't know themselves. So children learn incorrectly or simply don't learn at all. I am proud to be here as a Disciples and United Church of Christ missionary giving part of my gift of privilege, the privilege of knowing how to speak English, to help others have better opportunities for the future. However, my students giving much more to me, the gift of an example of how to live a life as Jesus has taught. To live in community filled with humble sharing. I continue to accompany the staff of Caminante to do as the Lord requires of us, "To do Justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God' alongside the children and youth of this community in the hopes of not necessarily changing a world of problems, but being a world of change for the youth in which we work.
Erin serves as a Global Mission Intern with Caminante in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. She works with children in Caminante's Outreach Ministry. Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
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