What I gained from those who have nothing to give

Prior to last month, I had no real idea what poverty and struggle looked like.

I thought I did – I grew up poor, volunteer with Red Deer’s homeless population and have seen the effects of a lack of resources. By our standards.

This October, I joined 21 other Albertans on a humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic where my eyes were opened to what a poverty-stricken, third world country really looks like.

We travelled to the north coast of the island and volunteered with a feeding program in a poor village called Ascension. We saw people who eat a single meal a day or sometimes nothing at all. Clean water doesn’t come out of taps, and the standards of living are less than sub-par.

Regardless of these issues, I met some of the happiest people I’d ever met and that is what the true impact of this trip was.

Poverty is the trap of not being able to better one’s situation. These people genuinely do not have the resources – money, clean water, ease of access to food, medical care, proper housing – to better their situation.

But for everything they have, they are thankful.

The people I met in the Dominican Republic were some of the most beautiful, kind and proud people I’ve ever met. Children would come up to you, grab your hand and take you to their home to introduce you to their family. They were always proud of their homes, their families and their pets (often chickens). Many of the adults were more reserved, but also very genuine in their actions.

The language barrier was the least of our worries. Our group stumbled through interactions with children and adults, both parties usually ending up smiling or laughing due to the confusion.

In spite of the difficulties these people are facing, there is an element of community unparalleled to anything I’ve ever seen in Canada.

Children, teens, adults and elders all coexist with respect for each other and a reliance on each other. The people in the village were often taking care of each other’s children, moving seamlessly between houses and shops and were always waving or shouting greetings at those around them.

One of my best memories was on our last day in the village, where I asked my new friend Wilson to take me to his home so that I could photograph his family. I was welcomed by hugs, shown his prized pet chicken and his pigs and was offered water to drink. His family put on nice clothes for me to photograph them. I was welcomed with such kindness that I nearly cried.

It was amazing to see such a spirit in a village that is so obviously full of struggle. Ascension is actually one of the luckier villages – missionaries built houses for the people and the feeding program and baby program run by our friends helps to take care of the babies, children and elders. Most villages don’t have this kind of additional help, so the people there are in an even worse situation.

In North America, we praise entrepreneurial spirit. We have associations and meetings and think entrepreneurs are gifted, ambitious leaders. In the Dominican, the only way people can make a living – a very poor but passable living – is to create a business or service. Until someone pointed that out to me, I wouldn’t have realized. But after, it was all I could see.

There are over 400 villages – bateys – like Ascension across the Dominican. These villages were populated with Haitian migrants during a booming sugar cane industry – most of which was bought out and closed by North American corporations seeking to gain a bigger profit. To add insult to injury, most of the sugar cane fields were burned to keep the people from re-building the industry.

The result is thousands of unemployed, underprivileged people in poor living conditions.

But the other result is a community spirit unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. There is a beauty and simplicity to the way of life down there because most people are incredibly grateful for what little opportunities they have.

The biggest thing I brought home with me from this experience was gratefulness for my wonderful life, and I am thankful to have been shown that in a personal, humble and impactful way.

kmendonsa@reddeerexpress.com

Just Posted

Parker Thompson makes a big splash to start the 2019 Road to Indy race season

Double victories in St. Petersburg indicate 2019 could be Thompson’s best season yet

NDP Leader Rachel Notley stops in Red Deer on campaign trail

Notley promises hospital expansion, cath lab, pipelines and energy industry expansion

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer discusses thoughts on federal budget

New federal infrastructure funding likely coming to Red Deer

Alberta Election called for April 16th

Upcoming election will be about who is fit to be Premier, says Notley

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Carbon tax, oil and gas investment dominate Day 2 of Alberta campaign

NDP pledges more oil and gas processing, UCP slams provincial and federal governments on carbon tax

Another gun seized by police in Wetaskiwin

Maskwacis RCMP arrest two youths, seize firearm in Wetaskiwin

Sundre RCMP looking for 4 missing bison

A Sundre bison rancher is missing four bison from January and RCMP ask for help from the public

Politicians hitting the road for votes in Alberta election campaign

NDP Leader Rachel Notley and United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney have officially launched campaigns

Calgary woman convicted in son’s strep death seeking full parole

The trial heard that Ryan was dead well before his mother called 911 to say he had stopped breathing

Starbucks to test recyclable cups, redesign stores in B.C., U.S. cities

The company also said it plans to redesign its stores as it adapts to increasing mobile pick-up and delivery orders

In pre-election budget, Liberals boost infrastructure cash to cities, broadband

The budget document says the Liberals have approved more than 33,000 projects, worth about $19.9 billion in federal financing

2019 BUDGET: As deficit grows, feds spend on job retraining, home incentives

Stronger economy last year delivered unexpected revenue bump of an extra $27.8 billion over six years

Most Read