Dear Parents and Friends of Mo’ Motion,
Thank you for your donation to the November 2016 Sneaker & Shoe Giveaway (and clothes) to Haitian refugees in Munoz Village, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Here are the images and the story behind our connection to Diane’s Sun Camp and to our Haitian and Dominican friends.
In December of 2009, I decided to do a volunteer vacation between Christmas and New Year’s, and return in time to continue with Mo’ Motion’s first full basketball season. I searched online and found Diane’s Sun Camp, an inexpensive camp for foreigners located about 10-15 minutes from the resorts along the ocean and near a batey. A batey is a plot of land where Haitian refugees and the poor in the Dominican Republic reside in tin shacks and without running water. There is inconsistent electricity and no toilets, leaving the 3,000-4,000 residents to use sugar cane fields as their toilets and the river nearby as their bathing area. There is a great need for shoes and sneakers because many of young children are exposed to bacteria and parasites through the ground and soil, leaving them sick with bloated bellies and weakened immune systems.
Most residents are lucky if they eat one time per day. It may be some rice or a banana or a bag of chips. They are known to share with others whatever food they can get. There is a school for the children of the batey up to 18 years old. Diane said that she found me a helper from the school when I arrived with bags filled with used soccer uniforms and sneakers. My helper was Robinson Moreta Beilard, who spoke English, Spanish, Creole and French, having learned the languages from teachers at school, foreigners at camp, and by watching television. He was 18 years old and the top graduate in his class.
A bunch of foreigners agreed to go with me for the first play day event where we brought jump ropes and balls and high spirits into the batey. The children often are so hungry that they aggressively bump foreigners for a banana. Others are reticent and cautious, but you can see in their eyes their craving for love and attention. The original photo album from 2009 shows all the fun we had amid a landscape filled with raw images of poverty. Robinson and I agreed to give away the sneakers and clothes to a limited number back at camp the next day, and maybe return to play baseball with the local baseball team.
I learned through Robinson and Diane that almost all of the people in the batey wanted to work, but they did not have Dominican papers. Diane often provided as many jobs to them at camp. Robinson’s father worked as a construction worker who labored day-to-day to feed his 13 children. Many young girls became pregnant and were unable to properly care for or feed their babies, so they often gave them soft drinks to pacify them. I asked Robinson why, in spite of all the lack of opportunities, the Haitians didn’t seem angry. They seemed positive and friendly toward me and each other. He said, “We are happy here. It Haiti, it is the worst. If anyone sees you making money or doing good in your business, they will rob you. Even the police. They will hurt you.”
As a young child, before fleeing his homeland, Robinson commuted back and forth from school in Haiti where he walked 2.5 hours each way.
I asked Robinson again why, as the top graduate in his class, he was not going to college. Was it just the money preventing him? Or did he lack the desire? He said he knew the school he wanted to go to in Santiago, and the program he wanted. Robinson said his goal was to be a civil engineer. He wanted to get his degree and come back to the batey to help his family and be an example to others. Of the estimated 3,500 Haitians in the batey, it is estimated that a handful go to college and not everyone makes it to graduation.
“How much money do you need?” I asked.
He said around 2,500 pesos, which is around $150 for his schedula (student visa) and then $50 more for his application.
I told Robinson that if he promised me he would take the money for school and school only, and avoid the temptation to feed his family, I would give him the $150. Bernard, my Canadian friend at Diane’s camp, would give him the other $50 after Robinson showed Bernard that he had the paperwork.
I returned to the United States and the earthquake of 2010 occurred four days later. Robinson and I spoke by phone to make sure he was okay. His relatives in Haiti either died or were financially ruined. I told him that he had to think about himself and his future. He promised me that he would meet his goal, and when he did, I said I’d come back to watch him cross the stage.
On November 14, 2017, Robinson Moreta Beilard graduated from Universidad de Technologia de Santiago with a degree in civil engineering. Mo’ Motion parents were kind enough to donate shipping costs, sneakers, shoes and clothes for my return trip. Mo’ Motion purchased soccer balls, kickballs and jump ropes. I spent some of my own money to cover the travel, lodging and food for the graduation party. The trip was a celebration as well as a sobering reminder of what abject poverty looks like up close. I was only there for a few days, and I cannot express how overwhelming it felt to witness the cycle of poverty, the lack of hope and ambition amongst the girls, who often don’t see education as their route out of the batey. Meanwhile, Robinson and his father worked several jobs for five years while Robinson commuted 1.5 hours by bus to and from school and the batey to get his degree.
In my original interview in 2009, which I hope to produce in video form soon, I told Robinson I wasn’t sure if I could take $200 and ignore my family’s need to eat.
“School is my life,” Robinson said. “It is my future.”
I asked him, “What was the hardest part about college?”
“Getting there,” Robinson said. “Then it was easy. Nothing in school was hard at all.”
I would like to thank Robinson and his family for allowing me to ride on the bus filled with proud supporters to his graduation. I would like to thank them for reminding me of how lucky I was to have shoes on my feet, and a water bottle and protein bar as a snack in my bag. I also would like to thank my mother and father for teaching me not to take out my half a bottle of water and protein bar until after my grocery store run where we bought enough food for the graduation party. The mothers served only what was needed, rationing small sandwiches and one cookie per child, and hiding the rest to last the week.
In closing, I’d like to thank all of you who supported my return trip and chipped in with donations or gear to show our love and respect for Robinson Moreta Beilard.
Robinson plans on getting a job as an engineer in Puerto Plata so he can have his own apartment where he can be an example to Haitians in the batey. Robinson plans on continuing his work at the church in his batey, and helping out Diane and all the foreign volunteers who want to pass through and feel like they’ve left their drop in the bucket. If you are interested in going on vacation to any of the resorts in Puerto Plata or roughing it a bit in Diane’s rustic and safe Sun Camp where you can bring sports equipment or medical supplies and so much more, please reach out to Diane or her son Samuel here.
Thank you all for your time and support.
The Best of The Sneaker Giveaway & Graduation Celebration:
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