Recently a group of Central Albertans travelled to the Dominican Republic to assist with a program called Dominican Feed the Kids, which services approximately 300 people each day the program runs.
Dominican Feed the Kids is currently run by Donna and Bill Reimer, a couple originally from Lacombe. The two have taken over the program from the original English founders and have grown the organization so that it now services babies, pregnant mothers, young children and seniors.
Donna and Bill took over the program six years ago and have since built their life around bettering the situation of others.
“When we started about six years ago, they were not the healthy children you see now in Ascension. There was a lot of sickness due to malnutrition. There was sickness from not having enough to eat and not having proper vitamins,” said Donna. “We increased the feeding program from about 20 kids to about 250-300 kids a day by the end of that first year. We started a vitamin program, which gives the kids a vitamin after they leave from their meal. Within a very short time, a regular vitamin three times a week made a huge difference in the health of the kids.”
This October, Marlene Pannenbecker of Lacombe brought a group of 22 Albertans to work with her sister Donna’s program. The group spent seven days in the Dominican Republic, three of which were spent providing hands-on assistance to the people of Ascension, where the program is based.
Donna said although the program was successful before, it has grown into a different kind of success. Donna and Bill realized they needed to start helping expecting mothers produce healthier babies.
“We started looking after the moms as soon as they knew they were pregnant. We would get the moms on prenatal vitamins, teach them how to look after themselves and to eat properly if they could. If they couldn’t, we would feed them during the program. We started getting much healthier babies which gave us much healthier toddlers and in turn, much healthier children.”
Dominican Feed the Kids is operational in three villages, with the main portion of the organization in the village of Ascension. There are currently 62 babies involved in the baby program between the three villages. Most of the babies in the program are prematurely born, born with health deficits or issues, are twins or are undersized, unhealthy babies. These are the priority standards and other babies are accepted into the program depending on the availability of goods and supplies.
The baby program is the only part of Dominican Feed the Kids that is a sponsored program. Those wishing to get involved can pledge $75 to a baby each month, which takes care of medical needs, formula, pablum, dried fruit, clothes and other needs for the babies.
The program also now includes a hot meal for seniors, with deliveries made to those who are unable to journey to the facility. Seniors range in age from early 50s to late 80s, with a variety of health statuses and needs. The program has grown to include these members of the community with a great success.
Pannenbecker has been a part of the program since her sister and brother-in-law took it over. She has since made numerous trips back to the Dominican Republic, either with family, friends or both, to assist with supplies and manpower in the program.
“The program gives me and others an avenue to help them help the people in the villages live a better life. Not only do we get to help them by providing food and care, we get to personally know them when we visit,” Pannenbecker said.
“We can be part of helping the Haitian people helping themselves by assisting them in their endeavours to do better for themselves. The people of these villages have so much talent and such great ideas of ways to provide for themselves, they just do not have the means to get the items needed to start. Through this program we can be in Canada and still help in small way.”
Ascension is a Haitian bateye village, meaning those who reside in the village are of Haitian descent who were brought into the Dominican Republic to work in local sugar cane factories. With these factories bought out by American companies and closed, bateyes like Ascension are now in worse shape than ever.
Pannenbecker said programs such as Dominican Feed the Kids make a huge difference in the community, both physically and morally. The mortality rate of the village for pregnant mothers and young children has dropped and the babies are being born much healthier. According to Donna and Pannenbecker, the mothers are much healthier and are able to take better care of their children as they grow.
“Dominican Feed the Kids has impacted the village so incredibly much. Because of the feeding program, most children in the village of Ascension are now healthy, happy and going to school. Five to seven years ago this was not the case. Dominican Feed the Kids has expanded now into two other villages that are some of the poorest sugar cane villages on the north coast. I hope in the next two to three years we will see the same difference as we now see in Ascension,” Pannenbecker said.