Caribbean Health Assistance, Rehabilitation and Management, or C.H.A.R.M., returned recently from an eight-day project mission in the Dominican Republic. This was the group's 12th excursion to the Caribbean country.
This year's team was made up of 27 members, most of whom were from the Ravenna area, but some of whom came from Idaho and New Jersey.
This year's work project began in Saballo, a small town where C.H.A.R.M. had previously built a school, remodeled other structures, and built a community center. The townsmen were so gratified that they later built a public square complete with flowers and a gazebo.
This year, C.H.A.R.M. built eight large bookcases at the town center to be used in the local schools, as well as large picnic tables that could be used in various locations.
Wherever the C.H.A.R.M. bus stopped, smiling children would suddenly appear.
Sometimes parents would also be in the vicinity. As construction continued at Saballo, children were entertained; art supplies were provided by C.H.A.R.M. so that the children could paint and draw. Some even painted the little pieces of wood left from the construction.
The children also took part in music and dance at the town square, even playing "Duck, Duck, Goose," according to Sally Sampson, one of the C.H.A.R.M. volunteers. "Roger Troyer, one of our plumber/carpenters, is noted for bringing special amusements for the children, including the button and string which even adults enjoy," she said.
"He also brought tiny sponge animals, which enlarged when put in water. Imagine 20 students standing around a bowl of water eagerly awaiting the results!"
Roger Brockett, on his first trip, took a wooden box with a sliding door that revealed a mouse. "There were some animated squeals when the mouse appeared!," said Sampson.
As an added project, Verda Troyer of Mantua took along 11 lap quilt square kits that had been put together by a group called "Sew-Happy Girls." The seven ladies meet weekly in Twinsburg to sew, often performing charity work.
Having been acquainted with one of the local families in Saballo for a period of 10 years, Troyer explained the project in English to the local people as a young Dominican translated into Spanish. The Dominican neighbors met and agreed to finish the blankets and to pass them on to others in need. Half the blankets were completed within a week.
The group also worked in a more rural village in Los Llabones. The school sat atop a mountain. The volunteers provided a new steel roof and painted the inside.
The plumbing crew installed water lines, spigots and a tank so the students could have running water outdoors. "The school had been there at least 30 years and had never had running water," Sampson explained.
The volunteers distributed school kits and hygiene kits wherever they went. As they met the townspeople, they gained more understanding of their culture, said Sampson. "If you can say "Hola," you have opened a conversation," she added.
A second school located in Piriagua required the volunteers to ford a river with the bus. C.H.A.R.M. had provided earlier funds to redo the roof on this school, which was fairly long. "When we entered," said Sampson, "there were perhaps 100 students and adults seated quietly. I simply said 'Hola' and the place erupted in response! The power of a word!"
The headmaster handed out prescription eyeglasses, made by an optometrist from New York, to local people of all ages.
Child-sized baseball bats made by Jerry Garvin were presented to an adult in charge of the local sports. Wooden swings were restored to the outdoor swing set for smiling students who were ready to swing, said Sampson.
Last year, the Dominican government awarded the orphanage, which had been a drug lord's palatial home, to the orphans of Santiago. C.H.A.R.M. then completed a great deal of work to make it serviceable.
The original owner returned and demanded the property be returned, and it was, so many of Santiago's orphans are now without a home. The orphanage's administrators did manage to take with them the wooden bunk-beds that C.H.A.R.M. had constructed for them.
According to the administrators, the 22 orphans are now in a small house of four bedrooms and two bathrooms. It costs roughly $1,000 per month for rent and utilities. C.H.A.R.M. left them $500 to help with food as well as donations from others in the group. "We would like to raise perhaps $100 per month to help," said Sampson.
The hospital crew went to Imbert to distribute layette sets and health kits, examine pregnant women, and do neurological tests. "A long line of patient Dominicans greeted the C.H.A.R.M. medical team," said Sampson, "but not everyone could be seen that day."
The building is a small, one-story structure with the barest of essentials, said Sampson.
A pregnant woman ready to deliver must bring her own linens and family to care for her while she is in the hospital. The hospital restroom is in the nurses' quarters and has a total of two toilets, a bucket to flush and no seat, she said.
As a side excursion, several of the C.H.A.R.M. team went to a baseball game in Santiago, more than an hour away. "Before we left Puerto Plata, our driver asked for prayer, not for the home team, but for our safety in getting there," said Sampson.
"Driving anytime is an adventure as vehicles, particularly motorbikes, dart in and out of traffic. At night they sometimes are without lights. Despite the poor condition of many of the Dominican dwellings, their baseball stadium rivals those in our country. Not every seat was filled, of course, but the fans were loud and enthusiastic in support of their home team, the Eagles," Sampson said.
Sampson continued, "When questioning our Dominican driver afterwards about the plight of the poor in his country, his reply was that poor, sick people have two choices: they either die or turn to their family for help. We are offering hope. There is no safety net for these people."
To learn more about C.H.A.R.M., call Dr. David Snyder's office at 330-297-4477 or send email to Dr6560@aol.com.