During one of the coldest weeks of the Winter of 2014-15, two Rotarians, Tom Fitzsimmons and Mark Wittgen, from the Whitby Rotary Sunrise Club traveled to Consuelo, Dominican Republic to assist Bob "Roberto" Jarvest.  This was not your typical fun in the sun vacation.  They spent the week, distributing clothing, installing and repairing swing sets.   Distributing water filters for the next crew traveling down which includes Diane Allen, Jenn Fry, Peter Gorham and Kate Piggott-Babony with the remainder of the instructions provided later in March by Linda Raney.
During his seven days in the sun, Mark kept a journal of his activities and experiences in the Dominican Republic.
Day 1
Un perrito, a small dog, barked intermittently throughout the night.
The occasional moped putt putted down the crushed coral path.  Similar to a cottage road, yet in Consuelo, Dominican Republic, this is called a street.
It was dark, very dark, as the electrical grid shuts down around 8:00pm.  The only glow was a faint red dot from the TV converter.  The fortunate have battery power, it also powers the  air conditioner on the wall. It was -23C in Toronto when we escaped Winter on Friday.
Instead of blankets and a down duvet, I sleep comfortably under a single cotton sheet.
As dark gives way to light, the roosters announce the day.  Again and again.  Now I understand why Margaret recommended ear plugs.
Andres is awake and out the door to his job at 6 am. We won't see him for another 12 hours. As a grandfather of nine, at sixty, he looks forty.  He is probably stronger than most men half his age. The crowing of the roosters is joined by a symphony of birds. It's 7:30 am.  Time to wash, shave and put on some shorts.
Day 1 of my vacation begins.
Roberto arrived around 8:30am to start our day.  We went to the convent to unload the bags of clothing that we brought down and pick up the new swing hangers for the swing sets. WestJet lets you bring an extra 50 pound bag if it is for Humanitarian purposes. Then off to meet with Emilio, the welder.  In the cluttered workshop was a number of large pieces of pipe, painted black.  They are the frame for a swing set that will be installed in a batey.  Watching Emilio and his son punch holes in the steel pipes was an interesting perspective on the challenges of adapting your approach to completing a task with inadequate tools. Drill bit dull?  Sharpen it on the abrasive disk on the chop saw.   Drill bit a 1/4 inch too short?  Drop a small piece of metal into the chuck to serve as a shim. Emilio's wife served us caffecito.  A double shot of espresso with a healthy dose of local sugar.  Delicious.
Then off to Sanchez, the hardware store, for some chain.  On the way we stopped in to see a house that Roberto had helped to purchase with an impoverished family.  It had a solid concrete foundation, but needed a new tin roof.  The flimsy walls were a few planks and covered with sheet metal.
Garbage and weeds dominated the yard.  Very sad.  Yet this was a step up from dirt floor shanty they had before. Significant progress for a family trying to improve themselves.
We made our way to the Hardware store to pick up the chains for the swings. After measuring out the necessary length of 1/4 inch chain, a dull pair of bolt cutters was used to pinch the link at the appropriate spot.  Then the young clerk grabbed a hammer and started banging on the weakened link.
After a number of attempts and misses, the link gave way.  There was also another new gouge in the ceramic tile floor. Quite different from Home Depot in Whitby. We gathered the chain and headed to the convent for lunch with Sister Anna.
Toured the new Seniors Centre. Saw Roberto's and Margaritas’suite.
Met Daniel, he gratefully accepted the soccer uniforms for 5 teams. We will watch the kids play later in the week. We replaced the broken swings, we made a lot of children very happy.
Went back to Myrna's for a shower and a cold Presidente.

Another incredible dinner of fish, potatoes and vegetables was served by
Sat on the front porch, and were forced to listen to the blasting exhortations from Evangelical Street Church. We watched the salamanques, geckos, stalking their dinner.
Andreas arrives back from another long day around 8:00pm. Fought to stay awake to 9:15pm.
Day Two
Another great sleep, a wonderful bed and a quiet night.
Same dogs and noisy roosters. Pancakes and fresh orange slices with mangos and melon washed down with a couple of cups of Myrna's Plan B Coffee.  Since there is usually no power in the morning, she boiled water and poured the hot water thru the drip coffee maker.
Roberto picked us up at 9:30am.  We headed to La Loma to repair the shutters. Then off to Jolitta's house to see the progress on the new tin roof.  It looks to be rainproof by the end of the day.  This is a huge step up from the dirt floor shanty she was living in before. Drove around the new schools in the plaza, then headed to Myrna's for another light lunch, at least two servings of everything.  It's hard to say "no mas" to the fresh vegetables and the plantain y pollo.
Waddled to the truck after lunch to pick up some empty water bottles for delivery to the bateys. Headed to the bateys, unloaded the bottles.  We investigated a swing set that needs repair that was installed last year.  Roberto met with Anna to discuss where the water filters are to be distributed.
Headed back to Consuelo. We stopped in to visit with Hernando and Kimberly. They have brittle bone disease.  The Rotary Club has provided funding to provide some relief to their condition.  The progress they have made in a year is amazing.  Hernando walks by himself and has a sparkle in his eye.  Kimberly is going to university on weekends to become an accountant.
Then we picked up some cold Presidentes and water.  Ice for a cooler is hard to find, it’s easier to buy cold beer from a store. Myrna prepared another feast. Guandules and rice with pork chops.  Totally awesome. She also invited Ramon for a visit to translate our conversations with Andres and Tom.  It was interesting and entertaining.
Tomorrow we trabajo, work.

Day 3
Slept like a log most of the night. An impressive rain storm came thru and woke me.  I slept in til almost 6:30 am.
Great breakfast of ham and cheese and tomato sandwiches with a bowl of fresh sliced cantaloupe, oranges and mango. Sure beats Quaker Oatmeal from the microwave.
Roberto picked us up at 8 am.  As a night owl, he was moaning about the early start. We picked up Herbierto, a local citizen of Consuelo.  Same age as me but a heckuva lot stronger.
He has great sense of humour yet his Spanish dialect is very difficult to understand. He is extremely protective of Roberto, so much that Roberto calls him Mama.
We drove out to Haty Meijor, a batey in the sugar cane fields. We met up with Anna, one of the resident's in the batey.  Even though she has no running water or electricity, the inside of her concrete block shanty is neat and clean. A personal pride of ownership exists in places impossible to imagine.  She is not alone as there are many others like her. Anna acts as a local agent and a reference for the sale and distribution of the water filters and solar lights.  Heaven help the man that crosses her.
Over the span of 5 hours we delivered twenty water filters that weigh about 150lbs each plus a 100lb bag of sand.
Needless to say when we were done and cracked the first cold beer, it was very refreshing. My clothes were filthy, ready for a TIDE commercial.
We were dropped off at Myrna's around for a shower and a rest.  After I cleaned up I found a little store to purchase cold beer.  When it's 32C, it's important to stay hydrated.
Roberto picked us up around 4:30 pm to check out the next day’s water filter distribution locations. Looks like are we a go for 30 filters tomorrow
Another wonderful dinner was served by Myrna.  Imagine eating your grandmother's food, every day.  I don't want to see the scales when I get home.
Tonight’s dinner was very impressive.  She mashed green plantain that tastes similar to mashed potatoes, mixed with pieces of chicken, wrapped in leaves, tied with string and then cooked. Delicious.  Complemented by a pasta salad with bits of ham and cheese and vegetables. Topped off with ice cream for dessert.
Day 4
Slept very well again.  Physical labour is certainly a contributing factor.  Just a couple of tender muscles and a few bruises from yesterday’s adventure.
Today we deliver 30 water filters, and it's going to be 32 degrees. Breakfast sandwiches of ham and cheese started the day.  We were on the road to Batey Nuevo with Hereberto by 8:30am.
This batey contains many poor people living in extremely tough conditions.  We met up with Ramon.  He approached the Sisters at the Convent regarding his desire to help the people in his batey purchase water filters. It is ironic that he works in the local Consuelo area, selling bottled water.  He is passionate about the value of clean drinking water, and he was able to convince 15 families to purchase a Bio sand water filter.  As we were delivering one of the filters, I was troubled to see a young child, probably no older than three, standing naked in a weed filled pasture, strewn with garbage.  He was crying and no one seemed to care.
This batey was full of sad images, yet there were a number of thankful handshakes and appreciative gestures from the inhabitants that reinforces the impact of my time here.
Out of the most unlikely squalid conditions comes people like Ramon that want to help others improve their health.  You can hear the sincerity in his voice.
We met a young boy named Marco.  He joined our distribution detail, helping us hand out the bags of gravel and the water bottles.  He was trying to be helpful.  In the 32 degree heat, an extra set of hands was much appreciated. Tom paid him 100 pesos for his efforts .During our deliveries of the water filters, opportunities for conversation arise.  Roberto was talking with a woman that had been married for 46 years.  She had 17 children.  And I thought three was a lot of work.  After the first lot of 15 filters were delivered, we headed over to Batey Montecito.  We were unable to find Daniel, he was our contact to assist with distribution of the remaining 15 filters.
So it was decided that we would pick up the new swing set and the necessary cement, gravel and sand and head out to Batey Haty Meijor for installation.
It was a slow trip, we had a heavy load.  It took us a couple of hours to install the swing set into the holes that were dug by a couple of the boys/young men living in the batey.
They dug with a metal pole with a flattened end.  They scooped the dirt out with their hands.  Anna had her arms up to both shoulders, hauling out the rock and clay.
We sank the posts into holes that were 25 inches deep. Hereberto mixed the gravel, sand and cement on the ground.  We connected the pipes and the four of us, along with some of the men and boys, raised the swing set into position.
After a lot of animated discussion, and additional manhandling, the swing set was fairly level and straight.  Roberto thought the level was in his tool box, yet we were unable to locate it.  Hereberto enjoyed making him pay for this oversight...
We packed up and headed back to Consuelo for a Presidente and a well-deserved shower.
In the evening we went to dinner at Hector and Aleeda's house.  We met his two handsome boys and his daughter, Maridella.  Roberto explained how her name was created by picking pieces of the names of the grandparents and putting them into a hat.  Hector is the principal of the new Technical school and a longtime friend of Roberto.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of fresh fish, dorado, with mashed green plantain and a sweet tasting pasta dish. Dessert was a dish he called Tropical Candy, a mixture that included mango, passion fruit, pineapple, tomato and sugar.  Delicious.  There were many lively conversations about Hector's school, the many changes in Consuelo, the value and impact of education.   I was impressed with his passion for his students.  He is a soft spoken, truly driven individual.  Hector had a challenging childhood.  His father died when he was young.  He went to work selling fruit on the street to help pay the bills for his mother and five sisters. Now he has a fine house with a lovely wife and three children.  It makes me wonder how that inner drive and ambition occurs in some, but not others.
It was truly a full and rewarding day.
Day 5
Slept well, the roosters woke me up.  Better than being awakened by a snow plow.
Breakfast sandwiches this morning, I am hooked. Myrna always serves juice in the morning. Today was yellow passion fruit mixed in a blender with oatmeal. Muy bueno.
Roberto picked us up at 8:30am, Myrna's daughter Sherlin came with us for a trip to San Pedro for some chain for the new swing set.
We took the chain to Emilio to be welded to the seats.  He had no power, and asked us to come back tomorrow.
Then we headed back to the convent to pick up tools and generator.  Cordless drills are good, but when you are drilling holes in metal poles, they wear out too quickly.
We headed out to one of the batey schools to install the new brackets.  It was another hot, sunny day, +32C.
The children, all dressed in light blue shirts and khaki pants or skirt, are a stark contrast to the way many are dressed while in the batey.  Perhaps this encourages or reinforces personal pride.  Tom visited the classrooms with Sherlin, they were very excited to hear that we were repairing the swing sets. Tom also challenged them with his universal language, math.
He wrote some math problems on the chalkboard and the children enjoyed working out the answers.
Meanwhile Roberto and I were up on the ladder, drilling holes in the pipe and installing the new swing set brackets. Murphy was kind to us and we accomplished this task with few challenges.
Then we headed back to Myrna's for lunch.  A feast of pork chops, fried green plantain, fried yucca.  Awesome.
After lunch we picked up Nubia, Hereberto's wife for a trip to a batey school.  Nubia met with the teacher's to discuss the feminine hygiene kits that Margaret and some other ladies in Canada have been assembling to assist the young women with their personal hygiene.  It was well received, there are 70 young women, yet there are only 40 kits ready...
Then off to another batey school, Escaduna.  An old wooden playground set installed seven years ago had swing set brackets but no chain.  We removed the brackets and will reinstall on another swing set on the school grounds.
Then back to Consuelo.  We dropped in to see Daniel, he offered a caffecito, strong black coffee, with loads of sugar.  Muy bueno. He indicated that the schoolchildren love playing on the swings and don’t want to come in for school.
Back to Myrna's for a cold Presidente and a shower.
For dinner we had arroz con habituales negra.  Black beans and rice, with roasted chicken and Cole slaw.   I asked Myrna for the recipe.  The waistline continues going the wrong way.
Myrna’s son Julio stopped by for a visit.  He is married, with two children, and works at the CEMEX plant.  He also loves to fish and showed me a video on YouTube of his spearfishing team.
Roberto came back at 7:30pm so we could go Hereberto's house for a special dessert.  Habituales con dulce.  It is a traditional Dominican dish served during Easter week. Mashed bean soup with potato and spices. Served cold.  Muy bueno.  As usual, many interesting conversations with Hereberto.
Then back to visit with Andre and Myrna. We had great fun with Google translate! “La Rosa entre dos spinas” Fell into bed and was asleep in seconds.
Day 6
Woke, well rested.
Breakfast sandwiches of turkey & cheese with fresh fruit, fresh juice and black coffee. Tim Who???
This morning we loaded up the truck with tools for another trip to the bateys. Before we left could we leave Consuelo, we had to stop at the local hardware store, Sanchez, for some hardware for the swing sets. Then we stopped off at Emilio's to pick up the seats that he welded to the chain. Then off to one of the schools in the batey to drill new holes and install new brackets for the swing sets.It is very rewarding to see the faces of the children as they line up to try the new swing.
As we were heading back to Myrna’s, my friend Murphy showed up and the truck got stuck in a drainage ditch.  Lucky we weren't traveling too fast.   Roberto had to put the Toyota truck into 4x4 mode to head back for lunch. After lunch we headed out for our final swing set installation, Murphy showed up again as we arrived at the school and it was closed up tight.   All the schools that I have seen have high fences or walls around them, with razor wire along the top.  It is a sad sight, reminds me of a jail. Yet it is the education is what frees these children from the life in the batey. The children were probably sent home early in advance of the Independence Day celebrations taking place on Friday.
So we headed back to the Convent so that we could transfer our pictures onto Roberto's tablet.
While Roberto and Tom worked the technology issues, I cleaned the spark plug on the generator and knocked the dust off the air filter.  Ready for more solar light installations.
Then back to Myrna's for a cold beer and a shower and then off to the Convent for dinner.
Sister Anna and Sister Catherine provided a warm welcome.  Yet another feast that included chicken, rice, fried green plantain, mixed vegetables, salad and brown beans.
And of course I had to have a piece of the dessert cake that I saw Daisy making in the afternoon. I think I will try the no dairy, no gluten diet upon my return. We had some wonderful discussions and Roberto and Tom reminisced about some of their previous trips down to the DR.  Roberto provided a tour of the power inverters and the battery room.  Quite an impressive installation.
We went back to Myrna’s and had some more conversations with Google translate.  Argenis, another one of Myrna’s sons stopped by for a visit.  He is a professional photographer and is married and has a nine year old son.  He looks like he is in his early twenties, but he is thirty three.  Like his father, he does not show his age. The work and the heat take its toll.  I went to bed at 10:15pm.  One more sleep and then reluctantly back to Winter.
Day 7
A chorus of dogs erupted at 4:45am.  Seems appropriate as this is my last day in the DR.  While I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, a gecko crawled slowly across the ceiling.
Won't see that in Whitby. Had a cup of coffee with Andres this morning. He wished us a safe journey and welcomed me back anytime.  "Mi casa es su casa"
After Andres left for work, I packed up my clothes in preparation for our return to Winter. As I was having my second coffee, a man on horseback trotted by Myrna's house. He was obviously late for work.  Roberto and Sherlin picked us up around 9:15am to head out to the bateys to hand out some clothes.
We spent an hour or so in a couple of bateys, Sherlin is great to have along for this activity as she is fluent and a local.  Plus like most mothers, she knows sizes and how to match them up.
At one of the bateys, a woman came out holding a baby that was only six days old.  She delivered the baby in the hospital in San Pedro, but will raise her child in a structure made out of concrete block walls with a concrete floor.  The roof is corrugated tin with 2x4 rafters.  There is no running water or electricity.  The windows have no screen, only shutters. The ground in front of this batey is littered with garbage.  A variety of droppings from dogs, chickens, goats and horses complete the squalid scenery that will be this child's playground.  There are no words to describe the smell...
As we head back to Myrna's for lunch, we agreed that we accomplished most of the things on Roberto's list.  It was a great week of hard work, sweat and many laughs.
I made new friends and strengthened my relationships with my friends from last year.  We returned to Myrna's for a quick shower and a final meal.  Myrna's family came to provide us a formal send off.  Once again Myrna had a feast of Domincan delicacies for lunch that included some of my new favourites like black beans and rice, fried green plantain with chicken, along with a new treat, like goat.  Once again I was encouraged to try everything and second helpings were required.  And of course no lunch at Myrna's would be complete without dessert.  Little shredded coconut cupcakes.  I have changed my mind about eating coconut, I have grown quite fond of this when it's "Dominican Fresh".  Once we completed our lunch we gathered for group photos and hugs for all.  It's sad to say to goodbye to people that have treated me so well. As Andres and Myrna said from day one, "Mi casa es su casa".
We were treated like kings the minute we stepped into their home.  I will miss our evening chats on the front porch, using Andres’ phone and Google Translate.
As we were taking our bags to the truck, Emilio, the welder, and his wife and his family stopped by with fresh coconut baked desserts for Roberto, Thomas and me.  We were touched by their generosity.
On the trip to the La Romana airport, I had some moments to reflect upon my second trip to the DR.  There were only a few, as we had the extremely talkative Sherlin with us...
After a week of trying to help others who are less fortunate, I am reminded of how much we take for granted.
Clean water, electricity 24x7, food and a job.
So many people in the bateys have so little yet still find a way to live, and to laugh and claw their way out of a hostile environment.  I was fortunate to be able to help a few...