Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Comparison Between Gandhi and Jesus

When I was a Junior at Virginia Tech in 2006, I took a class focusing on the life of Gandhi. It was extremely interesting and insightful. As a final project, I did a comparison of Gandhi and Jesus. I wrote a paper but could only find this summary. I think it’s important to compare the two men when considering Gandhi’s life and work because so much of what he believed was inspired by Jesus, although Gandhi never did accept the Christian faith as his own but remained a Hindu, which I learned to be a pretty fluid faith without solid beliefs in one thing.

In addition to studying the life of Gandhi, there are similarities found when studying the life of other social movement leaders and those who practiced nonviolent resistance in order to bring about change. However, I do believe that Jesus was the first to practice, preach, and embody these concepts and it is important to give credit where credit is due.

I recently submitted this comparison to be published on a site I have been writing articles for called Factoidz. They did not wish to publish this article so I am sharing it here. Nonetheless, Factoidz is quite an enjoyable site that pays authors according to the number of views articles receive. If you would like to write articles for Factoidz too, you can sign up through my affiliate link, which gives me a little bonus should you be promoted to a staff writer one day and saves you from a longer application process.

Here is A Comparison Between Gandhi and Jesus:

Similarity:

Large crowds would gather to hear them speak. They were highly attractive to people and carried a unique message.

Difference:

Lots of what people today have learned about Gandhi is from his own recorded thoughts. There are four recordings of the life of Jesus, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. None of these were recorded by Jesus himself.

Similarity:

Both men believed that everyone should love their enemies.

Difference:

The two men differed as to whom and what should be considered an enemy.

Similarity:

Both men led movements and acquired a group of followers.

Difference:

Jesus’ followers had a stronger commitment than Gandhi’s followers. Even after the death of Jesus, many of his followers died for him and many more came to follow him.

Similarity:

Both men reached out to people that were the outcasts of society. Gandhi reached out to the Untouchables in India. Jesus reached out to the prostitutes and tax collectors in his time. He also reached out to Samaritans as recorded in John 4.

Difference:

Gandhi sought Truth and equated God with Truth. Jesus claimed to be the Truth as recorded in John 8:32 and John 14:6.

Similarity:

Both men greatly influenced their communities and other communities around the world.

Difference:

Jesus’ influence has been much greater and his time on earth was much shorter. Jesus died at age 33 whereas Gandhi died at age 79.

Similarity:

Both men opposed authority figures. Gandhi opposed the British authority whereas Jesus opposed the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Difference:

Jesus did not break the law but Gandhi did. Jesus was blameless and pointed out the wrong doings of the authority but did not break the law. (Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 5:17, John 18:23, Luke 23:39-43)

Similarity:

Both men took the burden of others onto themselves.

Difference:

They went about taking the burden of others onto themselves in different ways. Gandhi volunteered to fast for others to make peace. Jesus did not volunteer to undergo torture was captured. He did not fight back or refuse abuse. It is recorded that he dreaded taking on the burden of others but knew it must be done and accepted the torture he knew he would undergo. (Matthew 26:36-39, Luke 22:24, John 12:27)

Similarity:

Both men were killed for their causes.

Difference:

Gandhi died and left his followers without his leadership. The Bible records that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers. As a follower of Jesus, it is written that one is baptized by the Holy Spirit, (Luke 3:16), and Jesus promises that he will be with his followers forever, (Matthew 28:19, 20 & John 16:33).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Testimonies to the Existence and Use of Magic in Haiti

Ever since I began doing volunteer work in the Dominican Republic in 2005, different people started suggesting that I read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. If you have not read or are not familiar with this book, it’s about the life and work of Dr. Paul Farmer who is co-founder of a non-profit organization called Partners in Health which does significant health care activity in Haiti and in other developing countries. I go through stages of reading a few books and then not doing any pleasure reading for long periods of time. A few years ago a friend got me the book for Christmas but I still did not get a true hankering to read it until I heard that Dr. Farmer would be speaking at Virginia Tech, my alma mater, last year. I found the book to be very enjoyable, educational, impressive, and thought-provoking. I was especially interested in Dr. Farmer’s unique and quirky, yet nurturing upbringing that likely had a large influence on him turning out to be a very intelligent and high achieving man with a pioneer spirit.

Through reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, one can really gain an understanding of Dr. Farmer’s views regarding world poverty and health care for the poor. There were several points throughout the book where I wish I was reading it as a part of a class or a book club so that we could discuss certain points. I won’t talk about every point I would have liked to have discussed but just one main issue.

Early on in the book, the author recounts a conversation he observed between Dr. Farmer and a Haitian patient. The patient told Dr. Farmer that she believed that her health problems were caused by a magical attack done by someone that was angry with her. Dr. Farmer told the patient that magic does not exist. Through living and working with Haitians I hear continuous talk about magic. I have always heard of this magic referred to as voodoo in English but I rarely hear Haitians use the world voodoo. I have also never seen or heard reference to voodoo dolls coming from Haitians. They talk about someone going to a “boko” or a “mambo” When asked what a “boko” is they often say someone who serves Satan or who knows how to use magic. A boko is a man and a mambo is a woman. People go to a boko or a mambo for a number of reasons. In exchange for money and sometimes under certain circumstances such as certain materials provided, a boko or mambo can supposedly kill someone with magic, witness a situation or find out the true story without actually being there, make someone sick, make someone crazy, make someone receive money, make someone fall in love with the person desiring, give someone the power to disappear, heal someone from a physical or mental sickenss inflicted by magic or Satan, put someone into a state where they appear dead and then later raise them from this state, raise someone from the dead to serve as a slave, give someone the power to disappear, give people the ability to transform into certain animals, and more.

After hearing so many accounts from so many Haitians, I think that it is unwise of Dr. Farmer to conclude that magic does not exist and to state this with authority to Haitian patients. Anyone who believes in the Bible should also not ignore such accounts as such things are also recorded in the Bible. 1 Samuel 28 tells of Saul going to a spiritist and calling up the spirit of Samuel to give him insight as to what David was up to. Perhaps Dr. Farmer’s thoughts on this issue were misrepresented by the recorded conversation and he has further thoughts on this issue. I don’t know. I would be interested in talking to him about it as well as with other foreigners working in Haiti or with Haitian immigrants or refugees in another area such as we do in the Dominican Republic.

Although I have not witnessed many of the things Haitians assure me exist and they have witnessed, I have witnessed some and therefore have to conclude that magic of some sort does exist and it is Satan’s tool. It is also not a joke or a game as some might think it is. An American might hear the word magic and think of a magician pulling bunnies out of hats or making little balls disappear under cups. Haitians know nothing of this sort of magic and the word has a totally different meaning. Magic is not something that people should submit to out of fear, just as one should not submit to Satan out of fear. But it is something that should be taken seriously. 1 Peter 8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour.” I often hear bits of this verse stated in reference to mambos, bokos, and people involved in magic or witchcraft, saying that they will eat you. My husband is Haitian and has spoken seriously and firmly with me about magic ever since we met. He gets upset when friends or family have any sort of involvment in magic. People have spread rumors in the past that he used magic to make me fall in love with him. This is an accusation that has highly offended him.

The main situations I have witnessed have been illnesses and the disappearance of items and money. I have witnessed several people with illnesses that are understood by Haitians to be zombies, demon possession, or a spiritual attack of some kind but will mention two cases here as examples. In 2007, a member of our program for Haitian refugee boys working and sometimes living on the streets of Puerto Plata became ill. He first started acting strange when a fight broke out and there was lots of commotion. The fight got diffused and then I thought that this boy was fighting but after observing further, saw that he was on all fours and about three or four large boys were on his back, trying to hold him down. One boy was laughing at their inability to contain him. Soon after, he laid on the ground unconcious. Staff members carried him to a hospital that was located conveniently right across the street. The doctors had him stay for a few days and diagnosed him with epilepsy. I was very busy during these few days and unable to visit him. When he was released, he continued having attacks. They did not appear to be seizures and members of a Christian Haitian church said that we were wasting our money at the hospital. These were spiritual attacks and prayer would heal him.

One evening he was having attacks and we took him to the emergency room where they gave him a strong tranquilizer injection. We assumed that he would sleep through the night but after a few hours, he was having strong attacks, biting the sheets on which he laid and attempting to bite himself and others. We held him down and prayed for him. At one point he called the name of the staff worker next to me and said, “There’s a demon walking in my head. When he finished saying that, I felt a wind come from him and turned my face to avoid taking the wind straight on. As I did this, I saw that the man next to me he had just spoken to did the same thing simultaneously with me. We continued praying throughout the night and the boy prayed some himself as well. He eventually became peaceful and slept. Before becoming sick, this boy had asked to return to his family in Haiti. I had been reluctant to send him since no one could go with him to assure that he arrived safely and it was where he should be. However, after his sickness and other mayhem that went on in the large group, I realized that the responsibility was too great and sent him back along with a few others. No one has seen or heard from him since. Therefore, we have no update on him. During the few days between the long night of prayer and the day he left he did not have any attacks. This is one of several examples I have witnessed and helped care for here.

There is another young man who walks the streets of Puerto Plata selling ice cream every day. Everyone calls him “Dyab” which means “Demon”. He apppears mentally handicapped or restricted mentally in some way although I haven’t spent a lot of time with him. Those that are from the same place as him in Haiti, including my husband, say that his father had a boko do something spiritual to him that causes him to be in this condition. They explain that as a child, he was very uncontrollable and violent. His father made the decision to mentally handicap him in order to control him. His father did this by going to a boko and paying him to use his knowledge and power to put his son in this state.

These cases would likely be understood and explained as something different by psychiatrists in the United States. However, I remember learning about medical framing in a History of Disease and Medicine class I took at Virginia Tech. Framing is basically recognizing a group of symptoms and defining them as a disease. Many illnesses diagnosed, especially mental illnesses, do not have tests that can be run to measure anything in the body to prove the presence of a specific illness. To me, this is evidence of the spiritual nature of the illness. Understanding that diseases are framed somewhat arbitrarily helps to open one’s mind to the different ways illnesses are understood across cultures. Hopefully this also helps Americans to open their minds to the possibility that Haitian understanding of such illnesses may be more accurate or at least worth considering and learning from. For more information on this topic and the use of psychiatric drugs in the US, check out this very informative documentary video made by the mother of a classmate of mine that committed suicide shortly after our high school graduation. His suicide was linked to the psychiatric drugs he was taking for depression at the time.

While spending time in Haiti, I spoke with a pastor, a judge, and other community leaders about the subject of witchcraft or supernatural acts of Satan. I did not seek out community leaders and specifically ask them questions about this but just through passing time in the community and experiencing different things that happened while I was there, such as the dealth of community members, these conversations came about. Before these conversations, the majority of the testimonies and stories I had heard had come from boys in our program in Puerto Plata, as well as Haitian staff members and neighbors. I definitely considered these accounts, but after spending more than a week with my husband’s family in a remote community in Haiti, experiencing life there, and talking with these community leaders, I reflected on Paul Farmer’s comment I read stating that magic does not exist and realized that if that is the approach taken by humanitarian efforts in Haiti then I think it is an insensitive and arrogant approach that gives no value to the testimony of millions of Haitians.

To be scientifically clear, I have not personally listened to the testimony of millions of Haitians but I have listened to at least 100 testimonies in Puerto Plata from people representing various regions of Haiti and at least thirty testimonies from a community outside of Cap Haitian. All have spoken affirmative to the existence of the magical works I mentioend earlier and no one has yet spoken in the negative. These testimonies have come from Haitians of all ages, varying educational levels, and varying levels of personal involovement with magic.

One boy who has been in and out of our program told me about growing up in a household that worships Satan and the sun. I was confused when he told me that they would leave offerings to Satan such as plates of food and Satan would eat them. After asking for further explanation, he told me that Satan could eat the food in different ways. After leaving the food, you could go away and come back to find it gone, not knowing exactly what had happened. Or a force could come over you and you yourself could eat the food or throw it somewhere before coming back to total consciousness. After regaining awareness you are unclear as to what happened.

I also mentioned that I have experienced the disappearance of items, especially money. Before this began happening, I had been told several times that there were people who could disappear, go and steal without anyone seeing. I had also heard of people just having to get near you in order to somehow steal your money without ever touching it. Lots of people that go to a boko go and make some sort of an effort to get money. While Dominicans generally look down upon Haitians, some make trips to Haiti in order to seek out bokos, usually with the ambition of getting rich. A teacher with Project Esperanza used to work as a guide in this area, leading visiting Dominicans to bokos in Haiti. He then became a Jehovah’s witness and quit doing this.

I have experienced several occasions where money has mysteriously disappeared. At first, I accused those nearby and got upset but after a few times, I learned to keep my cool as I realized that accusing people and getting upset only seemed to make things worse and wrongly turn me against others. Yes, people have been responsible for taking money before but there have been several times when that possibility was completely ruled out.

One example is when I ate at a cafeteria and had a zipper wallet in my hand. It had a 500 peso bill and a 200 peso bill. I checked intentionally before eating and saw this. I held the wallet in my hand the whole time and no one touched me. After eating, I opened the wallet to pay and the 500 peso bill was missing. I am 100% sure that the bill was securely in the wallet before and that no one touched the wallet.

Another example happened this past summer when Project Esperanza co-founder Kristin Preve was visiting, along with the Tulane Medical student group. I was on the soccer field at soccer practice. I pulled a zip lock baggy from my purse that was full of change and sent someone to buy water. I then put it back in my purse. Kristin then showed up at the door at other end of the field. I yelled over to her, asking her to bring the guagua (van) full of volunteers over to the other door so that I could pay the guagua driver without having to walk across the field. After a few minutes, the guagua sat outside of the door I was near. I went over and stood by the driver window to pay him for the day’s services. I gave him some money from my pocket but then needed to complete with money from the change bag. I searched all through my purse and couldn’t find it. I went back to the soccer field where I just was and couldn’t find it. I asked the boys on the soccer team that stood around and they searched. I then had to tell the guagua driver that I would finish paying him tomorrow and he took the volunteers back to the hotel. Kristin never got out of the guagua as I paid the driver. The only time she got out was when she appeared at the other end of the field, about 100 yards away. We never were in contact with each other. Additionally, no one that was outside of the guagua got in the gaugua at this point. I just went to the window and paid the driver. Later that evening, Kristin found my bag of change in her purse which she had with her in the guagua. We confirmed that it was the same bag. How the heck did it end up there? This sort of thing has happened on too many occasions. Luckily we found the money this time but on several occasions I have not.

It is probable that Dr. Farmer told his patient that magic does not exist because he did not want the patient to engage in continued conflict with the person she believed had sent an illness upon her with magic. He also likely believed that the case could be solved with modern medicine. That is very reasonable and I think it’s important to try to lessen conflict in such situations. However, there is value in exploring the spiritual realm as well when considering the health of individuals and communities. I think that this is an area that Haitians specialize in.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

By Faith We Continue

Below is an essay I wrote for a Faith and Development essay contest put on by the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) and the SEVEN Fund. As my essay was not chosen as a winner, it will now serve as a nice addition to my blog. However, I was awarded second prize in an If I Had a Million Dollars essay competition. The essay and a section about Project Esperanza will be published in a book in the spring.


By Faith We Continue

We began by executing business ideas left and right with the faith that our efforts would produce fruit. In order to create change we would need money; money to pay rent on a house to feed, teach, and provide shelter for street kids. We would need money to pay Haitian immigrant teachers to run grassroots schools that educate children and keep them out of the streets and money to pay for odds and ends such as purchasing chalk or items for someone’s shoe shine kit. Lastly, we would need money to get ourselves there and then back again.

I remember when we executed our first fundraiser. It was a chilly Saturday morning in November 2005. We set up a table outside of Wal-Mart and sold Project Esperanza t-shirts, coupon books, raffle tickets to win a football autographed by the Virginia Tech football team, and did face painting. The Friday morning before this first fundraiser we met at the chapel on the Virginia Tech drill field and prayed. We asked God to bless our efforts and had faith that He heard our prayers. We did not strike rich off of that first fundraiser but did make seed money for further fundraisers. Every Friday morning we met and laid our requests before God. We had faith that He heard us and He showed us that He did. We continued fundraising, designing more t-shirts, and found local stores to sell them in. We sold mistletoe at Christmastime, held a thrift sale, 5K race, and executed various other ideas.

As a group, we raised over $30,000 which we used to serve in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic that summer. Though we started by working on the construction of a neglected public school, our main summer project began when we ran a street census in which we met hundreds of Haitian boys who had left their home country “in search of life”. They walked the streets daily, some shining shoes, others selling different food items such as hard-boiled eggs, peanut brittle, or coconut sweets. They started showing up daily at the house we rented, so we began serving lunch, teaching lessons, and playing games such as musical chairs, hot potato, and soccer. We faced challenges in setting things up and had nay-sayers among us, but we kept the faith and kept up the prayer, which saved us.

The summer ended and we took over the long-term rent of the house so that we would have a place to come back to. And we came back as often as possible. We soon learned about the faith of these shoe shining, street vending boys we had met. They crossed the border from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and walked through the woods for days in order to avoid guards and arrive in Puerto Plata. They also executed their business plans in order to make ends meet and to, in some cases, send money back home. They faced so many challenges; challenges much more extreme than anything I had ever encountered. Their faith further sharpened our faith.

I took special joy in helping them organize their personal business efforts. We began a little bank to help them save money and to show them where there money was going. I often helped them purchase shoe shine kits and materials, making a contract outlining their agreement to work certain hours after school and give back half of their earnings until the start up costs invested were paid back. I didn’t make back my money in most cases but introducing the concept of a contract and a business agreement was worth it. Some of them began acting as middle men, purchasing jewelry from local artisans at low prices, then sending the jewelry with me to the U.S. to sell. I brought back their profits and they bought things such as clothes, bikes, and chickens.

I remember the first time we did this. Two boys purchased ten bracelets each and watched excitedly as I packed them up in my suitcase. However, their excitement soon turned into conflict when one suggested that they separate the money between the two, regardless of whose bracelets sold. The other disagreed as he had carefully chosen his bracelets and did not want them mingled with those of the other. A heated discussion broke out which almost turned into a physical fight. I yelled at them to stop! They couldn’t let the business break them apart! I gathered them together and we prayed over their business and their friendship. They were soon smiling. Three years later, these two are still friends and they still wheel and deal together. I keep an eye on their wheeling and dealing to make sure that it does not get them into trouble, as well as look for healthy business opportunities for them.

Now Project Esperanza celebrates her fifth birthday. What began as a Virginia Tech student organization in 2005 is now a registered non-profit organization in both the United States and the Dominican Republic. Our faith-based and business minded fundraising efforts have allowed us to generate a steady income to cover a monthly budget that has fluctuated between $2,000 and $5,000 since the beginning of 2007. More importantly, we have generated funds with specific sensitivity to those we serve, being sure to protect and not exploit in any way. We have also been as clear and transparent as possible, taking out no administrative salaries to run the organization but relying on part-time work opportunities and personal business efforts to make ends meet.

In Hebrews 11, we find that “faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.” Time and time again we have acted on faith, taking steps without the visible and tangible security that everything would fall into place. This can appear crazy to those who lack faith. We can imagine how Noah appeared as he built the ark. And even those who have faith may question whether or not the God that you claim to have faith in is the same God that they claim to have faith in. They may question whether or not your efforts are truly carrying out His will. This causes many to observe but few to invest or risk much. But as we continue to overcome challenge after challenge, those observing cannot help but to admit that God whom we have faith in is in fact acting with us. He is our leader and counselor.

We are now faced with challenges in getting our first local business up and running. This business will be located in an area where we run a grassroots school which is also close to a tourist resort. The school provides education to about seventy Haitian immigrant children who mainly live in small one room houses with several family members and eat one or two meals a day. With tourist excursions passing through to “see the countryside” on a daily basis, social stratification reaches its peak. Passing tourist excursions include horse drawn carriages, four wheelers, horseback riding, and go-karts. Kids from the community have learned to run up to horse drawn carriages and beg. A complete image of royalty and peasantry is the result. The profit from these excursions goes to those running the excursions. Nothing goes toward developing the struggling community they pass through.

The business we are setting up is an internet center and gift shop. Passing tourists will be invited to stop by to receive information about Project Esperanza and the efforts we are making to develop the community, to purchase local artwork, and to use the internet. Volunteers have been forming a women’s group among mothers in the community, teaching them to make various forms of jewelry out of purchased and donated materials as well as beautiful indigenous seeds. The women are anxious to have a spot to sell their work. Other artisans include painters and a basket weaver. Food such as delicious homemade peanut butter will also be sold.

We have invested resources toward launching this new business but have steps to take before things are actually up and running. With limited resources, one can only act on faith. Many in this country do things similarly. They invest what they have to build a house halfway and have faith that they will be able to finish it one day. Getting this business up and running will likely lead to a necessary breakthrough for us. The income generated will provide financial stability, independence from U.S. funds, support from the visiting tourist population, and start-up funds to execute more business ideas, thus providing more work for local people.

When resources are abundant, it is easy to act without true faith. But at times like this, when you are almost there but have spent all that you have and have exhausted all of your resources, there is nothing else to do except pray for doors to open and ask God for more faith as you’re knocking and waiting. Bondye pa janm komanse pou li pa fini. God doesn’t start anything that he doesn’t finish. And out of loyalty to God our leader, we don’t either.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Haitian Thanksgiving Tall Tale


This is actually from 2009:

Since living and working with Haitian immigrants in Puerto Plata, I have heard many crazy stories, accusations, and understandings of things. I think I am fairly open minded when being told about various magical accounts such as people that are able to turn into animals in Haiti. I am careful not to completely and quickly disregard something several people say they have seen with their own eyes. Sometimes I add in my own knowledge, such as when I was told that mice sprout wings and fly when they grow old. I first replied by saying that I had never heard of, or seen that. Then, while flipping through a science book with one of the boys, he pointed to a picture of a bat, saying that this was a mouse that had grown old and sprouted wings. I was tickled, now understanding how this claim came about, and told him that I didn't believe that to be true. I had seen baby bats and they were born with wings. I was sure that bats and mice were different species. (Species happened to be one of their science vocabulary words at the time).

For the past year and a half or so, Haitians have been telling me that they hear the United States will soon run Haiti. I always reply that that is something I often hear from Haitians but have not heard from Americans either by word of mouth or in the news. Therefore, I didn't believe it to be true. Lately, several people have reported that Haiti no longer has a president but that Bill Clinton is running the country. I know that Hillary Clinton, if not Bill as well, visited Haiti, and perhaps Bill's foundation is leading or plans to lead some development efforts there, but I am pretty sure (correct me if I'm wrong) that Bill Clinton will not be running the country. 

 
This, then, often leads to them asking me my thoughts on the matter, as well as them sharing their own thoughts. Would I be in favor of the U.S. running Haiti? When asked this, I reply that Haitians declared, fought for, and gained their independence for a reason. I think they should believe that they have the potential to lead their country and lead it well. Foreign aid, in reference to much more than money, is great and necessary because foreign countries have access to more resources and have successful practices that should be learned from, but there is a difference between aid and domination. Haitians, or any other country in a similar situation, should work together with those who want to aid, and be careful of those who want to dominate. Their independence, as well as their unique and beautiful culture, should not be compromised.

Sometimes, after hearing a piece of gossip or news that seems stretched, I imagine a huge game of telephone. The other day, one of our grassroots schools teachers wanted to confirm the truthfulness of some things he had heard about American history. One thing he said delighted me and I feel the need to share it with you all as Thanksgiving is approaching.

We talked about Christopher Columbus, who Haitians and Dominicans know, discovered their island, Hispañola. At the time, the island was already inhabited by Taino Indians. We talked about the use of the name Indian. He wasn't aware of the origin of the name or the term "Native Americans". We then talked about the early settlement of the U.S. He said that he had heard that the U.S. is a country that is very blessed. He heard that one time there was no food and the people were praying and praying. Then, before long, turkeys fell from the sky, providing food! After a good laugh, I took the opportunity to share the true Thanksgiving story with him.

What are you thankful for? I'm thankful for my friends and family here that never cease to make me look at life in a different way. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!




Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monkey Jungle & Lessons on Volunteer Medical Efforts

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to visit and help out with a free medical clinic run by an organization called Haitian and Dominican Assistance Cooperation (HADAC). This past weekend I was able to go again and bring 12 beneficiaries of our programs to receive wonderful and free dental services. I am incredibly grateful for the teeth that were pulled and capped as well as the cavities that were filled! I also had a fun time interpreting and helping out.

The clinic is located at a tourist attraction the organization recently opened called Monkey Jungle. The whole deal is essentially a profitable business set up to generate funds to run the clinic which serves Dominicans and Haitians in need. It simultaneously gives tourists a way to have fun while giving back to the comunity they are visiting. This type of thing is exactly what this country needs. Honestly, I have seen more examples of money coming from the tourist industry supporting negative (or neutral at best) practices toward or among those in need than supporting positive practices. Therefore, harvesting such resources to serve people medically is a wonderful example!

Monkey Jungle and the on site clinic are located just outside of Sosua, nine kilometers down a road called Los Chocos. The tourist attraction includes zip lining, a wall climb, a caged in jungle with monkeys roaming, a restaurant, and a gift shop. The price for zip lining is 2000 pesos per person (about $60 USD) and there are special deals for parents coming with children. For those not wanting to zip line but just to visit and look around, the cost is 500 pesos (about $16 USD) per person. It appears as though relationships have been or are being established with tour companies that take tourists from their hotels to such excursions. However, we come in contact with volunteers and travelers often who don’t stay at hotels and may still like to find their way out by moto.

The medical clinic, which is completely free, includes a shelter with benches at the bottom of the hill for patients to wait. When their turn comes, patients walk up the hill to very nice facilities. Services include general medical care as well as full dental care. The dental care is especially unique here because even fillings are done for free, unlike anywhere else. Volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists and other assistants are coordinated to receive between 35 and 50 patients every Saturday. HIV tests and maralia test are available but x-rays, ultra sounds, and other blood, urine, or fecal tests are not available. Patients in need of surgery and more serious cases are referred to other facilities such as Centro Medico Cabarete, which is a hospital set up with a similar for-profit/non-profit concept and is very close to Monkey Jungle on the main road that passes through Sosua. I have not beeen able to visit this hospital yet and am unsure of how patients are determined as someone able to pay for services or not, but I know that income generated from those who pay funds services for those who cannot pay. I worked for a short period of time with the wife of the doctor who founded this hospital at OyM Hostos School, a wonderful bilingual school in Puerto Plata which I wrote about in a previous post.

From my visits to Monkey Jungle and the on site clinic, I conclude that this project is completely full of positive potential and will serve to truly improve the quality of life of many in need. It is also a young project and will likely have kinks to work out in the beginning years. While I’m sure that those in charge have considered all angles, for the purpose of creating a think tank and to post what I have learned on my blog, here are some thoughts I have from my five years of experience doing fundraising and service work in this country.

  1. Treating People in the Most Need

It appears as though a challenge may come up that those coming to the clinic are not those in the most need. I plan on getting the word out among the beneficiaries of our programs and perhaps continuing to take people out from time to time. There is such great need and it’s true that it is futile to distinguish between treating someone who would be considered very poor and someone else who is extremely poor, but as Project Esperanza had Tulane medical students run two weeks of intensive day clinics over the past three summers, I have seen that some people do come to free medical services to get a second opinion or get their perscriptions filled, while others come with no other option. We have found that treating those who can find treatment elsewhere creates dependency and can actually interfere with the growth of society whereas treating those with no other treatment option is empowering and stimulates the growth of society.

  1. Getting Patients in Need to the Clinic

In the past we have charged patients 10 pesos each to cover their consultations, any necessary medicines, and necessary eye glasses. This 10 pesos just causes patients to recognize that the services they are receiving are valuable and should be appreciated. The distance that most patients will have to travel from their home to Monkey Jungle will likely more than do what our 10 peso fee is intended to do. However, it will also likely be a barrier for those in most need to get to the clinic. Therefore, I think the solution is teamwork with organizations who have consistent presences in the field, such as our organization as well as Health Horizons International who I wrote about in a previous post, along with individuals serving in the most impoverished communities. I believe that HADAC, the organization that has created Monkey Jungle, runs a feeding program in a batey so I’m sure that will draw in the most urgent needs as well.

As a side note, the woman who has led the Tulane medical group these past three years is now leading efforts to begin a clinic in Jacksonville, Haiti. She is a great friend, partner, and I’m proud to announce the foundation of Sante Total (Total Health in Haitian Creole).

  1. Coordinating Volunteers

Another challenge that Monkey Jungle and its on site clinic will likely face, and likely have already, is the coordination of volunteers in order to consistently and smoothly run the clinics. As anyone who has coordinated volunteeers over a long period of time knows, this sometimes gets complicated. Where companies and businesses are run with defined authority, clear roles and responsibilities, rules of conduct, contracts guaranteeing committment on both sides, etc., lots of this can get lost with volunteer efforts. Roles and responsibilities get confounded, authority is undermined, people come and go more freely, and the result is frustration among those taking responsibility over the efforts, along with inefficiency. We have found that the way to deal with these issues is to attempt to use those same aforementioned practices that one would use to run a company. The only difference is that the work is done voluntarily, not for pay. However, the volunteer is aware of this ahead of time and accepts the position on his or her own free will. The work being done is no less important than the work of any company or business. In fact, in many cases, it’s more important!

  1. Interpreting

The last challenge that we have faced is one of communication and education. This may seem obvious, but I have witnessed too many poorly interpreted medical consultations and (not just with volunteer groups but often with Dominican doctors and Haitian patients in public hospitals) to keep quiet. I also have lost friends due largely to their lack of understanding of their condition and their treatment. On the contrary, I have seen and participated in clinics that were beautifully interpreted and the result is satisfaction on both ends. If patient-doctor communication is a serious issue where doctors and patients speak the same language, the issue needs an extra amount of care when there is a language barrier. The truth is that patients often nod and act as though they understand something when they really don’t. Additionally, doctors and volunteers often assume they understand more of the conversation than they do. Therefore, skilled and thorough interpretors make a world of difference. Accurate and thorough interpretation is a matter of life and death in some cases as much as the presence of the doctor and the treatment. See Project Esperanza co-founder Kristin Preve’s article on How to Avoid Mistakes in Medical Interpreting.

  1. Simple Education

Many patients who are in true need lack basic education and have grown up with and been raised by others who lack basic education. While leading educational discussions with Haitian patients waiting to be seen at one of the day clinics we ran this past summer, we found that most patients did not know why women have menstrual cycles or where the blood comes from. Many people say that they are anemic but when asked what anemia is, they reply that it is a lack of blood. Many people also use the term “pressure” which is also used for high blood pressure, to explain diziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Many mothers give baby food to babies as young as one month and give cow’s milk to babies way too young too. They claim that the baby wants to eat and milk isn’t enough for him or her. Education on these topics as well as many other topics gives patients understanding of the problems their bodies face. After they better understand the problem, they can better understand the treatment and the lifestyle changes they are often asked to make. We have found that educational discussions using simple explanations can entertain and inform patients waiting or provide clarity to someone during a consultation. An example of such an explanation is as follows:

Anemia does not mean that you lack blood. If you were to look at blood under a microscope – Does anyone know what a microscope is? No? A miscroscope is a piece of equipment that you can place an object under, then look into, and it makes the object appear much bigger than it really is so you can see it better. When you look at blood, how would you describe it? A red liquid? Well, when you look at it under a miscroscope, it appears as lots of red circles in a clear liquid. Each of these circles should have iron attached to it. I’m not talking about iron like an iron bar (used on most windows and doors in this country) but the nutrient iron. (I also use the word vitamin here even though iron is not a vitamin because I’ve found that the word vitamin is more commonly understood among uneducated Haitians here.) If your blood doesn’t have iron then it can’t nourish your body and it doesn’t appear as red. That’s why your fingernails and gums are whiter when you’re anemic. That’s also why you feel tired when you’re anemic. Your blood is not nourishing your body as it should because each little ball does not have its iron. So to avoid anemia, you should eat foods that are high in iron.

The educator would then ask listeners to explain back to him or her what was said. He or she would also go over foods that are rich in iron and continue to review the foods to be sure that patients remember. Reproduction and baby care education are interesting and highly important topics for everyone! While all health topics are important, understanding these topics of reproduction and infant care can have such drastic effects on the lives of families which makes it extremely valuable in my opinion. See Pregnancy, Birth, and Neonatal Care Practices in the Dominican Republic & Haiti.

These are, again, solutions to many problems we have faced and practices we have developed and executed with success. I hope that sharing these solutions with readers will help others doing medical missions and working in clinics and hospitals in the Dominican Republic and all over the developing world. What an amazing field to be working in! While technology continues to advance in the developed world, we should never forget the value of the dedication to applying simple solutions in areas of need. The solutions are often so simple. It’s the humble and dedicated workers who are lacking. And yes, I do claim to be a humble and dedicated worker – although not by my own strength. God is the one responsible for keeping me that way.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Doing Business From Your Home Computer

Because I am running a tight budgeted non-profit organization in the Dominican Republic and also have a fifteen-month-old son, it’s very hard to make an income. Luckily, when I was five months pregnant, I found an opportunity with a company here called Channel Forge.

The owner of the company, who is originally from Colorado, worked in sales in the U.S. for twenty years before moving down here. He then began Channel Forge as, pretty much, an outsourced sales/advertising company. While working for him I made sales calls using Skype for a few different companies in the U.S. I reached out to possible business partners in each company’s area, trying to establish new business relationships and to set up sales meetings. It was never necessary that anyone I talked to ever knew I was in the Dominican Republic! This job took care of me for awhile but is not able to practically fit into my life for the time being for several reasons. However, it has been a way that I can work from home with a flexible schedule. If you have a business and would be interested in some unique advertising/sales outreach, e-mail Ed, the owner of Channel Forge.

When I found myself needing additional income, I began researching online money making opportunities. Of course, I learned about taking online surveys but they don’t seem to want to let me participate in many from this country. I also find myself way behind the times on everything American such as movies, TV shows, products, etc. So I kept my eye opened for other opportunities in addition to online surveys.

I am fluent in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, but hadn’t found a way to use these skills to earn an income from home until Google AdWords brought Translator’s Base to my attention. I have an account as a freelance translator and have gotten some work, although I think I need to beef up my portfolio with past work and feedback from clients in order to consistently receive more work. Nonetheless, it’s good to have a little movement there.

Translator’s Base introduced me to the world of completing freelance jobs from home, a concept I love! One of my favorite things to do is to write. Therefore, sites like People Per Hour caught my attention since they match writers and clients as well as many different jobs such as data entry, editing, translating, web design, and cold calling. I have not completed any jobs through these sites yet but have made a few connections. Again, the movement is good.

I have found two sites, and have posted gigs on one, where you can offer any gig you can do along with the price. Site visitors purchase your product or service offered through the site. I imagine that this concept is new and it looks like not many people actually purchase the gigs but it is perhaps something that will grow more popular in the future.

Lastly, I wrote on a previous post that I am an Individual Business Owner (IBO) with an online shopping company that offers thousands of goods and services. Those who register as Customers through me help me to generate points which translate into a monthly check. Others who register as IBOs through me help me to generate points as well and it becomes a team effort. The product I plan to promote the most is a normal Visa credit card. Those who use this credit card help me to make a living. Of course, it’s not much income, but the more people participating, the more income I make. Other products that I haven’t used but are highly recommended by others are the Ribbon Gift Collection gifts which can be used for any occasion. From what I understand, shipping is free and the receiver gets a beautiful album in the mail. The album contains gifts to choose from and instructions on how to send in the choice and receive the gift. This is done in a way that the receiver never knows the price spent on the gift. This site is full of other unique products and great deals, especially for IBOs. It also has partnerships with several popular brand name stores.

Well, that has been my experience this far with doing business online. I hope that this helps others looking to do the same. I also hope that some readers will find a way to do business with me! I forgot to mention that my motivation for starting this blog was to create a highly followed blog that is eligible to participate in Sponsored Reviews. In order to be eligible, I need ten posts (this is my 10th), and quite a few more followers. So I appreciate you spreading the word!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Newlyweds - A Creative Short Story

I recently entered a creative short story competition put on by Writing Forge and my story was not chosen as a winner so I am posting it here. Enjoy!


The Newlyweds

“What’s for dinner?” he asked from the closet as he hung up his shirt.

“Oh, I haven’t started yet. Sorry. I was planning on making chicken and broccoli,” she replied from the bed without looking up from what she was doing.

He appeared before her wide-eyed in dress slacks, a black belt, and a white wife beater that was tucked in. He stared at her angrily and seriously long enough to both intimidate her and piss her off.

“What do you mean you haven’t started yet!? What have you been doing!?”

“Jacob wouldn’t let me go!” she defended. “He’s only been sleeping about ten minutes. I was about to get started.”

He stood sternly in front of her threatening with his stare. She sat still on the bed. Their two-year-old son lay sleeping next to her. She had a notebook on her lap and a pen in her hand. He didn’t break eye contact. His eyes jumped down to the notebook and then back to meet her stare. He then advanced toward her aggressively.

“What’s this? What’s this!?” he demanded. She quickly tried to lay the notebook off to the side but he grabbed it and began leafing through. With large, exggerated movements he ripped a few pages out, crumpled them up, and threw them on the ground. She squealed his name and pleaded but it was too late. He messily threw the notebook back on the bed and said angrily, “I come home from work and there’s no dinner. You’re sitting here writing in your little notebook.” . She cried and complained but remained seated on the bed. He then proceeded to slowly and sternly remove his dress shoes, then belt, then dress pants.

“Why did you do that?” she asked. She also threw in a few cuss words and a little name calling. She glanced down at her son first to make sure he was still asleep before doing so. “I’m moving out! I’m going to live with my mother! You’re messed up. You’re crazy. I hate you.” He turned away from her and acted as though he didn’t hear her or care about anything she was saying. He continued undressing himself slowly and proudly as she complained. She hated him for that. He had just wounded her emotionally and now took pride in displaying how collected he was.

When he finished undressing, he moved from the bedroom to the living room in his wife beater, boxer shorts, and dress socks. She sat on the bed and continued to cry an angry cry for a few minutes after he left. She then went and picked up the torn pieces of paper off the floor. She uncrumpled the wads and examined them. Things weren’t as bad as they had seemed. He had ripped up three pages, only one of which had writing on one side. And even that page was salvagable. Still, she asked herself, why did he have to act like such a maniac? They had a child for crying out loud. What a horrible example!

She threw the ripped up sheets away, put the sheet with writing into her notebook, tucked the notebook under the mattress, and moved into the kitchen. From the kitchen, she saw her husband sitting on a chair in the living room facing the TV, feet propped up on the coffee table, hands folded in his lap. His face was stern, serious, and fixed on the television. “What an ass hole,” she thought as she pulled a pot out of the cupboard. “How did I end up with him and why am I still with him?” she asked herself as she always did after conflict that left her feeling so enraged. She must have made a mistake. Should she have listened to her mother? Should she have married someone with a higher, more professional degree rather than someone with an Associate’s Degree in Building Construction from a community college? Would a computer scientist or an engineer rip up things and throw things? Probably not. Why couldn’t she have been more practical and have chosen a husband that was more rational?

Well, she started calming down, I guess anyone in the comfort of their own home could act irrationally, regardless of their degree, she thought. And she just didn’t fall for any of the computer scientists or engineers. Maybe she should have given them more of a chance. Maybe there was something wrong with her. Should she have thought with her head more and less with her heart? She felt incapable of doing that. As long as there was any freedom to follow her own will, she couldn’t help but to follow her heart. But was she right in doing so?

After such fights she couldn’t help but to think that she had made a mistake. However, she knew from experience that she wouldn’t actually do anything drastic to change the situation but would stick things through. Even as the words left her mouth, “I’m going to go live with my mother!” she knew that it wasn’t true. She just said that to try to have some sort of control over her husband’s uncontrollable behavior. Being able to threaten him with something made her feel at least a little empowered whereas him ripping up her law school application essay and performing other such acts of insanity , especially in front of their son, made her feel powerless. In the moment, she often wanted to seek revenge by ripping up something of his, for example, but did not want to stoop to that level and realized that he would just do something even worse in return. She was forced to submit and it almost killed her. The only thing that gave her any power was to threaten to leave. But they both knew that was an empty threat. She had ben using it for years and never actually done it although she had pretended to on occasion. Even though it wasn an empty threat, it still seemed to subdue him, at least a little, at times.

At other times he was unsubduable. He returned her threat to leave with threats of keeping their son if she were to truly leave. But she knew that she wouldn’t ever actually leave him because her life seemed to have reached a whole new level when she met him. She never felt as at home and comfortable before meeting him as she did after meeting him. Without him, she was bored. Her mind seemed to always be racing and she felt unsettled. But with him, she was able to calm down and be still. His wildness seemed to force her to submit. But who did his wildness submit to? It seemed unrestrained and dangerous. However, the truth was, she concluded, that his wildness submitted to his work. She had observed him at work and although he was still bold and strong, he was more subdued. He probably came home with bottled up wildness, then, that he took out on her.

As she cut the chicken and worked through her thoughts, she started to think that she was perhaps not crazy. She poked her head in the bedroom to check on her sleeping son. He was still asleep and in the same spot. She returned to the kitchen and continued cutting. Her thoughts flashed back to when they first met. This often happened after questioning her decision to marry him as she had just done.

They first met at a party she went to at a friend of a friend’s house during summer vacation after her freshman year in college. She wasn’t really big on parties and much preferred to hang out in smaller groups but she was only home for a few weeks and didn’t want to back out of a night out with her closest friends. The party was in a neighboring county to the one where she and her friends attended high school. Her close friend Emily had made friends with a hallmate from this neighboring county at the university she attended. The four friends headed out in Emily’s Toyota Camry. After a twenty-five minute drive they arrived at a brick, two-story house in a middle class subdivision. Cars lined the street in front of the house. They found a spot at the end of the line, parked, and headed through the yard to the front door. Emily rang the doorbel. Her friend answered shortly after with a birthday party cone hat on her head and a red, plastic cup in her hand. She and Emily hugged, as well as the other two friends who attended the same university as Emily.

“And this is Alexis!” Emily exclaimed as she presented her much talked about friend.

Alexis gave the friend a Happy Birthday hug and they both declared that they had heard so much about the other. The group then headed inside to the party. The birthday girl quickly led them past the beer pong table to the keg where they all filled up red, plastic cups with beer. Alexis wasn’t a big drinker but normally took part at parties in order to be sociable. She also enjoyed playing beer pong and quickly added her name to the waiting list with Emily as her partner. Two hours later, she and Emily celebrated winning their third game in a row and waited for their next opponents.

The birthday girl led three guys who had just arrived to the keg which was behind Emily and Alexis. As they filled up their cups, she introduced them to the girls. The first, both girls were previously informed with a full description, was the birthday girls’s prospective boyfriend. The other two were his friends. “What’s your name again?” The birthday girl asked to the third young men.

“James,” he replied. It appeared as though they had recently met.

“James, you don’t want a beer?” she asked.

“No, thanks,” he replied. “I don’t drink.”

“You don’t drink!?” she replied as a drunk girl would. “Why the hell not!?”

He stood confidently beside the beer pong table with his hands held in front of him and replied, “Because I don’t want to.”

“You don’t want to!?” the birthday girl exclaimed as a druk girl would and continued to babble for a few minutes before she got distracted by a song she liked at which she ran into the living room to dance. The new opponents showed up, the guys nodded to the girls as if to say, “Nice to meet you all”, and headed on their way. Emily and Alexis started their fourth match against a guy and girl team. They started off strong sinking three balls out of the first six before their streak broke and they collectively couldn’t hit another shot. They lost and had to leave the table. Those who had been following the games congratulated them on an impressive streak. As they walked away from the table, the birthday girl came and grabbed Emily. “Come and take shots with me!” she pressured.

“I’m the DD!” Emily replied.

“Oh, come on! You’ll sober up!”

“Oh man...” Emily turned to Alexis. “Do you wanna drive home?”

“Sure,” Alexis agreed. “I’m not gonna drink anymore.”

“Seeee,” the birthday girl said as she pulled on Emily. “Come on!” And they were off.

Alexis didn’t see anyone else she knew so she slipped out back. As she stepped out of the sliding doors and into the backyard, she found a group of about six people to the left smoking cigarettes, about five people in the pool, and two guys sitting at a picnic table off to the right. She didn’t want to swin, didn’t like cigarette smoke, and felt like sitting, so she went and sat at the picnic table. Here she found that the two guys were James and the birthday girl’s perspective boyfriend. She said, “Hi” and sat down.

“You all lost?” the perspective boyfriend asked.

“Yeah, we went off our streak,” she replied.

“Okay,” he said in a friendly and smily manner. They sat in silence for about a minute. He then returned to telling James a story he must’ve already been telling about his cousin, his cousin’s mechanic shop, and the vehicles that he owns. Alexis didn’t really listen to the conversation but nonchalantly observed them as they talked. James mainly listened, nodding, and asking short questions here and there. He didn’t make eye contact with his friend but starred toward the pool as he listened. The perspective boyfriend looked at James as he spoke and grew quite excited over some of the technical details he shared. James showed his interest in his replies but didn’t show any sort of emotion as his friend did. Alexis found James to be attrractive. He seemed very physiclly fit. His face was stern and his jaw very defined. His hair was auburn and fairly short but wavy and slightly unkempt. Although his face was stern, his eyes were gentle. She noticed this already when the birthday girl had questioned him about not drinking. Her observations were interrupted when one of the friends she and Emily came with came running up.

“Alexis! Emily fell over!”

“What?”

“”She fell over right onto the coffee table after taking a shot and busted up her chin. She’s bleeding a lot!”

Alexis jumped up and followed her friend inside. She found Emily sitting on the couch, head back, with a towel on her chin. About seven people crowded around her. They discussed her need to go to the hospital to get stiches. Alexis was the most sober candidate but still wasn’t sure she should drive.

“James can drive,” someone suggested. James was quickly found observing from a short distance and confirmed that he could drive. They took Emily’s car as James had come with his friend.

Alexis and the friend that had fetched her helped Emily into the car. Alexis sat up front and their friend in the back with Emily. As the girls talked on the way to the hospital, Alexis observed James’ stern expression yet gentle eyes as he drove. She felt completely calm, safe, and content. She was concerned about Emily but knew that she would be okay with a few stitches. She seemed to be okay as far as her alcohol level but just drank too much too fast and lost consciousness which caused the fall.

The group ended up having to wait in the emergency room for a few hours. She and James got to talk quite a bit. They asked each other questions back and forth and somehow got into a conversation about the death penalty. Alexis seemed to have formulated more thoughts than James but James seemed to appreciate Alexis sharing her thoughts as though he would keep them in mind. She learned that he was third of four boys and their mother had died when he was in middle school. His father had never remarried or shown any interest in doing so. He lived in a rented townhouse with one of his brothers, had just gotten his Associate’s Degree, and worked with a construction company. When Alexis returned home late that night she felt settled in a way that she hadn’t felt in a long time, if ever. It was similar to the way a child feels in a safe and happy home: safe, secure, and fairly carefree.

During her few weeks at home before leaving town to work at a camp, she waited tables at a restaurant where she had worked the summer before and over Christmas vacation. Two days after meeting James at the party, he ate at the restaurant with his brother while Alexis was working. They didn’t have much time to talk and James didn’t attempt to talk to her much but just apparently wanted to be near her. He came and ate almost every other evening for the rest of the time Alexis was in town. Sometimes he came alone and sometimes with the same brother. Sometimes he didn’t eat a meal but sat down and drank coffee at the bar. He never acted eager to talk to Alexis or pressured her to give him attention in any way but just sat, ate, drank, said good-bye, and left. This made her feel completely secure and flattered. Had he attempted to see her more outside of work she would’ve felt a bit uncomfortable with the pressure of a “date” and confused about any future as she was leaving for camp soon. When she had the chance, she came and talked to him but didn’t normally get the chance to do so for more than ten or so minutes at a time. He always asked her, “Are you working tomorrow?” She would reply by telling him the next time she had a shift.

On her last shift, she gave him her phone number, e-mail address, and told him when she’d be back in town. From then on, he called her almost everyday. They began visiting each other on weekends and grew very close. Both had dated previously but never really entered into a serious relationship having never found someone they were willing to commit to. By the following summer, James had talked to her father about marrying Alexis. Alexis’ mother was concerned about a few things. Her main concern was that Alexis was pursuing a higher degree than the degree James held and she had ambition to continue her education further. Alexis’ father listened to and considered these concerns but James didn’t really approach the matter completely as a question but more as a declaration. James’ sternness and Alexis’ apparent committment to him caused her father to agree, despite her mother’s concerns. James’ strength coupled with gentleness gave Alexis’ father a secure feeling as well, although he still had slight fears and doubts if he thought too much. They married that November and Alexis was pregnant in no time. Nonetheless, she still graduated in four years, took a year off, and was now applying to law schools.

James stared at the TV at an old episode of Seinfeld but didn’t really pay attention to the program. He probably shouldn’t have ripped pages out of her essay, he thought, but she had made him so angry. She always had other priorities and needed to learn to make household chores a higher priority. He agreed to her going to law school but he didn’t want her to put that above her role as wife and mother. And he didn’t want to let her disrespect him or find her school or work to be more important than his work. She may cry at his outbursts, but as long as she didn’t give up neglecting her role as wife to pursue other goals, he wouldn’t give up reminding her of her family roles, by any means necessary. He didn’t say all of this to Alexis or plan to. She should know.

As always after having some time to calm down and reflect, Alexis concluced that she had made a good decision, despite frustrating outbreaks with little rational, verbal explanation. She might not always understand everything but trusted how things had started so she would continue to trust. Time would tell all things. Sometimes you have to follow your heart and let your head figure things out later. That is what we call faith.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Distributing Laptops to Children in Need? Prioritizing Need on a Global Scale

As Project Esperanza has been attempting to begin a few internet centers here in Puerto Plata in order to generate funds to support our ongoing programs, two people have directed me toward two different organizations that have the mission of supplying a laptop computer to every child in the world. I won’t state the names of these organizations or provide the websites since this post is a critique that does not support this mission.

If one were to prioritize the needs of every child in the world, a laptop is not on the top ten list to say the least. One theory of developmental psychology that I think makes sense is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Actually, this is more than just a theory as there is hard evidence to back up this theory, or at least the basic concept of the theory. Abraham Maslow presented that one cannot function on higher levels until more basic needs are met. He demonstrates the order or hierarchy of needs human beings have in the shape of a pyramid with the bottom layer being the most primary needs. If these most basic needs are not met then one cannot function. The category of needs go in this order: physiological (eat, drink, sleep), safety (of self, of resources, of family), love/belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy), esteem (confidence, achievement, respect), and self-actualization (creativity, problem solving, morality). I think it is safe to say that a laptop does not fall in these first three categories. I also think it is safe to say that a laptop does not truly meet a need but should be considered a want. It could perhaps be used as a tool to help some of these higher needs to be met but only in certain situations with well prepared recipients.


If an item such as a laptop is supplied to someone in need, they will likely use it as a resource to get basic needs met by selling it. A laptop can be an educational tool but it is a responsibility many adults wouldn’t know how to use, let alone children. I believe that the most necessary resource in any effort is the human resources to execute the effort. It is not necessarily a lack of money or lack of food or lack of any such tangible resources that cause such a large percentage of the world to live in poverty and to lack education. The problem lies in a lack of capable and loving individuals willing to patiently and persistently work with others toward a genuine solution.


The idea of supplying every child with a laptop is terribly impractical and completely oversimplifies the situation. An organization such as Recycles.org that collects unwanted computer equipment and distributes them to non-profits and charities may be quite productive. However, an organization whose mission is to distribute a laptop to every child in the world may need to rethink some things. After living and working in a developing country for a total of three and a half of the past five years, I have put forth lots of effort only to reach a benchmark that appears pitiful compared to those set by developed countries. However, I think the improvements we have made is impressive when the starting point is considered. The most impressive success to be celebrated in this line of work is perhaps building a trustworthy and competent team. Nonetheless, even a trustworthy team needs oversight and protection from temptation. For example, when food is distributed by the Dominican government, there is not a Santa Claus figure that delivers food to each house. No one waits outside of houses for people to come home and receive their package. Living arrangements are normally tight and people don’t normally have mailboxes or even secure porches to leave items on. When the government does distribute food out of the back of a truck every so often, some people walk away with a few bags and others with nothing. Those driving the trucks distributing the bags of food likely go home with several.


Let’s imagine that enough laptops were collected to supply every child in the world. To successfully distribute the laptops where there is no reliable postal service and a large percentage of houses without addresses, one would have to go through some sort of community organization or school that accounts for every child. Many children are undocumented and therefore not even accounted for by the government. Project Esperanza works together with schools and grassroots community organizations, giving financial, material, and administrative aid so that, among other things, every child in the communities we work in is accounted for. From what we have seen and experienced here in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic there is an abundance of work to be done before even responsibly distributing one pencil to every child in this area becomes a securely executable task, let alone a laptop. The Dominican Republic is just one of many developing countries so I can imagine this situation is similar around the globe.


Project Esperanza’s method of “saving the world” is the opposite of these organizations who seek to supply every child with a laptop computer. We focus on a small geographic area with the intention of digging deep – creating genuine and lasting change in one community. Through digging deep and through seeking genuine and lasting change, we discover and create methods and systems to deal with situations that come up. These methods and systems can be shared with others and perhaps replicated in different geographic areas. We also believe that the change created in one community will serve as a catalyst for change in neighboring communities. Attempting to supply every child in the world with a laptop computer is an effort that does not dig deep and does not, I don’t believe, create genuine and lasting change. If partnered with the right situations and the right organizations on the ground this effort could be quite a blessing. However, I believe that more than there is a need for laptops, there is a need for more genuine organizations on the ground!