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Beginners Guide: Water Charity Trip

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The population of the Dominican Republic is estimated to be 10.8 million. With 41% living below the poverty line. That is 4,428,000 people living in poverty in a country that would fit geographically in California between Los Angeles and the Mexican border. On the last day of our water charity trip to the Dominican, when our translator, Luis Perez from New York said, “I feel bad for these people but I feel worse for myself,” I asked him to explain. He said, “The people here have nothing material, but have so much joy. I have everything, but I am not as joyful as the people here.”

I traveled for almost a week in the Dominican Republic with a team of seven others to better understand water scarcity, its effect on people, and how to improve or prevent it. We were tasked with teaching farmers how to use Jain Bucket Kits in vegetable crops to save water, save time, and improve yields. The team consisted of a Master Gardener (my wife Devonna Hall), the Executive Director of Chapin Living Waters and his wife (Doug and Nancy Carlson), a landscape contractor who won the Jain Smart Irrigation Month Contest (Nick Martin from Kern Lawn Borders) our translator (Luis Perez) and our hosts from the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Santo Domingo (Bruce and Becky Dyke).

When entering the country it is immediately obvious water is precious. The area receives over 40 inches of rainfall annually, but due to energy issues and treatment issues the water is not plentiful and not safe to drink. The Mission where we stayed was modern and beautiful, yet daily we had reminders of water issues. The Mission has a 3000-gallon cistern below ground in the front yard. This is a concrete vault of water fed by the City of Santo Domingo. It was padlocked, and several times we took the lock off and looked inside to see how much water we had. Some days we saw no water flowing into the vault, other days a trickle, and once a full flow. The water is then pumped to a 500-gallon tank on the roof. The tank is necessary because most days they do not get 24 hours of power and so they have 500 gallons of gravity fed water for those times when the power is out. This is the water reality in a modern city.

 

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The Bateyes

One of the first Bateyes we visited was Batey Experimental. Our goal was to see how the bucket kits Doug and his team helped install last year were performing. Bateyes are small villages where sugar cane field workers live. There are groups of houses or freestanding huts in the middle of the cane fields. Some of them have privately owned corner stores (Colmados) selling a few supplies like rice, water and a great cold non-alcoholic beverage called Malta. Most lack basic sanitation, potable water, schools or medical care. Sugar cane workers spend the day manually cutting sugar cane with a machete. This is the kind of hard work we could never imagine doing. According to a USA Today report, these workers earn $11 – $12 per day for their 12 hours of labor.

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Baytey Experimental 

We were greeted by Victoria Jose de Ceplirra and she was excited to tell us the bucket kits from last year helped her grow enough food for her family, friends and even a little extra to sell. She wanted another 14 kits for the rest of her farm. Her son, Josue Ceplirra was anxious to learn how to install and maintain the kits. I was impressed by his resourcefulness. He required almost no instruction perhaps because he has lived his life figuring basic things out in order to survive.

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Josue Ceplirra, Luis Perez and Nick Martin

 

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Josue Ceplirra and Luis Perez

 

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We also visited Mirka Cristians’ garden in Consuelo City. We rebuilt this garden with help from Josue, Hansel and Mirka and the team had it back in good shape in no time.

 

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Nick Martin, Devonna Hall, Luis Perez and Bruce Dyke

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Hansel, Luis Perez, Mirka Cristians, Josue Ceplirra and Nick Martin

As we drove deeper into the sugar cane fields the conditions in the Bateyes seemed more challenging. However, we were greeted warmly and offered fresh vegetables picked from the garden as we watched at the first farm we visited.  The villagers happily share whatever they have with you. I met Vladimir Benjamin at Batey Margarita.

 

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Vladimir Benjamin and Richard Restuccia

 

In 2009 Vlady was throwing 94 mph fastballs for the Dominican National Team. He was also one of Major League Baseball’s top prospects and pitched in the minors in California. He blew out his arm early so he returned to Batey Margarita. Most minor league players in the U.S. complain about bus travel, low budget motels and fast food, but Vlady must have felt it was a magical ride. Baseball players’ major league dreams are destroyed everyday but few go home to a Batey in the Dominican Republic. Vlady has no regret or bitterness. He was very happy and upbeat. We talked and laughed about baseball, oh yes; we talked a little drip irrigation too. Below is a garden Vlady installed in neighboring Batey 14. When Vladimir is not setting up drip irrigation he is coaching a local baseball team and trying to help players sign contracts with Major League teams. The most memorable part of Batey 14 was the children. We were warmly greeted and they wanted to play and talk with us and try engaging with us anyway they could.

 

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Devonna Hall with a playful crew

 

 

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Devonna Hall and Allianee

The villagers were masterful at setting up bucket kits in their gardens and did not need our help. The only thing we could do was smile and tell them their work was great. Getting on the van after this visit I noticed there were only a few dry eyes on the van.

 

A potential solution

 At most of our stops I observed the use of one or two smart phones and at Batey Experimental there was a computer. With any endeavor to improve, follow up becomes a critical success factor. With Internet access the ability to train, teach and follow up makes the potential for success much higher. Finding good people in country to help facilitate the training is key. Now I understand why many of these less developed countries are leap frogging the United States in mobile technology. It is the best option they have for improving their lives.

Our work in the Dominican was just a drop in the bucket there, and a drop in the ocean for world water. At first this seems overwhelming and depressing, but I know things are getting better with people like this team who are willing to travel to help, or actually move full time (like Bruce and Becky Dyke) to a country to help improve the living conditions. I am unsure how much we were able to help our new friends living in the Bateyes in the Dominican, but I know how much they helped me. I have a deeper appreciation of the good things in my life and I believe this perspective will be lasting.

 

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Becky and Bruce Dyke, Devonna Hall, Richard Restuccia, Luis Perez, Nick Martin, Doug and Nancy Carlson

 

If you would like to participate in one of these trips, please contact me at Rrestuccia@jainsusa.com. Or if you would like to contribute in another way, below are a few of my favorite water charities and a link to Bruce and Becky’s mission in Santo Domingo.

Chapin Living Waters

DigDeep

The Christian & Missionary Alliance – Dominican Republic

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