We had arrived in Santo Domingo, checked into the hotel and were eager to explore the city on our last full day in country. A few of us headed south to the shoreline to take in ocean views we couldn’t get back in the Midwest. Immediately beyond a chaotic highway, we found uneven pumice-rough rocks that formed the oceanfront here. Zig-zagging to stay on the rocks and avoid a brine spray, we made our way along the water, until we ran into a few kids playing together.
“Hola,” the oldest-looking replied without hesitation.
I introduced the three of us “americanos” and made small talk. We got on the subject of animals. The talkative girl told me about her hometown and how she liked the horses there. I told her about the “trash gato” we had seen just minutes earlier, living in rock crevices along the shoreline.
Her younger brothers hung close as we chatted, playing amongst - but keeping to – themselves. She earnestly tried to describe to me an animal they liked to hunt for at home. With only limited Spanish, I gathered this was a smaller burrowing insect. She was unsatisfied with my understanding and enlisted her brothers to find the creature. The three of them – all barefoot – agilely bounded across sharp pot-marked rocks, lifting, overturning and digging under them, until finally – success! The older of the boys produced a stick, on the end of which was perched a small crustacean.
This scavenger hunt seemed to function as an ice-breaker. The previously reserved younger brothers clamored to teach us a game involving collecting tokens, then “battling” opponents by flipping your tokens with them. They demonstrated the game, became engrossed in it, and were soon oblivious to our presence.
So I returned to talking with the girl and we moved on to the subject of school. Provoked by the topic, she ran off, up a short hill and returned with a couple storybooks, including a Lego Batman paperback. The Batman story was in English and she flipped the pages as I took my best stab at translating dialogue such as “I saved the world today. It was off the chain.”
The mother now came down the hill to investigate us strangers. She carried an infant on her hip and stood nearby as her daughter tried to repeat some of the English words I was translating. Occasionally the mom interjected, correcting her daughter’s pronunciation of English words such as “eye.” (It’s pronounced “I”, not “I-yea”).
We meant to see other parts of the city that day, so I began to excuse us. Realizing this was her last opportunity, the mother asked for some money, explaining they were homeless at the moment. I floundered for an appropriate response. Of course I want to help. But our in-country NGO advised us not to hand out money… Falling back on that advice, I didn’t give her cash. But I wanted her to know we cared and we weren’t just some stingy tourists. I explained that all last week we had been in a small town fixing their broken water system and preparing to bring them clean drinking water and our organization does this all over… in the Dominican Republic and across the world. While I’m sure it was of little consolation to her, she nodded in understanding.
With consistently available clean water, a school-aged girl and her brothers in La Cuchilla don’t bath in the irrigation canal, downstream of goats and thin cows.
They spend less time sick and more time at school. There they learn to question and problem solve. They learn about the world and how other people live. They wonder how their families’ lives could be improved and start coming up with solutions...
We didn’t help that family that day, but we’re working on sustainable solutions to improve the lives of whole communities for generations to come.