This past summer, Helen Beckner, an International Studies major and sophomore at UW-Madison took the time to travel. Helen’s travel was a bit more unique than most. Through help from Latin America, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS), Helen was able to fund a two-week volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic. Helen, along with a small group, went to an orphanage in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, about forty miles from the Haitian border, to teach English to orphans. The program was called Orphanage Outreach. Helen was kind enough to share her story:
On August 14, 2010, I sat at my gate where I would board my flight to Santiago, Dominican Republic and watched all of the tourists getting ready to board their flights to other Caribbean islands where they would most likely spend a week or two at a luxurious resort on the beach. A woman I met at the gate had friends and family in the Dominican Republic. She was telling me, “… you have to go to Cabarette beach and the Omega concert; don’t forgot to drink Presidente beer; go to this and that bar; and don’t be freaked out about how Dominican women wear a short dress and heels to go grocery shopping … ” She said all of this before I could tell her that I was actually working at an extremely modest Pentecostal Orphanage in Monte Cristi, which is located about an hour away from the Haitian border, far from the popular tourist spots in the country. Even though I was coming to the Dominican Republic as a foreigner, on this trip I was not a tourist, rather I was to be a teacher for two weeks for the children of the orphanage Hogar de la Esperanza de un Niño, and for its school in the outskirts of Monte Cristi.
The Dominican government has been sponsoring orphanages since the 1970s. After the assassination of dictator Trujillo in 1961, there were many internally displaced persons, especially children who no longer had family as a result of Trujillo’s extermination of thousands of individuals who opposed his policies. The country wants to keep its reputation as a developing country, not a third world country. So, the government made a policy of developing institutions to care for its orphans rather than having them be put up for an adoption and be taken away by foreigners. The Monte Cristi orphanage was founded in 1981 by a Dominican Pentecostal pastor.
In 1994, Orphanage Outreach founder Tom Eklund was working with a medical missions group, Flying Doctors of America, when he and a small group of volunteers from Atlanta visited the orphanage and decided to sponsor it, establishing the Orphanage Outreach organization for that purpose. Today, the orphanage’s basic needs such as food, simple healthcare, and utilities are funded by the Dominican government. The Orphanage Outreach organization and the volunteers provide funding for everything else.
Story and photos submitted by Helen Beckner.