By: Lori McBride
In May, 2016, I had the privilege of traveling with my husband and six friends to the island of Hispaniola to spend 10 days visiting with the glorious people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I’ve traveled the roads of both countries numerous times over many years, but during this visit, I participated in something new and very special that I’d like to share with Minnesota United Methodists, especially those who supported the 2016 Love Offering—40 of which, or about $37,000, went to International Child Care, a Christian organization registered under the laws of both the United States and the Dominican Republic. (Click here to read about how another recipient, the Minnesota Council of Churches' Refugee Services, used its portion of the Love Offering.)
People who have physical, learning, and other disabilities face a myriad of challenges no matter where they live. Those challenges are almost always magnified for anyone living with a disability in a developing country, like the Dominican Republic, where there is a great deal of misunderstanding and prejudice about the causes of disability, thus making it difficult for such individuals to gain acceptance and value in society; in fact, those with disabilities are often shunned even by their own families. Additionally, geographic and economic barriers make it hard to access rehabilitation services, which tend to be institution-based and only affordable to wealthier families.
International Child Care has operated a community-based rehabilitation program in the Dominican Republic since 1988. Known as ICC-DR (translated as FCID—Fundacion Cuidado Infantil Dominicano in Spanish), it sends trained rehabilitation workers, called promotoras, into the homes of children with disabilities who live in and around the city of Santiago. Among other things, the promotoras teach parents or other adults living in the household simple exercises that will help children with disabilities grow and develop. This grassroots approach empowers families to give their children the best chance of becoming fully included in their own communities.
During my most recent visit to Santiago, I learned that upon reaching “adolescence”—somewhere between the ages of 13 and 21—the children in the home rehabilitation program “graduate” from the program and the services they have been receiving end. This comes about almost entirely due to lack of financial resources needed to continue providing care and services. The disabilities don’t end and the needs don’t go away, but the money runs out.
Recognizing the harm such a lack of care and services causes to so many young people, ICC-DR started new programming on a wing and prayer in January 2016: It started a first-of-its-kind adolescent peer group that meets regularly in the community where some of the young people live. By the time of my May visit, there were more than 35 young people meeting in four groups. The time spent in groups helps these individuals gain valuable social skills by working with, playing with, and talking to their peers. Part of the class time is also centered on further development of their own skills as assessed when each student enters the program. For many, this group is the closest thing to schooling they can receive, and most are overwhelmingly happy to just be there making friends. The program develops their skills to allow them to become more active members of society and eventually some might find a job in the workplace.
In May, I met Cesar for the first time. He’s a young man with mobility and language issues who dropped out of school in third grade because there was no way to help him learn in the classroom. He had been without care or rehabilitation services for more than 10 years.
“When Cesar started the adolescent program in the Santiago area, he was shy and hardly spoke at all,” ICC-DR Director Trudy Bekker told me. “Thanks to generous donors like Minnesota United Methodists, who answered the prayers of the in-country staff by supporting ICC-DR with the 2016 Love Offering, our innovative adolescent program is helping Cesar work on his writing skills, math, and socialization (and he eats a healthy snack every day, too).”
There has been a big change in Cesar in just a few months according to his group promotora—he begins each day by walking around the table greeting everyone with a firm handshake and big smile. As for me and the members of our team: Cesar had hugs for everyone!
The funds received through the 2016 Love Offering will be used in a variety of ways in 2017, including the expansion of the new adolescent peer group program—starting four new groups, admitting at least 20 newly identified adolescents with disabilities to the program, and providing training for all rehabilitation workers in the program. In addition, ICC-DR will devote resources to working with the government and the National Council of the Disabled to develop legislation that supports the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Dominican society, and to provide workshops for community groups to increase aware of the rights of persons with disabilities, the adolescent program, and community inclusion.
Thank you to everyone who so generously gave of their personal resources to change the lives of these fantastic young people living in Dominican Republic!
Lori McBride is a member of White Bear Lake United Methodist Church and serves on the Minnesota Conference Mission Promotion Team, which selects Love Offering recipients each year.
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