Thursday, February 21, 2013

Atlantic Superstore in Rothesay
Bell Aliant
Denise Dow – Canada Strong & Free
Loyalist Towing
Tropical Containers
Blacks Transfer

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tuesday February 5th
Day 11 in DR, Day 7 for Rotary

This is our last day, and some of the team want to help again installing water filters. For the others, the plan is to visit the Good Samaritan hospital where we are to “show the flag” during the training of Health Promoters from the batays as they learn the importance of, and the proper way for, washing hands. That will be followed by a guided tour of the hospital, a visit to a well-known gift store to buy mementoes, and to the supermarket to buy last-minute coffee and rum.

A Health Promotors is a woman in a given batay who is paid a small stipend to keep tabs on the health of batay members, dispense the simplest of medical aids such as Tylenol, and report to the medical teams that visit from time to time. The Health Promotor would be able to tell the medical team about the progress of pregnancies, the illnesses among the batay inhabitants, and the health of seniors. Not all batays have Health Promotors because not all batays are visited regularly by medical teams.

Batays that have water filters - and that is still a relative minority of the 150-or-so batays around La Romana - also have a Water Promoter whose task is to make sure the filters are being used properly and to train the users in proper sanitation simple as washing hands, not mixing water containers, and so on.

The Good Samaritan hospital is really quite a marvel. It was only a dream 22 years ago when Dr Bob and his church group first visited La Romana and the batay at Km 6 that we visited on Sunday. The batay’s pastor at that time made it clear that the most pressing need was for medical facilities where the batay workers could receive treatment. DR now has universal healthcare, and although this also covers the legitimate Haitian batay workers, in practice they will not receive treatment in Dominicano hospitals. What started as a medical clinic on land donated for $1 by Central Romano has today become a full service hospital that is part of the DR healthcare network but guarantees service FIRST to Haitian batay inhabitants.

The hospital has been entirely financed by funds from church groups and Rotary clubs, and built, as far as I can make out, entirely by hand using volunteer labour by those same groups, along with some paid professional guidance. After we arrive there, I witness a number of people from a Michigan church group raising buckets of sand and gravel and cement by hand, using a rope and pulley system, to the third floor, which is still under construction.

The hospital has a number of ancillary buildings and structures on its beautiful grounds. One is an outdoor covered area, reminiscent of the Indoor-Outdoor that our club sponsored at Camp Rotary a couple of years ago. The cost of the hand-washing training is sponsored by one Rotary Group, while another, I notice, has sponsored the production of the pictorial training material. It’s cleverly done, recognising that many batay inhabitants can’t read. This training is the first of its kind, and given to about 20 Water Promoters, and it is the personal project of the Rotary District governor, Alexandra, and her American husband. They are present, and hence the importance that we, as Rotarians, be there in number to emphasize Rotary’s support and the importance of basic hygiene.

And excellent lunch is catered for all present, and us Rotarians are then led away for a tour of the hospital. The building was designed by North Americans and so the feeling inside is comfortable...the wide doors and corridors, the gleaming polished floors and the signage are all familiar. Many departmental signs indicate the sponsorship of this or that Rotary club. The equipment is complete, including a CAT scanner, X-ray machines, a half-dozen dialysis units, and more, and it’s all been donated. Moises again expresses his thanks for the help of 7810 in shipping the latest equipment arrivals in the Boots n’ Bandaids containers.

Moises Sifren is a marvel himself. He’s a child of the batays. His father graduated from cutting cane to cutting the grass on the golf links at Casa de Campo. Moises grew up caddying on the golf courses there, paid his way through school and University (with some sponsorship help) and today has TWO Masters degrees. He is the able and energetic Administrator (read CEO) of the Good Samaritan hospital, and very personable.

We’re taken to visit a separate building that serves as the headquarters of the water filtration effort, along with its warehouse where the filters and sand and other supplies are stored. There is a pallet there with a dozen assorted boxes on it: Dr Bob expresses his gratitude for Bikes n’ Bandaids for having shipped his boxes of medical team supplies along with the bikes and boots. He says that otherwise, all that stuff would have had to travel down in suitcases, incurring extra baggage charges in the process.

I won’t relate the experiences shopping at the gift store and supermarket, and instead add some random thoughts collected during my visit to DR.

- I saw plenty of wild dogs, but only remember seeing two cats.
- I noticed tiny booths everywhere, even in the smallest villages, marked “Banco”. I  thought they were bank outlets but was told they’re lottery counters for the DR national lotteries. At night they’re brightly-lit and they really stand out in the poorly-lit villages.

99% of personal vehicles are Japanese. I was hard-pressed to find any Fords or GMs.  And most of the models are larger than any seen in Canada. Other than the Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Nissans, etc, the luxury SUV of choice is the Range Rover.

Baseball is the national sport - spelled Beisbol in phonetic Spanish on the local stadium. I’m told that most of the players with Spanish-sounding names in the US baseball leagues are DR in origin. The Caribbean has its own league, and the La Romana Toros (bulls) are perennial champions. They were named, I think, in honour of the bulls that used to haul to cane wagons - a task today mostly devolved to huge tractors. CR still raises bulls, though, and we see imposing Brahmans in pastureland.

Stop signs (PARE in Spanish) are only a suggestion. In Canada, we might be ticketed for not stopping completely, but in DR everyone barely slows down for stop signs.

To curb speeding in sensitive areas, DR has sleeping policemen that really mean it. It’s advisable to come to an almost complete stop before tackling one of these, or risk losing the entire suspension of the vehicle.

Main highways between major cities are good-quality divided four-lane affairs. But the rule is to use any lane regardless of speed. Motorcycles (of which there are many) use both shoulders, in either direction, and without any lights at night. Scary.

All Dominicans at the wheel practice what Dr Bob calls “nosediving”: At intersections, priority goes to whichever driver advances most aggressively.

I’m surprisingly un-bothered by bugs. I feel I’m taking the Chlorquinone anti-malarial for no reason. I hear, though, that Casa de Campo keeps the bugs at bay by spraying regularly with DDT!

One of the team commented that there are many beautiful flowers but that none of them has any smell.
Road construction accommodates tropical downpours by building deep culverts, instead of soft shoulders, at the sides of the roads. Don’t stray off the side of the asphalt because the wheels will drop into the culvert and the chassis will hit the ground. In towns, these culverts have to continue across intersections, which does as well as the sleeping policemen for slowing down the traffic. Tackle with care.

All houses and business have security grills to prevent break-ins, and most have walls topped with razor wire or broken glass. Charmingly, though, the Spanish mentality is to make a virtue out of that necessity, so that the grills are often very decorative and quite pretty. If I return, I might compile a photo-essay and DR grillwork.

About half of the Rotary team was hit with the “runs”. One had a gall bladder attack, and two arrived with bad colds, one of which degenerated into a full bronchial infection that required anti-biotics.
Water filters have been installed in DR for the last 10 years. 7810’s involvement has been in the last 3 years, since the new model plastic filters were developed to replace the original concrete design. Of these plastic filters, 3,000 have been installed, and another order for 2,200 will need to be placed soon on the manufacturer in Michigan. With about 400 batays throughout DR, and an average 100 homes per batay, we have only scratched the surface.

Batay cane cutters are paid about $10 per DAY. They must provide their own food,  clothing and tools. Usually that means there is not enough money for children to go to school. Schools are available, but not in every batay, so often the child has to walk, even though some public bus service along main roads might be available. Some schools require a basic uniform, which is but one more barrier to education in the batays. Some batay families will grow their own food or raise livestock, but officially this is not allowed.

Dominican time means “whenever”.

The Good Samaritan hospital has a program at the moment doing about 20 tubal ligations every day. The trick is get the woman to the hospital, perform the surgery and then return her to the batay BEFORE the husband comes home from the cane fields, so that he doesn’t find out!
Casa de Campo may be the largest and richest resort in the Caribbean - name a celebrity and they probably have a villa there - but the sewage system still won’t handle toilet paper. Throw it, used, into a waste bin and it is land-filled or burned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Andre's Pictures

Distributing the last of the shoes from Bikes, Boots n' Bandaids.
The lucky winner of 1 of the last 3 bikes from Bikes, Boots N' Bandaids

How WE live
How THEY live

Before 1 day's work
After 1day's work

At the end of the 2nd day of work at the latrine. At the start of the 1st day, only the ground level work had been completed, by some other group than Rotary. This view is of the front half of the building, showing 2 separate stalls: There are 2 more stalls behind, and the building is almost ready now to receive it's pitched roof.

Day 3 of the latrine work, and the roof is being completed.
Water always has to be carried. This is not one of the batay residents (too well-dressed!), but the son of one of the professional bricklayers.

Duncan from Hampton trying sugarcane. The kids eat it all the time, sometimes it's the only thing they have to eat.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Monday February 4th
Day 10 in DR, Day 6 for Rotary

Today is another work day with the third rotation of the jobs. I have done water filter installation (last Thursday) and construction of a latrine building (last Friday). Today my team is going to batay 50 to continue the work of the other teams, building a fire pit where the batay can burn its garbage.

After a 7am breakfast, we pile into the large bus to go to the Good Samaritan hospital, pick up 3 more volunteers who are nurse technicians working in the DR for a year, join the professional workmen in their truck with all their tools and some materials, and head off in convoy to the batay. Batay 50 is the farthest we've been yet, and it takes a good 1.5 hours to get there. The bags of cement have been stored in the church, which is at the opposite end of the worksite at the batay, and the concrete blocks have been stacked at yet another location. I spend the morning helping to move these essential ingredients down to the worksite, driving the manual diesel truck because I am the only one, apart from the professional workers (who are busy), who is comfortable with a manual transmission.

This location, of the 4 batays I have visited, is the least comfortable: it's super hot, the church is too far to serve as a cool refuge, the sky is blue with no hope of rain to cool us off, and it is all heavy work, lifting concrete blocks, mixing cement and mortar, keeping the 3 professional bricklayers supplied, and we're baking in the sun.

We have lunch at the church, almost too exhausted to walk uphill and across the batay to get there, but it's pleasantly cool inside once we're there. Work resumes for the afternoon, and it's non-stop until 4:15pm. To be fair, no-one forces anyone to do anything, and each member can work as much or as little as they want, and work at whatever task interests them.

Below us is a brook, and the women of the batay wash their clothes there, wash themselves there, and wash their children there. I watch a young boy pee into the water. Late in the afternoon, a herd of cows and bulls is driven down to the water where they stomp around drinking and peeing and poohing. Small wonder that the health of the batay inhabitants suffers. And it's basic sanitation and clean drinking water, along with medical clinics, that Dr Bob and the Good Samaritan hospital are pioneering.

Tonight, we have the social visit of the Rotary DG and her husband. Tomorrow morning we will be with them at Good Samaritan Hospital where the DG will be training the Health Promotors from the batay's in the importance of hand-washing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sunday, February 3rd
Day 9 in DR, Day 5 for Rotary

Breakfast is an hour later than usual today, because it's Sunday. At 9:30am, we leave in a bus to go to Haiti - which means that we are going to church in a batay. The batay is called Baraca, or sometimes Kilometer 6 because it's just off the main highway from La Romana to Santo Domingo, 6 kms outside of La Romana. This church is the reason Dr Bob first came to the DR 22 years ago, and it is closely associated today with the Good Samaritan Hospital. The school supplies that have been donated are destined to go mostly to the school next door to this church.

Haitian church on Sunday is a joyous, friendly and loud affair. A band is playing music to accompany the hymns, and the singing is heavenly. But it lasts over 2 hours. I have to leave periodically to go outside to give my ears a rest, not because it's bad (on the contrary) but because it's so loud. After the service, the original pastor's wife Elsa, guides us on a tour of the school. The church was opened in 2000, and the original pastor, who was loved by all and whom Dr Bob knew well, was killed in that Airbus crash in the suburb of New York just 3 months after 9/11. His son is now pastor, and Elsa is the sort of dowager Empress of the place.

We bring into the school about a dozen huge suitcases that Rotarians brought with them, full of school supplies. Some of the suitcases are too heavy to lift, and would only move thanks to their wheels. The school, at least the ground floor of it, was completed just 3 years ago, and it's really quite good - simple, but good. Of course, groups other than Rotary have been supporting the school, and it shows. The school is well- equipped, clean and neat. The second floor concrete structure has been completed, but extensive finishing needs to be done, when funds allow. The ground floor has 5 classrooms and very nice washrooms with ceramic tile, flush toilets, and even a shower.

Elsa, the school administrator, the pastor and his three assistant pastors, are with us the whole time and express their gratitude at every opportunity, not particularly because of the school supplies but because we are representing all the groups who have supported this beacon of light.

We leave the church and school to go further out along the highway from La Romana to Santo Domingo, to a place called Cave of Marvels. This was discovered only about 40 years ago, but its historical and archeological significance only realized in the last 15. This eastern part of DR is ancient coral reef, now above water. Rain water has slowly dissolved its way into the coral limestone creating sink holes and caverns, all but invisible because the vegetation. The original Taino Indian inhabitants of the island used this particular cave system for ceremonial purposes and as a burial site, and one of the attractions is the cave-paintings that can be seen on the cavern walls. Analysis has shown that the Taino used a mixture of blood, animal fat and carbon soot as their pigment. The caverns have been very well developed by the authorities and it's well worth seeing. Bats still inhabit the caves, which the women weren't happy to hear about, but they sleep during the day (the bats, that is) and so did not bother us. Dr Bob has arranged for us a guided tour, which is very helpful in understanding the significance of what we are seeing and of the geological points of interest. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, so I have no pictures of the stalactites, the mirror pools and the glittering columns.

We eat our packed lunch in the parking lot. Moises has arranged for the distribution this afternoon of the last of the Boots n' Bikes inventory, at batay Brasdor (Golden Arm). He has arranged this just for me, holding back that last bit of inventory, and I invite along Duncan (Hampton club) and David (Fredericton club). Leslie Van Patter (now in Toronto, but District World Community Service chair when Chris Dunham piloted the first Boots n' Bikes) wants to see this too because she witnessed the distribution of the very first B n' B container two years ago.

So, we return to town to join the mini school bus that is already loaded with the last 3 bicycles and a large box of assorted footwear. It turns out that batay Brasdor is very close to another batay where we have been doing the construction of latrines last week. Everyone at the batay is expecting the bus, and the kids are shouting greetings. Pastor Martine of the batay's church, and Ariel who drove the bus and is also one of the filter installation technicians, have a system to control the process and prevent a riot. A clown came with us, by the name of David, along with his son, also called David, and the kids know this clown and love him. He leads them into the church where he starts his routine of leading the kids in song, making balloon animals and doing magic tricks. He has the kids' undivided attention. Meanwhile, we are able to unload the bus and bring the stuff into the back of the church without the kids even noticing. When we are ready, Pastor Martine and Ariel organise a lottery: each bike has been given a number, and 50 or so numbered bits if paper are put into a basket. The clown then goes around making a big show of picking people at random (adults too) to take numbers out of the basket. Even when people don't win, they seem happy and everyone is having a great time.But you should see the jubilation and reactions when someone picks a winning number. Pandemonium. But everyone still stays neatly in their places on the church benches. Remember the tricycle that was loaded into the container in Saint John? I saw it won by a woman who went almost berserk when she won it!

Then children were selected, more or less at random as far as I could make out, to come up front and be fitted with a pair of shoes. Of perhaps 30 children there, I guess that maybe only a half-dozen already had footwear - usually Crocs. Because it was clear that we did not have enough shoes for everyone with just the one box, Pastor Martine and Moises announced that Moises would return with more boxes another time and that the distribution would continue at that time so that everyone would receive a pair of footwear. No-one complained and everyone seemed happy with that. I don' think he fibbed, and I think he must still have a box or two of footwear left in the basement if the hospital. There would not have been room in the cargo area at the back if the bus to put more than the box we brought.

Then Ariel brings-in a huge cooler of fruit punch along with sandwiches, and everyone leaves with something - babies, mothers, children, teens and seniors. It was all cleverly thought-out and fair. Moises tells me that there have been about 50 such distributions for the contents of that container. He is so grateful for Boots n' Bikes, and he urges me to send a container every year, more if I can.

After leaving the batay, Ariel is driving the bus at about 65 mph, and who do we see coming the other way down the road but one of the boys who had won a bicycle. He is trying out his prize!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday February 2nd
Day 8 in DR, Day 4 for Rotary

Today is a day of fun and rest. Dr Bob has arranged for us - or whoever wants to go - to take an all-inclusive boat ride to an island called Isla Saona. Apparently, this outing has become a tradition for the Rotary Water Working Teams.

After breakfast, we pile into a bus for the half-hour ride to a resort area called Bayahibe from where the boats leave. We'll be going out in speedboats and returning on a catamaran. The speedboat is LARGE, seating about 30 and driven by two huge 200hp outboard motors, and the ride out takes about a half-hour. At the island, the beach is typical Caribbean, miles long and fringed with coconut trees. The tour operators each have a section, equipped with beach chairs, hammocks, bars, BBQ pits, dance floors and palm-roofed eating areas. It's cute. There are some wandering vendors but not many and the stuff they sell is really quite good. There are even some Dominican women who offer massages! All-inclusive means that the meal and the booze are included.

After a good BBQ lunch, and after 4 hours of beach, sand, sun, turquoise sea and merengue music, it's time to head back. We're on a catamaran now, and the time required to return will be a lot longer - about 2 hours. It's pleasant, though, and the music continues, the dancing continues, and the flow of 'free' booze continues. It's a hard life but someone has to do it.