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Lessons Learned in the DR

By Kim Cavallero
With my flight back to the United States tomorrow, my week here in the Dominican Republic is winding to a close. It’s been quite an adventure and I am thankful to Holy Child Sisters Kathleen King, Mary Alice Minogue, and Ann-Joyce Peters, for warmly welcoming me into their community, along with the three Holy Child Volunteers, Brooke, Kristen, and Elle, who are living here for a year and teaching in the school at the Society’s mission site. I’m come a long way since arriving last week—and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here’s a quick rundown of a few—some more humorous than others.

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Lesson #1 – Mosquito netting is important.
Make sure your mosquito netting is tucked in fully all around your bed and/or that you don’t trap any mosquitoes inside the net with you. Fail to do it right and you will wake up with at least 7-10 mosquito bites. Pack some hydrocortisone. (I could have used it.)

Lesson #2 – Hot water and water pressure are overrated. Compassion and humor are not.
When I first arrived last Saturday, Sister Ann-Joyce was showing me the “shower,” which essentially is a single stream of cold water running from a faucet. I’m sure she could see the horrified look on my face, but quite calmly and humorously, she just looked at me and said, “Well, it’s not going to win a prize or anything, but you know….”

A few days later, she showed me how to heat up some water so you could have some warm water with which to take a shower. She then showed me different pitchers you can use to pour the warm water over your head and said, “Everyone establishes her own system.” I took her word for it. After heating the water, I hopped in the shower. A few moments later, she yelled in, “How are you doing in there, Kim? You think you might stay a few more days?” I still wonder what she would have done if I had said, “No!” The point is I adapted and got used to it thanks to Sister Ann-Joyce’s humor and compassion! (I will say that hand sanitizer, cleansing face wipes, and dry shampoo are helpful to have here.)

Lesson #3 – Bring earplugs or a desire to dance the night (and day) away.
Roosters don’t just crow in the early morning hours. They like to crow at all times of the day and night. In addition, the people here love to play music—all the time. There is a constant, steady stream of noise: roosters, chickens, dogs, music, and people yelling. Silence is not important here. If it is to you, bring some earplugs!

Lesson #4 – Living without electricity isn’t so bad.
Where I am staying, the electricity is usually on from about 6:00-7:00 p.m. in the evening until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. In the U.S., when the electricity goes out—even for a few hours—it is a huge inconvenience for many of us. Here, it is a way of life and people just go about their day. They’re flexible and they adapt. Nonetheless, be sure to use a surge protector or risk blowing out electronic items such as your computer’s AC power source. (I’ll be buying a new one next week.)

Lesson #5 – Don’t jump to the worst conclusion. There are good people everywhere.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a very organized person (some might say in a neurotic way!), but this trip has thrown me for a loop and my organizational skills have disappeared into thin air! For example, yesterday, after doing some sight seeing in the city, we arrived home and I soon realized that my wallet was missing. I tore apart suitcases and bags—anywhere I thought it might be, but it didn’t turn up.

Within a few hours, I had canceled my credit and bank cards, assuming I had been pick-pocketed. The last place I remembered having it was in a shop where I had made a purchase. I had the receipt and asked Sister Ann-Joyce if she would be willing to call the store and ask them in Spanish if I had left my wallet there. It was a long shot, but it was my only shot.

Sister Ann-Joyce called the store this morning and sure enough they had it and were holding it for me. They explained that they didn’t have any way to contact me, which is why they hadn’t called. There are good people all over the world who do the right thing.

Homeward Bound
This week has been an adventure. It has challenged and stretched me to grow in ways I never imagined. I have seen people living in extreme poverty in Batey Lecheria and yet, they are full of gratitude for the simple gift of your presence. I arrived in fear last week, but am departing in peace tomorrow—and full of gratitude. Read Kim’s first and second blog posts.

Kim Cavallero is the Director of Communications for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus – American Province.

Between Heaven and Hell

By Kim Cavallero

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There is a stark contrast here in the Dominican Republic’s Batey Lecheria, where the Sisters of the Holy Child began a mission site in 1995. I heard one person describe it as “being between heaven and hell.” You look up and see a brilliant blue sky, lush green palm trees, and fluffy white clouds. You look down and see dirt roads, barely habitable shacks, and half-clothed children, many who have been abused and/or abandoned. They run through the streets and cling to anyone who they think will give them attention. Today, I was almost knocked over as four children, whom I had never met, grabbed onto me at the same time and wouldn’t let go.

But this week, the children of Batey Lecheria have been getting some extra attention, as have many of the residents here. Twelve parishioners from St. Luke’s in Charlotte, NC arrived on Monday morning to give a week of their time and energy to this community. This is the seventh year St. Luke’s has embarked on a mission trip here. The parishioners each paid $400 to come, with the remaining cost of the trip ($450 per person) raised through fund-raisers held throughout the year at St. Luke’s. Click here to hear from parishioner Jamar McKoy, who is making his first trip to Batey Lecheria this week.

Inspiring Experiences

Here in Batey Lecheria, the parishioners have undertaken a hodgepodge of activities this week: painting the shacks; playing baseball with the children; teaching the children how to paint and tie-dye t-shirts; and organizing and leading classes for the women in how to make sock dolls, jewelry, and other items that are then sold in the U.S. for a fair profit, which is returned to the women.

“You get a whole new sense of poverty here,” says parishioner Amber Ockerbloom. “There is a constant need. You can’t come once and not come again. You have to be open to what you are going to do because there’s always a place to do something here.” Along with Ockerbloom, parishioners Debby and Jim Lawrence share that you get as much as you give in Batey Lecheria, noting that the love they receive from the residents is so much more than they give to them.

A “Self-Sustaining” Trip

In addition to giving their time, the St. Luke’s parishioners bring suitcases full of donated medical supplies for the medical clinic the Sisters of the Holy Child began and run at the mission site, as well as all the supplies for the different projects they undertake such as painting the houses and making sock dolls. At the end of the trip, they leave the clothes they wore during the week for the residents of Batey Lecheria, who later sell them and make a small profit. “We clean out our closets or we go to Good Will before we leave the U.S. and buy the clothes we will need for the trip,” explains parishioner Cindy Platko. The parishioners also buy the suitcases that they bring the medical supplies in at Good Will and then leave the suitcases behind.

Platko, who is a school nurse, and her husband, Greg, lived with the Sisters of the Holy Child for a year, while serving the residents of Batey Lecheria. The couple had done mission trips to Batey Lecheria and felt they could do so much more by serving for a longer period of time alongside the Sisters of the Holy Child. They now return to Batey Lecheria twice a year. “Coming here is like coming home and seeing family for me,” shares Platko. During return trips, Platko spends her afternoons making house calls to residents. For example, she brings aspirin to a woman whose hip was broken and never repaired four years ago.

Platko and her husband are akin to celebrities in Batey Lecheria, though they certainly are too humble and focused on the work at hand to consider their “celebrity status.” Since the moment they arrived, shouts for “Cindy” and “Gregorio” (as the residents call Greg) never end. The residents are thrilled to see them and they bring joy wherever they go in Batey Lecheria, just as all the St. Luke’s parishioners who are here this week have. “We’re a parish of action,” says Ockerbloom. How exciting it is for the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus to see so many people committed to the motto of their congregation: “Actions Not Words.” Read Kim’s first and last blog post from her journey.

Kim Cavallero is the Director of Communications for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus – American Province.

A Lot To Be Thankful For

Recently, Mary Alice Minogue, SHCJ (M. Grace Mary) shared an update with us about some of those served at our mission site in the Dominican Republic. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, these heartwarming stories reminded us of just how much we have to be thankful for. God is most certainly at work!

“This year I can report that our school is thriving. And, like the old woman in the shoe, we have so many children we don’t know what to do! Attendance has skyrocketed. We now require the older children to have good attendance at their regular school before they participate in our program. In the past, we had about 30% who maintained attendance; now it is up to 90%. We are so proud of them, but more students are a burden on our budget.

We have 85 four- and five-year-old children in one large room. Some of the children have learning disabilities and emotional problems, and most have had no discipline at home. Sometimes we think that the only solution is to send an unruly child home, in hopes that they will be better able to handle school next year. But, that is not always an option. Diana is a good example of why we keep some of these children.

Diana’s Story
A beautiful little four-year-old, Diana seems to have a motor inside. She is always on the go. She escapes her circle, and runs to the front of the building to see the trees and flowers. We finally decided that she needed another six months at home, after which she could try our school again. However, the next day she showed up with a huge egg on her head—she had obviously been badly beaten. “Who did that?” we asked her. “My poppy,” she answered. Diane’s mother has left the family, so Diana would be in the streets while her father is at work. We decided to keep Diana with us, where at least we know she is safe.


Osiris’s Story
And then there is Osiris, age five. All the teachers agreed that I should tell you about him. He arrived last year with a smile and a swagger. There is nothing like a four-year-old with swagger! When he was involved in the Montessori lessons, he would become completely absorbed. But the rest of the time, he was impossible. He would hit other children—or kiss them! He was particularly fond of tormenting one little boy with Down’s syndrome. Due to the great patience of the teachers, we kept Osiris. This year, he made such progress, and is a model student (almost). He remembers all we teach him, and yearns to learn more. He asks the teachers, “What do I do next, Profe?” He gives us hope.


Antony’s Story
Antony is four, and his smile is like a sunrise that lights up his whole face. He seems very intelligent. He can concentrate and figure things out. However, along the way, we discovered that his ears are severely infected and that he is profoundly deaf. He doesn’t talk because he has never heard. When he doesn’t like something, he screams. Now, many other children have taken to screaming too! We have to get this child some help for the good of all! It has been a challenge getting him medical care. We went to the government’s free hospital for children, but it is months before we can get in. So, we are off to a private clinic to see what hope there is to cure his ear infections and see if some hearing can be restored. We will need lots of financial help to get this smart little boy the treatment he needs.


The Best Day of the Year
Last spring, the teachers made a suggestion: take the older children on a field trip to the beach. It is hard to imagine that most of these children have never been to the beaches for which their island home is famous. I decided it was worth the cost to let the six- to ten-year-old children have a field trip to the beach. The two-hour bus ride from our batey was expensive—but it was well worth it. The children were delirious with joy. They made bathing suits out of whatever they had. The teachers gave swimming lessons, frolicked with them in the water, buried them in the sand, taught them to build sandcastles and play volleyball. Everyone agreed that it was the best day of the year. The pleas have already begun for a repeat trip this year.”


Holy Child School Wish List
During this holiday season, please keep the Holy Child School in mind. Your donations will go toward fulfilling the following school and student needs:

  • Wage Increases for our dedicated teachers. 
  • Desks where our many children with learning disabilities or emotional problems can work alone. Most of them of them currently do their work on the floor. 
  • Children’s Story Books in Spanish for our kindergarten and first-grade students.  
  • Children’s Vitamins, enough for about 100 children per day, 5 days a week.  
  • Medical Care for Antony’s ear infections and possibly hearing aids or other treatment.  
  • LCD Projector so all the children can see. There are just too many to huddle around a TV.  
  • CD Player that will accept a memory stick.  
  • PA System (with battery option?) that we can use for parent meetings, regularly attended by more than 90 people.   
  • Photo Printer and Paper so we can record and post photos of the kids learning and enjoying school.  
  • School and Art Supplies from pencils and sharpeners, to tape of all descriptions, to folders, to bulletin board decorations, to math games, to colored sand, to construction paper, to . . . 
  • Personal and Food Supplies including tooth brushes and paste, powdered milk, hand soap, place mats and small trays.

If you would like more information about the Society’s mission site, click here or feel free to contact Sr. Mary Alice at mminogue@shcj.org.

Casa Cornelia Law Center Hosts La Mancha Awards Event

Clients of Casa Cornelia Law Center with Sr. Mel Loomis and Sr. Peg Doyle at the La Mancha Awards

On October 21, more than 250 friends and clients of the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, CA gathered at the Joan Kroc Peace and Justice Center at the University of San Diego for the Third Annual La Mancha Awards. The event began with a reception on the plaza and was followed by the program in the Center’s theater. The Humanitarian Award was presented to Rebecca Cammissa for her Oscar- nominated documentary, “Which Way Home.” Suamhirs, a 20-year-old client who had ridden the trains from Honduras through Mexico, accepted the award in Rebecca’s absence.

Laura Coats was honored for Outstanding Mission Support. A former faculty member and parent at Mayfield Senior School, Laura has been a generous donor to Casa Cornelia Law Center since its earliest days.  Andrea Caruso Townsend received the distinguished pro bono Attorney of the Year Award for the asylum case she saw to successful resolution after 10 years! Latham & Watkins, was recognized as the Law Firm of the Year for contributing 6,000 hours of pro bono time to Casa Cornelia. In addition, attorneys who gave 300 hours representing clients and law school clinical students were honored.

The evening ended with a tribute to Sr. Betty Drew, SHCJ who died in April. Sr. Betty was the face of Casa Cornelia’s Domestic Violence Program for hundreds of women and children over many years. To see photos from the event, click here.

Reflections from Africa (continued)

Continuing our series of reflections from some of those who went on the recent trip to Africa, hear what Kate Marlow from the School of the Holy Child in Rye, NY shared:

Sr. Mary Akinwale and Kate Marlow

“Upon arriving in Africa, I quickly learned that time moves differently there. After living in New York City for the past seven years, I was struck with the sense of calm that pulsed through each person’s movement, regardless of the immense population density. My colleagues from the Holy Child Network of Schools in the United States were there to visit and experience the Holy Child schools and ministries. However, our time in Ghana and Nigeria extended far beyond the school walls. We found friends in the Sisters and the Holy Child students and we fell in love with cultures that are very different in many ways than our own, but fundamentally the same. It was truly a transformative experience. For a world that is so often filled with corruption, greed, and hardship, I found an amazing sense of peace within myself—and that came from those around me. In Ghana and Nigeria, God fills people like breath expands one’s lungs at sunrise, thankful for a new day on Earth.”

Reflections from Africa (continued)

Continuing our series of reflections from some of those who went on the recent trip to Africa, hear what Jenna Sutton from the Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, MD had to share: 

“When the opportunity came for me to visit the Holy Child schools and missions in West Africa, I leapt at the chance! To see another part of Africa, to meet the SHCJ nuns and students at the schools, and to experience another culture seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While the trip was short, I feel we made good use of the few hours we had in each of the places we visited, gaining an appreciation of the people we met and places we saw. It was wonderful to make this journey with other Holy Child teachers from the United States as this enhanced our overall view of the extent of the Holy Child Network of Schools and its potential in uniting people across the globe. In particular, the strong young women we met at the schools and the generous and loving nuns we grew to know were the highlights of the trip. I returned to the U.S. with a personal challenge: to greet each day and each person I meet with the love and hospitality and sincere interest that I experienced on this journey.”

Visiting the Dominican Republic

Along with Sr. Peggy Doherty, Sr. Tese Currie gave a retreat at the Society's mission site in the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

In mid-April, Peggy Doherty, SHCJ (M. M. St. Thomas) and I were invited by Ann-Joyce Peters, SHCJ (M. M. Domina) to fly to the Dominican Republic to give a weekend retreat in Spanish similar to those we have been guiding twice a year for women from Providence Center. Peggy had been there before, but this was my first visit to which I looked forward eagerly, but with a bit of trepidation.

The experience was unforgettable: enlightening spiritually and challenging both psychologically and physically. I have returned with tremendous admiration for the work of our sisters, the Response-ability Volunteers, and their Dominican colleagues. They have provided an oasis in the batey where the Haitians, who had come to cut sugar cane, have been abandoned when their employers went bankrupt and left the country.

There was nothing there when Ann-Joyce arrived 15 years ago to begin a project under the auspices of the Jesuit FE y ALEGRIA program. Today there is a bright, well-staffed clinic under the direction of Sr. Kathleen King of the European Province. With special attention to mothers and babies, this clinic has helped improve the general health of the area. Beside the clinic is the Montesori School complex, the inspiration of Mary Alice Minogue, SHCJ (M. Grace Mary). Here the youngsters learn basic skills so that eventually that will be able to join the mainstream of their peers in the nearby public school. We had only one day to absorb all this activity, but I hope never to forget the smiling, grateful faces of all we met – in the midst of great squalor. There is much more that I did not see: the Associates who know and love Cornelia Connelly, the women’s workshops, prayer groups, etc.

Fifteen Dominicans (3 men and 12 women) made the weekend retreat, most of them members of the prayer group Ann-Joyce had initiated. We were able to spend two days at a Jesuit Retreat House right on the Caribbean. Peggy and I were pleased by the retreatants’ generous response to the theme, “Growing in Faith, Hope and Love.” We ended on April 18th with the Cornelian Prayer suggested by the Associates. Three final days at the beach gave Ann-Joyce a bit of rest (that she rarely takes) and for me, another view of this beautiful island. The mansions we passed on the way to the shore were such a contrast to the hovels of the batey.

I needed more than three days to sift through all my reactions to this very special visit. The oppressive heat, daily cold showers, frenetic traffic – all of which I found so daunting – are all taken in stride by our sisters and volunteers. More than WHAT they do, I was struck by the love and caring with which they minister to these very needy people. They do so with great joy, giving the Haitians a sense of their worth and enabling willing Dominicans to share in this ministry which is making a difference in people’s lives.

Not content with what they have already done, they have dreams of doing more – building a guest house where volunteer doctors and benefactors can stay, adding another classroom to the school, providing additional medicine and equipment for the clinic. Because FE y ALEGRIA has 72 other projects, it cannot be their chief source of funding. To continue this work and to allow it to grow depends on the generosity of friends. No donation is too small to help with their teaching, healing ministry.


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