Friday, May 14, 2010

Dominican Republic update - where are we with the tilapia project?

Of course there was more going on during our trip to the Dominican Republic than just touring the various communities in need of help. The main reason I made the trip was to try to work out some more of the details involved in starting a Tilapia Project. One question in need of answer was : could we find someone to manage the project? The answer came to use in the form of Richard James (pictured above). Richard grew up in England, and has quite an interresting story (he joined the merchant marine at age 14, traveled the world, etc...). He came to Puerto Plata with Mercy Ships about six years ago on a 4 week mission outreach. At the end of the trip, Richard decided to stay. He initially lived and worked eith the Hatian refugees in Villa Ascension. His heart and goal has been wholly devoted to helping these people. After a few years he was able to buy a small property nearby.

Richard has done amazing things on this property. His green thumb and way with animals is evident. The property is full of vegetables, fruit trees, chickens, ducks, pigs, and the like. The people come to Richard when they need help in the forms of food and medicine. He is the ideal man to manage the Tilapia Project at Villa Ascension, and he has been praying for just such a project. One additonal benefit - Richard's wife teaches at the school in Villa Ascension (pictured above). We were agreed that the best way to initially distribute the fish, without furthering the handouts and entitlement that continue to wreak havoc among these people, is to use them for meals to be served at school. As the project grows, Richard will try to get people involved in the harvest. We hope that God will raise up willing people to begin new projects in other communities.

The next question that needed to be answered was: could we find tilapia in the Dominican Republic to start our project? This proved to be tougher than it sounded. Over the course of our stay in Puerto Plata, we spoke with numerous people who were said to be connected in some way with aquaculture. This process even lead us to speak with the Assistant to the Bishop of the Diocese of Puerto Plata. We left Puerto Plata with more connections, but no real answers concerning the availability of fish. However, in following up on some of the leads obtained in Puerto Plata, I contacted a lady named Kathy Skipper. Ms. Skipper workes with an organization called Food For the Poor, Inc. They started a similar project in Nagua, just under 100 miles from Puerta Plata. She is currently ironing out the details of allowing us to purchase fish from their project for the Tilapia Project at Villa Ascension. We're getting close!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dominican Republic Trip Re-Cap - Aguas Negras

A roof top view of Aguas Negras. This is a predominantly Dominican slum in Puerta Platta. As you may have guessed by the name (black water) this place does not smell too great. The whole of Aguas Negras is built below the waste water treatment lagoons for Puerta Platta. When the heavy rains come, Aguas Negras is flooded with sewage. Nearly every home we entered had high water marks two feet up the walls. Aguas Negras has no sewage collection system of its own. As you can see in the picture below, the privys and toilets drain out to the street, and down to the ocean shore untreated.
My faithful guide, Stefan Schmid. Stefan has been working in Aguas Negras and Villa Ascension for over 10 years with Mercy Ships. Everywhere we went, people would call out to Stefan telling him how glad they were to see him. He has worked hard through the years to do more than just build houses for the poor. He has developed real lasting relationships with the people in these poor communities. Stefan showed me that we have to do more than just come to build houses for these people. They need training and skills in order to find jobs in order to pull themselves out of poverty. They need help, not handouts. Stefan has an idea to bring teams of skilled people down to Aguas Negras. These teams would build homes for people, but they would work with local people to teach them how to build, how to use computers, how to do electrical work, etc...
This is my young friend Chico standing on the shore of Aguas Negros. Behind him you see a powerplant. This is also where the sewage runs to. You and I would never even consider swiming in these waters, but the people of Aguas Negras not only swim, but fish here.

This is the school in Aguas Negras run by an amazing lady named Sandra. She told us her story my first night in Puerta Platta. She has an amazing testimony for what God has done in her life. I hope to tell her story more completely in a later post. The school is a bright spot in a very difficult place. She is truly devoted to these people, she is one of them. That is Sandra's daughter in the picture.

Dominican Republic Trip Re-cap, Villa Ascension

This is the view of the Hatian village called Villa Ascension from the hills above. Out of view to the right is what they call the Old Village. That village is on "Company" land. The sugar cane industry originally brought Hatians to the DR to cut cane. When the processing factory folded years ago, they left their workers with no place to go, no work, and no hope. Notice the sugar cane in the foreground and surrounding the village.

The one and only road into or out of the Hatian villiage.

One of the dwellings in the Old Village. Richard James is the man we are talking to about raising tilapia to help the people of Villa Ascension. He was our guide as we walked through the village. He came to the DR with Mercy Ships about 6 years ago - and never left. He lives among the people in the same conditions. Now he has a small piece of land in the hills above the villages. The people come to him when they need help, food, or have medical needs.

A girl and her baby sit in front of the local voodoo preist's place. Voodoo is no joke here. It is real and a part of the culture. This was the place where I felt most uncomfortable during the trip. Stefan explained to me that it was normal to feel that way, but what have we to fear? The creator of the universe is our God. These "priests" are in need of God's word and salvation too.

Just a typical dwelling with a family in front. Seeing the children was difficult for me. That could be my Emma sitting there naked, dirty, and hungry.

Babys sleeping on the concrete floor of a Company dwelling with Mama watching over.

This little Hatian girl lives in the shack behind her. It was very humbling to walk through their village and take photos of their homes. The people of Villa Ascention and the "Old Village" were very gracious and open. They invited us into their homes and offered to share what they had.