Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home again--by Cathy

This is my first official week back in the US and I’m still adjusting to being at home. For those of you who don’t know, I’m in Professor Fisher-Bornes’ research class and our class teamed up with a nonprofit called “Stop Hunger Now” (SHN) to conduct some research for them as our capstone project. The trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) was a lot to take in emotionally for me. I held back my tears everyday I was there with a smile. The need was so great that it was overwhelming to comprehend at first. From the moment we stepped off the plane, I knew my life would never be the same. During our stay in the DR, I saw the true meaning of selflessness in all of the people we met during our visit. Everyone had different reason for why they came to the DR, but a common thread of wanting to help the people was the same. On our last field visit, I was chosen to be the lead interviewer. The organization was “A Mother’s Wish Foundation” and its founder was Jim Pickard. A Mother’s Wish was a small clinic and preschool. I use the past tense “was” because most of their programs have ended because they don’t have the money to keep them going. Even though they are short of funding, Jim refuses to give up on his dream of helping “his people” as he fondly calls them. A Mother’s Wish still conducts lactation classes once a month for new mothers, has a small tutoring center for children, and distributes SHN meals to the community. The founder Jim Pickard is a tall strong man, who reminded me of the movie star Sam Elliott. He and his wife Rita made the decision in 2003 to change their lives and move to the Dominican Republic to make a difference. He has such a heart for the people that live in the community that he considers himself one of them even though he was born in America. We arrived a little late for the interview, but they were ready for us. Jim and Rita had gathered women from the community to talk to us about the SHN meals for our research. Jim and his wife were very welcoming and eager to tell us about the work they were doing in the rural mountains of the DR. While his wife gave the rest of the group a tour of the facility, Jim sat down with Christina Hooker, Kyle (team leader from SHN), and myself, for our leadership interview. He had a PowerPoint presentation prepared and knew every detail of what he and his organization had done since they opened. This made me curious. How could a man who had seemingly done everything right, run out of funding? So I asked. He said he had one rich benefactor who no longer had the means to keep them going. I went on to ask a few more questions that were on my list, and then I asked one more question. “What would your program do if you didn’t have the SHN meals”? I was taking notes at the time, but when I looked up he was staring at me with tears in his eyes. Then he said, “Lady don’t even joke about that. These meals are the life’s blood to my people. The couldn’t make it without them.” I instantly felt as if I wanted to cry, but I held back the tears and calmly told him that SHN knew the great work he was doing here and would never take away his meals. I asked a few more questions from the interview list, and the interview ended. I heard our host call out that it was time to go, but I had to ask one more question for myself. So, I pulled Jim aside and asked him what he was going to do without funding. His answer was that “he was going to wait on the Lord.” Jim said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to die here doing the work that I love and helping my people.” That night I couldn’t stop thinking about Jim. His last statement haunted me, the fact that “he was going to wait on the Lord.” Then I thought to myself that God uses people to help people, and I decided I was going to be that person to help Jim. He and his wife had changed a rural village community by his compassion. Because Jim and his wife started “A Mother’s Wish Foundation,” the community he now calls his own had reduced the rate of infant mortality to nearly zero. He and his wife were making a real difference and had the numbers to prove it. So, in the middle of the night, I took pen to paper and made out a plan to raise money for Jim and A Mother’s Wish. If your check out my Facebook page it reports that I’m a romantic, but I also believe in the goodness of people. I know it’s not the way of the world, but in the world that I live in “no man who does good for others is left unrewarded.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

Becoming a fellowship--by Hayden

As I sit on our flight from Puerto Plata to Newark, NJ, I am left feeling like we’ve each changed for the better. This amazing group of people—SHN, CitiHope, and NCSU MSW Students—coming from different perspectives and experiences, came together with the common goal of understanding the challenges of poverty and hunger, while seeking community specific solutions to these challenging human conditions. We laughed, ate great food, cried, and became a fellowship along the way. This was one of those once in a lifetime moments that can never be duplicated even if we all happen to be together again in the Dominican Republic. It was uncomfortable yet magical.


Everyone has shared so much of themselves and their talents in order to achieve the objectives and goals of this experience. We not only worked hard during the field site visits but we also offered comfort to those in our party that were sick or just feeling uncomfortable—a position we can all claim to have at one point of our seven-day journey. We played hot potato with a stomach virus that sent us on frequent trips to the bathroom, used a thermometer to check our fevers, and actually rejoiced at having refreshing coldwater showers. In a strange way, the stomach bug brought us even closer together.


Because of this excursion, we are more prepared to present to Stop Hunger Now’s Board of Directors at the end of March. I am confident that we will provide four cohesive reports that will display what we have learned. Our goal was to gather information and stories from SHN’s lead and on-the-ground partners. I believe we have done just that. Coming to the DR has provided both a better context for understanding hunger in both Haiti and the DR and examples of successful partnership and the transformational impact of SHN’s meals. Furthermore, I have high hopes that the work we have done for this project will make an impact on the lives of the children and families of the Dominican Republic, as well as other SHN partners.


On this final day, I speak for many of us when I say we leave with heartfelt gratitude for this experience of fellowship and Dominican culture. We said farewell to the three course dinners that lasted three hours long and the moving reflection time used to affirm each other’s strengths and process the emotional aspects of our trip. We leave with the stories of triumph of the men, women, and children we met this week. We ended our time in the Dominican Republic by saying “¡Hasta Luego! (Until Next Time)” to our new Dominican friends, Tim and his wonderful family, and our favorite Dominican bus driver, Joel. I only hope that we were as good to the Dominican Republic as it was to us.


Hayden Dawes
Master of Social Work Student  2014  
North Carolina State University 
President of the Graduate Student Social Work Association
Social Work Intern at the Durham VA Medical Center

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, 
people will forget what you did, 
but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Last day--by Nina

It hasn’t been a terribly easy trip with frequent illness but it’s been a remarkable one. I learned so much about SHN’s work, our partners’ work, the Dominican Republic, myself and even social work. Traveling with the team from the Department of Social Work has enabled SHN’s work, monitoring and learning to be taken to a new level for me. It’s not often that I get the opportunity to really dig into the big questions at the heart of international aid and development with such an intelligent and understanding group of people. I really wish that all of our staff could have this experienceTraveling with a large group proved to be an excellent way to gather very meaningful information at our site visits, to a depth not possible in our usual monitoring and evaluation visits due to time and personnel limitations. In particular, the team was able to commune with local families at some sites, learning about them and their way of life. Though it was logistically more challenging, the benefits far outweighed the additional planning required.

As the trip comes to a close, I realize how privileged and honored I am to do what I do, to work with the team from the Department of Social Work and SHN’s overseas partners, and to be able to address one of the most important issues in our world. It’s hard work - things are never neat, there are no easy answers, just long days and seemingly endless questions – but there is no substitute for this work: working to change our world and share our resources and talents with our brothers and sisters around the world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Stretching--by Suzanne

As a first time international travler and having my first abroad trip being a destination such as the Dominican Republic has been a difficult and powerful experience. While we are here to do monitoring and evaluation for Stop Hunger Now there is much more that has transpired within all of us who are here. Besides the trash that is literally every where and the rundown buildings there are people here who have hope in their eyes and warmth in their hearts. Children reach for our hands to hold and adults smile shyly as we explain through a translator that we are here because we want to hear their stories. We want to know how the Stop Hunger Now meals are transforming their lives, what the would change about the meals if they could, and ask open-ended questions to allow them the opportunity to share their thoughts in their own words so we may take this back to the U.S. to allow our communities and neighbors to listen to the experiences and realities of these people. 

Through this experience thus far I have had a range of emotions and I deeply want to experience them all and allow myself to grow from this as a mother, woman, and American. It is one thing to see commericals of children in developing countries who live in poverty and do not know where their next meal will come from. It is an entirely different experience to arrive in a community located next to the dump where children are running barefoot with trash they have collected from "scuba diving" in the trash. Seeing the school in this community where some teachers are not even being paid for their coming to work five days a week, some coming from distant cities having to travel up to and hour or more one direction. These are the faces the Americans need to see in person. Their faces and stories are worthy of being seen and heard. Their stories have saddened me but more than that these people have welcomed me into their homes and they want Americans to know exactly how this Stop Hunger Now meals have helped improve their health, some who were literally on the brink of death, and how the food makes them have energy and feel strong. 

I have experiences so much through this experience so far and I am not sure how to process all of it. I do know that I am better for having come. I cannot unhear their stories or unsee their faces, and I don't want to. We share this world and we are all in this together. 


Monday. We drive two hours out deep into the Dominican countryside. As we drive we see rich, fertile land, at least from within the van. We pass through small communities with bright colored buildings, people milling about, looking curiously at visitors, watching the day go by. Is this life in the DR? Perhaps. Many of these communities have little infrastructure, which means that formal jobs aren’t a reality. You make what you need to survive somehow-maybe you farm. Maybe you sell. Maybe you do hair or sell snacks to cars or just know when the aid comes and how much you can survive off of, you and your family. We saw evidence of farming. We saw livestock and we saw plants being grown, plants being harvested. We arrived at the clinic we were visiting. I was struck by the beauty as well as the tranquility of the facility. We go in through a gate to a fairly large community clinic. There are multiple buildings, all yellow. Between the buildings-the best way to describe it is a tropical courtyard. Just beautiful with clean, tile walkways and luscious plant life. We meet our interviewer-David Jorge. A patient, smiling gentleman, this assistant director was wonderful to us throughout our visit. Giving us utmost care and attention, working with us in our broken Spanish, taking us to see everything and letting us ask lots of questions. We go into the main room and see a medium sized waiting room where 20 to 30 people are sitting-comfortably and calmly. There is not very much commotion, no children were crying. Some people hold soft conversations, most sat quietly waiting to be seen. Around the waiting room were doors that each had a title: “laboratory” primary care doctor. Gynecologist. We entered into the laboratory, immediately feeling the cool air wash over us. Two women sat in a small air conditioned room, fashioned with some high tech medical equipment-a calibrater, tools to take blood, a machine for urine samples. The women were clearly taking systematic notes in big lined notebooks-they would put a word and then 4 or 5 numbers below it, and 3 or 4 of these entries on each page. I couldn’t read a word of it-but I have no doubt that they could. The grace that these staff had for our group of excited students in our red t shirts carrying our composition notebooks trying so hard to communicate in Spanish, which none of us are quite stellar at, though some more familiar than others, was humbling and we were so thankful. So there we were, with our lab technicians and we start to ask all the questions we can think of in our broken Spanish-what diseases are you seeing? Whats most common? What do you do most? How does all this work? How do the meals fit in? They smile and answer and we copiously take notes and pictures, trying not to let too much of the precious information slip through our fingers. We go into the next room and see how similar it is to the doctor’s offices in the US. In the meantime, the patients waiting look curiously at our group, clearly wondering what this group of students is here for. We enter into a few more rooms asking bits of information, the more we see the more we ask, and learning how to infer based on our surrounding-photo journaling by telling one another-did you get a picture of that board on the wall that tells which doctors are here on which days? Did you see where they have all their donors names? What about those vitamin angels posters that show how to have good nutrition? We see a small girl sitting outside one of the doctor’s offices. One of our team members squats down next to her to say hello. We learn that she is here with her mother who is being seen by the doctor. The mother comes out after a minute and 2 of us work to have a conversation with her. She smiles at us, shy at first but warming up very quickly. She tells us how she uses her SHN meals and how this is a staple for her family and where she lives and how often she comes here. She tells us about their life, her and her little one, and the other children she has. That they do like the rice and that they get it often. She lets us write down her name and take her picture and even though we only talked to her for 5 minutes, its hard to say goodbye. That connection was made, that sweet person to person connection that is at the heart of travel. That moment that is worth the flying and the driving and the money and the discomfort because there is nothing that compares to having that vibrant soul right next to you where you can look into their eyes or touch their hand or see the way they smile or let them tell you something about their life and tell them something about yours. That’s the heart of this for me. Its what makes me come alive. And I am about the me and about the data driven, evidence based what is this food doing in this country, in this clinic, in this family? But when it gets down to it, I want to meet this mother who eats this food and its keeping her and her family going. And its not an either or. It’s a both and. I am about the long term sustainable empowerment of locals to support themselves. But when I meet these people and they become my people, my little sisters now at jackies house, my friends at the clinic. When I see my mother and my father in the people that I meet, my brother and my sister. And they are mine now, this is something that I would not trade for the whole world. After meeting this lovely new friend and bidding them farewell, back to their little home, where they live out their life in this rich and mysterious and tropical country, I and one of the other girls went out where we saw a woman with the stop hunger now box next to her

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Scuba kids-- by Erica

On Tuesday, we also visited a school for kids. These are kids that are referred to as "scuba kids" becayse, if they didn't have a school to attend then they would be scuba diving for things in the dumpster. Their parents work in the dump, other children work in the dump, and many of these children were rescued from a life of dumpster diving. The dump is in this community's backyard, and before the school, a lot of these kids did not know another way of life. For many of the families, their kids are able to stay in school because the school also provides Stop Hunger Now meals for the students' families. This is in hopes that families will allow their kids to receive an education because their education is also a means of nutrition for families.

This was a particularly hard visit for me. Driving into the school, you could see the dump. It was mountains high and dust and pollution seemed to fill the air. Then their was a school, which in many ways seemed to be a safe haven for kids. They were kids, no different from children inany other corner of the world. They deserved a right to a childhood were they could learn, grow, but most importantly, be a kid.

On the road to puerto plata-- by Laurie

Tuesday 2/3/2014


Tuesday morning started off bright and earlier for us in the Dominican Republic. We said goodbye to busy and crowded Santo Domingo and began the long drive to Puerta Plata. The bus rides have been long but have also been a great way for us to get to know each other and reflect on our experience. We have experienced laughtor and tears along our trip through the Dominican Republic, and it has been worth every moment to be able to experience first hand the amazing work that Nina, Matt, and Kyle do with Stop Hunger Now. All of CitiHope has provided us with an experience that none of us imagined by being our guides, including opening the doors to both the good and hard parts about being Dominican.


Our first site visit for the day brought us to a city called La Vega, where the Centro Educativo Christian TEARS school was located. Upon entering La Vega, many of the houses are run down and have trash infront of the homes, but once we arrived at TEARS, it was almost like a mirage in a dessert. The school stood over three stories tall and was brightly colored to reflect the joy of the  children. Our hosts, Father Rodrigo and the Director, Antonio, provided a detailed tour of the building to all the NCSU students, Stop Hunger Now employees, and CitiHope. Over 200 students attend the school throughout the course of a day by splitting up shifts between 8-12pm and 1-5:30pm. Every classroom, from first to eighth grade was welcoming with bright colors and decorations on the walls. The children were so happy to have us interupt classes to say "Hola." Antonio and Father Rodrigo have spared no expense at providing ways to make the school, and have even started a water filtration program. The program provides clean water to the community and children for less then a dollar a gallon, but then puts all the revenue back into the school to support the work they are doing. It was incredible to see how they have put systems into place to make a substainable income and been able to provide the community with much needed water.


One touching moment in the tour was when we were able to speak to the Fifth grade teacher, Neseldia. Neseldia has been teaching at TEARS for over 11 years, providing the students courses in math and science. She provided us information about how the school handles classes when the power goes out, which is does for several hours during the day. The teachers continue to teach the students in the dark by opening windows or relying on a backup battery system that they had installed. Neseldia became very emotional when she spoke about the passion she has for teaching and how much TEARS has improved the lives of so many children that  might have been overlooked in La Vega.  The tears that flowed from her face demonstrated the love she has for teaching, even to those that could not speak English.


Visiting Centro Educativo Christian TEARS provided the group with insight on how programs can work with the community to create a lasting relationship that is beneficial for everyone. TEARS is an amazing school that is changing the lives of children who might not have been able to afford an education and opening the door to a world that has hope and promise.