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Monday, July 08, 2013

Walking In Their Shoes For A Day

The river ran through it
Sweltering heat, 100% humidity, long rides, sweat dripping down our necks, back, arms, stepping gingerly through mud, grass, dirt… this job ain’t glamorous or for the needy. Well, yes, it is for the needy; needy as in being a child in poverty, motherless, earning a dollar a day, not having enough to eat. These are the children with hemophilia we visited today outside of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. It’s a day when you put your own needs aside and realize just how shockingly removed we are from how most of the world lives.

Luis Miguel and mother Dulce

Today was special for me, as I got to see this revelation through the eyes of Tricia Sico, program manager for Save One Life, the nonprofit I founded in 2000. This was her first country visit as a member of Save One Life, and first time to the Dominican Republic. We first attended Camp Yo Sí Puedo (Yes I Can!) in Lomas Linda, just outside of Santo Domingo, the capital, for the past four days. I was going to blog about this amazing camp tonight, but today readjusted our reality to the real reason we exist: to get sponsorships for deserving children in desperate situations.

My day started with a shocking jolt at 8 am, after returning from an hour-long run near the beach in the growing heat. From Tanzania, Dr. James emailed me that Cuthbert, the little boy to whom I gave Tanzania’s first home infusion, died of a GI bleed that could have been treated with factor concentrate. We have been helping Tanzania for the past 6-7 years, and Cuthbert was one of the first children with hemophilia I met there. His loss is devastating.

The family enjoys watching videos from camp
on my iPhone
But we headed out to visit the living; the children whose needs still must be met. Visiting the children in their homes, we see how much they lack, in the simple things we expect: clean water, sanitation, transportation, nutritious food, books, imagination, education. Add to that hemophilia and their lives are a daily struggle to survive, like Cuthbert’s. Today we visited five families in about six hours. I’ll only mention two for now.

Haydee (far L) and Tricia (far right) with Luis Miquel's family
At 10 am we rumbled along a crumbling, stony road in Haydee’s SUV, built like a tank thankfully, to a cluster of wood shacks. The farthest one housed the Ciriaco family. Huge plants fringed the walkways and doors so that we had to duck sometimes. The house is made of wood slats, with plenty of gaps in them to let sun shine in like laser beams in the morning, and mosquitoes in at night. There are no screens, but the family does have electricity as evidenced from the je
rry-rigged wires criss-crossing the shacks. The family greeted us warmly; Luis Miguel, the son with hemophilia, sheepishly tagged along, though he had just seen us at camp for four days! Why shy now? His sister Nicole was not shy at all. Pretty in her beaded hair, she readily hugged and snuggled. We all walked down to the river’s edge, where Luis Miguel’s mother explained that the river rose in April of 2012 (11,000 impoverished people had to relocate!) and completely flooded their meager home. They lost most everything they had. I was told that the government came, helped for about four days, and left. There’s no compensation, no one to sue, and certainly no insurance. You are simply in the hands of fate.

Because the family was registered with Haydee’s organization, the Fundación Apoyo al Hemofílico (FAHEM), they received food, clothing and support. We snapped some pictures, interviewed the family a little then had to move on to the next three families.

At the end of the day, we drove to Wilson’s house. We drove far away from the city, on decent roads, until we started seeing less businesses and homes, and more shacks, colorful laundry strung to dry, overgrown plants and lots of chickens. Rural Dominican Republic. After asking numerous people for some sketchy directions, we eventually came to the right barrios and saw Wilson waiting by the side of the road. He hopped in, exclaimed, “Hello Laureen!” (in English no less!) and then showed us how to navigate the dirt roads to his home.

It’s as pretty as a home can get in rural poverty. Lime green, little front porch. Inside, one giant room, divided with a cloth hung from a line, to serve as a wall. Wilson is 10, and wants someday to be a lawyer. He’s factor VIII deficient, but looks in good shape. Indeed at camp, he stole our hearts with his charm and smile. His mother Evalisa was present, and little by little, children and curious neighbors peered at us from their porches. Wilson has a sponsor already, new, and I can’t wait to share photos with him. As we chatted, little children ran about, holding hands, posing for a quick picture, which I then showed them in playback to their great amusement. Giggling, curious and trusting, I’m sure they haven’t seen our likes before!
Wilson and Laurie

I distributed some donated gifts: jewelry for the mom and grandmother, toys for the kids, and an envelope with some money for the mother. Wilson is a born businessman; he ran up to Vincente, a father of a child with hemophilia who has volunteered with FAHEM for years and who is a lawyer, and presented him with a beta fish…. in a whiskey bottle, sans whiskey. Vincente paid him a few pesos, and off we went with our fish in a bottle. I suggested we call him “Wilson,” and asked if the fish had hemophilia too.

Haydée, Vincente, Tricia and I stopped at a mall, and as we climbed out of the SUV, Tricia, a true animal lover, felt compelled not to leave Wilson the Fish in the car. We strolled through the mall with our whiskey bottle, the fish sloshing about inside, causing a few security guards to turn their heads. We had a delicious lunch of chicken, discussing all the kids we saw today, with Wilson the Fish in the center of the table. Will the kids have a future? If we can get them sponsored, and continue to get factor into the country. Well, we accomplished our goal to visit five families today, which was exhausting, but we didn’t exactly walk in their shoes for a day. It was only for a few hours, and it left us tired and contemplative. We parted—Vincente with Wilson the Fish, and Tricia and I with tons of photos, visual images burned in our memory, and much work ahead of us. If you want to sponsor one of our five kids visited today (and we can show you great photos!) please visit
Coconut juice...

...For Tricia!

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