Volunteering with Caminante

Volunteering with Caminante

Kyle & Amanda Henderson – Dominican Republic

As many of you know Kyle and I recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR). On this trip we were able to experience life with some children who live in extreme poverty and are very vulnerable to a life of drugs and prostitution.

80% of the people in the Dominican Republic live in poverty. Our time was spent in a small (100,000 ppl), poor, tourist town, Boca Chica. Drugs are a huge problem and the children are extremely susceptible to child exploitation, as many families put their children to work at very young ages, and many of them have nothing to sell but their bodies.

In the midst of the anger and sadness we felt with the living conditions we witnessed, we were also able to witness some of the incredible ways God is at work in the world.During our time we worked at a camp through the program Caminante. Caminante means ‘to walk with’, and that is literally what they do, as they stand by the kids and give them tools so that they may lift themselves up and become positive members of their community.The people of Caminante work to empower kids ages 7-19 and give assistance in education, tutoring, transportation, skills training, medical care, mental health care, warm meals and clothes when needed. They are a grass roots organization made up of people who have first hand knowledge of the struggles that face the kids and teens in their community.Many of the employees of Caminante are former clients who lived on the streets or had little support from a family.

We would like to share a bit about our trip, so please feel free to pick through this when you have time, since this is a long email and we also have lots of pictures to share in our Kodak easy share gallery!

Each night Kyle and I wrote in our journal about our day and asked ourselves 5 questions about where we saw God, where we felt sad or angry or when we felt joy and love. I would like to give you a highlight from those questions from each of our days.

Day 1: This was our first day of travel and arriving in Santo Domingo and taking a taxi to Boca Chica. Our first day also included a power outage, no TP or towels, a toilet that didn’t flush and mysterious standing water in our bedroom- not so good for mosquitoes!

  • We saw God in the people we met who welcomed us with open arms and in the beauty of the island.
  • We felt sad/angry after realizing the language barrier was going to be a bigger struggle than we had anticipated! And in noticing very obvious child exploitation.
  • We felt joy/love in seeing kids playing at the beach and in the kindness of our Caminante friends touring us around town and in giving us fruit to welcome us.

Day 2: We saw God in the kids who were constantly begging, and in the man with his family who gaveus ataste of his pizza, then piled into his tiny car with 5 kids in the back seat.

  • We felt anger/sadness a lot this day. In reading a great UNICEF article on child exploitation in DR and in seeing evidence of it on the beach. In all of the kids on the street late at night and in the very young girls dolled up and on display. And in meeting an American and former DR citizen who told me ‘nothing can be done’ about the issues in Boca Chica because of the tourism dollars keeping the issues going.
  • We felt joy/love when Jessica from Caminante brought her sister who speaks English and brought us out to see Boca Chica at night. Being able to talk and laugh and get to know new people. Seeing the love Jessica has for the kids we ran into on the street at night and getting hugs and kisses from all of the street kids when they found out we were with Caminante.

Day 3: Our first day with the kids at camp!

  • We saw God in Havier, our first ‘interpreter’, In Jessica’s genuine love for the kids and in the boys sleeping on the floor at Caminante after camp.
  • We felt anger/sadness when we were annoyed with each other in getting use to spending so much time together. And when asked about how kids were treated in the US, I told them it was illegal to treat children the way they were treated, and one of the girls said “they have no other choice there,” referring to the child prostitution.
  • We felt joy/love in the excitement of the kids in having their pictures taken and seeing them on the screen, and in the music they always play and dance to.And in Jose who took a liking to Kyle and for Amanda in doing dishes with the kids and learning Spanish.

Day 4: We learned to appreciate the slower pace of living and appreciate the ‘little things’ of life in the DR.

  • We saw God in the sounds and rhythms of the city and in the eyes of one of the kids who has an incredible spirit.
  • We felt anger/sadness in seeing the conditions of poverty, garbage everywhere, non- functioning clothing etc. and in seeing a young mom with a baby and knowing what may lie ahead for that child.
  • We feltjoy/love in the kids excitement to teach us and be with us and in spending time with Sony’s family (a former Caminante kid who now has a family, a home and runs a local pizza restaurant which we frequented!), being invited into his home and getting to meet a success story of Caminante and learning how much we had in common. And when Kyle got to play the second most popular national sport, dominoes.

Day 5: Our last day of formal camp, and a night in Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic and the first colonized city of ‘the new world.’

  • We saw God In Pedro, a former Caminante kid who took great joy in being our interpreter and using the English skills he learned in school and in his joy in sharing his culture with us. And in a Haitian man, who is a street vendor and walks 8 miles round trip to camp to sell ice pops to the kids for less than 5 cents each, then picks up their garbage. He had an incredible heart for helping kids. And in the realization of the incredible fit in our placement here.
  • We felt anger/sadness when we watched a cartoon video with the 7-8 year olds teaching them to say no to drugs and to say no when offered money for sex. We also felt sad for the 12 year old street boy, Meli, who latched on to us (literally) whenever we saw him. We wondered what atrocities he had experienced to lead to his mental illness and what his future will look like.
  • We felt joy/love when Kyle played stick ball and hit a home run- thrilling all of the kids, and in working with Natalia and Amelia and teaching them English and having them teach Amanda Spanish. In being with a loving family that night, and in the joy of learning another language. And in the ‘gaggle’ of girls at camp who love us with out even knowing us.

Day 6: Spent the day in Santo Domingo at the park with 400 kids!

  • We saw God in Olivia, the mother of the President of Caminante who shared her garden and her home with us. For Kyle in picking up trash at the park with some boys and having them find joy in it.
  • We felt anger/ sadness in the disparity between rich and poor in Santo Domingo, and driving through the towns between Santo Domingo and Boca Chica and realizing Boca Chica is the’nice area.’
  • We felt joy/love in playing a game with a little girl and seeing her spunk and strong spirit and hoping it will be used in a positive way, and in the joy of the kids as we passed through towns on the way home, and in the music being played on the bus. And in seeing how the kids take care of each other.

Day 7: Our last official day with Caminante, spent in a celebration lunch and camp de-brief and in another trip to Santo Domingo.

  • We saw God in Meli, who didn’t want us to leave. He is truly ‘the least of these’. And in the room of Caminante staff during the de-brief.
  • We felt angry/sad in seeing so many people on the side of the road with guns and hearing about Jessica’s story of being shot a month ago, and in the obstacles Pedro faces in his education, and in our leaving Boca Chica.
  • We felt joy/love at dinner with Jessica, Pedro and Denise, the Director of Caminante and beingable to laugh and have fun. And in the bus ride from Boca Chica to Santo Domingo- the guys playing music and people laughing and talking. And in Kyle and I hanging out with each other and enjoying our time reconnecting and finding the ‘silliness’’ we enjoy together.

Day 8: This was our last day in Santo Domingo and was spent getting to the airport and traveling home

  • We saw God in the poorest area of Santo Domingo. We saw poverty as we’ve never seen it before and garbage everywhere.
  • We felt sadness/anger in the fact that people have to live in those conditions with open sewage, and when we saw some missionaries also returning from DR being rude to the customs workers. And in ending our incredible journey and saying goodbye to our new friends.
  • We felt joy/love when Denise gave me her necklace and Jessica gave me her bracelet and in our time together on the plane having fun and laughing, and in landing home and getting back to hold our girls!!

A few of our favorite lessons:

“The poor cannot be bought.” A quote from Denise, the director of Caminante who taught us that efforts to come in and ‘save’ the poor by basically ‘buying’ them does not improve their conditions. The poor need to receive the necessary tools to move themselves forward. They need to receive education and the transportation and supplies necessary to fully receive that education. They need to receive adequate health care to be able to be healthy. If given the tools they will find solutions to their problems. This is much more effective than someone coming in to ‘save’ them while imposing their own foreign solutions that may not be relevant to their culture and their issues.

“We are good people with a poor administration”A quote from one of the Caminante volunteers who is a former client. The people there have been exploited and put down for centuries. The government continues to abuse power and does not provide basic necessities to the people of their country. This does not make the people any less. They all have hopes and dreams and they deserve to have their needs met and to have every opportunity to live out their dreams of education and life fulfillment.

Amanda and Kyle Henderson

The Hendersons served as short-term volunteers with the Caminente in Bocca Chica, Dominican Republic. Kyle and Amanda accompanied the workers of Caminente as they worked with street children in various areas.