A young man in the Dominican Republic (DR) who broke his leg was left to live on crutches after he couldn’t afford surgery to repair his crooked limb.
The Rotary Club of Wasaga Beach paid for his surgery at a private hospital and he can now walk again.
This is one of many cases where Rotarians have made a difference in the lives of impoverished people of Haitian descent who live in the Dominican Republic.
In January and February, the Haitian Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Teams (HHART) completed missions 10 and 11 with a total of 41 volunteers. Each team spent a week providing medical care, dental care and community development.
“Humanitarian missions mean a lot to the people who go, but it seems to be lost on everyone else,” said Rotarian Steve Wallace.
Since 2011, Wallace has been leading missions to DR to help people without citizenship living in bateyes, old sugar-cane farm shanties, inland from the ocean. Even children born in DR to the former farmers are not given citizenship, cannot attend school before the age of eight or access health care.
Mission 10 and 11 together was a $60,000 operation, said Wallace, a former Canadian Air Force fighter pilot.
Each volunteer paid their own way and also had to fundraise. Other Rotary clubs donated approximately $15,000 in grants and more than $15,000 came from fundraising from local businesses including Wasaga Beach Home Hardware. Lots of supplies, including prescription eyeglasses, were donated.
One of the biggest problems is the mud streets and almost everyone is barefoot. That’s why an ongoing project has been the construction of concrete streets and sidewalks.
It also bothered Wallace to see children running throughout the villages with nothing to do.
That’s why Wallace has been working to establish a Montessori school for young children and through partnerships he was able to open a school last September with funds for a teacher and two assistants.
Now children as young as three are attending school, wearing clean uniforms.
“To see them go to school is cool,” he said.
But they only had rudimentary equipment. So for this winter’s missions, Wallace got assistance from the Huntsville Rotary Club and other donators and purchased $8,000 of educational supplies, desks, chairs, as well as adding ceiling fans and better lighting.
“It was like Christmas. They were just overwhelmed. They had never done puzzles. It’s all new to them.”
Dave Young of the Rotary Club of Penetanguishene went on his fourth mission and worked on construction projects.
“The original bateyes have disintegrated. The roofs leak like crazy and there is mould,” he said.
HHART missions always hire local people to do the work. Residents join in and are paid with food, he said.
An 130- by 30-foot roof was put on one barrack. An overhang was built and PVC tubing was cut and added, functioning like eavestrough to direct the water into barrels instead of creating mud. The electrical was removed and redone.
Kristina Parker of the Barrie Kempenfelt Rotary Club took part in her first mission as the solo dental hygienist.
“I saw a woman about 62 who had never had her teeth cleaned,” she said.
Working with a headlamp and hand tools, she helped 10 people a day.
Meanwhile, she had assistants hand out toothbrushes while teaching people how to use them.
Dentist Don Farquhar, with the Midland Rotary Club, has been on five missions. He was shocked on his first mission where the village had no power and no running water. He had to consult a veterinarian about how to treat people in the field.
“We went in fearlessly and started taking out teeth. We did the best we could.”
Recently he removed more than 20 roots and/or dead teeth from one woman, realizing that she must have been living in “so much pain.” Through the missions, a dental clinic has been built, expanding the practice beyond teeth pulling.
Wallace said the missions are not all about completing tasks.
“We in Canada are task oriented - getting things done but that is not our priority… If you relate to people that has huge value. Relationships come first. Tasks come second. We are there to make them feel better about themselves.”
Wallace is already planning projects to teach villagers first aid and come up with a solution to the garbage problem for next winter.