Nuevo Renacer: Two weeks later
My experience at the OHBA Humanitarian Build in the Dominican Republic in late November stays with me — it’s certainly changed the way I think about “community.”
I had the pleasure of sharing breakfast this morning with Christal Earle of LiveDifferent and the Star’s Spencer Wynn to chat and reminisce about our seven days in Nuevo Renacer.
One of the things I shared with Christal was how amazing I thought the people were; they cared so much about each other and although they had very little, they were willing to share it with each other -- and us!
The expression “It takes a village to raise a child” came to life for me there. Mothers extend their arms and hearts to all the children of the community, and all the children know that they are loved by all the mothers. Fathers teach their sons how to play football and mothers teach their daughters how to cook and sew (gender roles are still very distinct there).
Christal also told me about LiveDifferent's Hampers of Hope, which are Christmas hampers with a difference. For instance, a $35 donation will fill a "school hamper," which will buy a uniform and books so that one child can attend school. A $100 teacher's hamper pays the salary of a teacher for one month. I think I'll be giving these special hampers as Christmas gifts!
Christal is also excited about another large group of corporation types who will be building in Nuevo Renacer in the spring: WestJet, which has very forward thinking and engaged executives running the airline.
It got me thinking about returning … to become engaged with the continuing work. Just a thought.
I’ve had the good fortune through this experience to meet some wonderful people. One is Alvin Curling, former MPP, speaker of the legislature and envoy to the Dominican Republic. He came along on the trip and was fully engaged in the building and in community building.
I received a wonderful email from him that I would like to share with you here:
“My role as the ambassador of this project was unique. I was not assigned specifically to any one of the six sites and this allowed me to see a spirit of humanity demonstrated that words would definitely fall short of capturing. I saw tears of joy, tears of kindness, and tears of gratitude and relief. Individuals were transformed from giving to receiving from acceptance to sharing.
“Canadians coming from the comfort of their homes to assist others with less means of material infrastructure found a community that welcomed them with a spirit that has sustained them through natural and human disasters for decades.
Smiles that melt the hearts of all, children that wanted piggyback rides to say that ‘we are family,’ children of both nations sharing their games and spaces as all kids do when they get together .
“ ‘HOLA’ was the welcoming word heard as we arrived at the sites each day, as we sifted sand, mixed cement, assisted in cleaning up the beach and numerous other task in the construction exercise. The spoken languages were never a challenge.
“Neither side speaks each other’s language but it did not matter; both sides seemed to recognize that there was a greater force at play and proceeded to let it runs it’s course.
“I saw the language of human kindness in full flight through smiles, laughter, high fives, low fives, or sharing a Presidente, a Dominican beer. These action transcend all spoken words. In precise term it was saying nuestra familia.
“The glow in the eyes of the Canadians as they returned each day from the sites, back to the hotel was evident as they recalled the day’s experience.
“The key presentation was an emotionally charged event filled with thank yous on both sides and saying good-bye to our new-found family.
“It was indeed an honour and a life changing experience to be part of it.”
And this from Danny Gabriele, co-chair of the build, who I witnessed working as hard as anybody.
“Often you see the statement ‘exceed your expectations.’ I have always thought that was a ridiculous description. But I would have to say this is the first time I would use that descriptive phrase.
“What I really wasn’t expecting was the fashion in which all the participants pulled together as a team and were selfless in their daily efforts. I can truthfully say that I have never worked that hard around my own home.
“It was pretty clear after seeing everyone completely drenched (with sweat) that people were of the mindset that they were going to do everything they possibly could to make these homes happen.
“There are two moments that I would describe as watershed experiences. They both occured on the last day of the build. A couple of us from the Marz team were working with another team mixing a large pile of cement on the street that was to be used for that home’s basement. It had rained quite a bit that day and the street was a river of mire. All of us were working the mix fully equipped with our work boots, gloves, hard hats and sunglasses. I looked over and saw a boy about 10 mixing as franticly as we were. I looked down and saw he had no shoes. I asked the translator to ask him if it was his home we were working on. The boy said, ‘no, I just want to help like you people are doing.’
“Shortly after I was parging a wall and my helmet fell off my head and into an ungodly pile of I don’t know what. I immediately looked at my helmet and unleashed a tirate of construction vocabulary. A local gentleman was across the road watching. He ran across the road, picked up my hard hat and gestured that he would return. I was not sure what he was going to do with it. He he washed it and brought it back to me. And then quickly left. It was clear he was not looking for anything other than to help.
“I believe both stories reflect the impact of our efforts to the people of Aguas Negras.
“The fact that this big group of gringos cared about their community inspired them to believe in their community and they did their utmost to express their appreciation through their kindness.”