To the editor:
I have been volunteering in the Dominican Republic since 2006. I have brought groups of volunteers from Central New York since 2008. This summer I was able to return to this beautiful country again to do more volunteer work. But honestly I can say it no longer feels like volunteering; it is a joy to spend time with these kids who were abandoned tragically by their parents.
The children who call the orphanage home have tragic stories, but their sufferings were at least mitigated, in part, by having a loving, spacious and stimulating environment at the Emiliano Tardif Orphanage. We play games, tell stories, and go on field trips together. Some of the kids have been there since my first visit in 2006. Those that have are in much better shape than when they first arrived. No more tears, fear of adults, just lots of smiles. One was found tied up at age 2 in a garbage dump while her mom was out prostituting. Another arrived while we were visiting. Her mom worked as a maid and was told she could only keep one of two children in the house, so she abandoned beautiful 9-year-old Noelia.
This last trip was so wonderful. We stayed right at the orphanage, ate with kids and gave them love and attention. We took them places on field trips that they would never be able to go and they were so joyful. The connection we have made with these kids is really special; we laugh together, smile together but also cry and hurt together. These children have left all of their handprints on my heart.
During the trip a few weeks ago the orphanage was hit with some shocking news. The drug lord whose mansion was lent to them by the government after he was placed in jail (they receive no other financial support from the government) had been released and was legally demanding his house back. The title for the house was never changed from his name so he is legally allowed to take it back. The board and house mother had to quickly find a place that could house 21 kids. They are going to be able to rent a schoolhouse for the next year, but two days prior to move-in it had no electricity, no shower and no kitchen. The situation is not hopeless; they are all going to be able to stay together and that is the most important thing for these kids who really only have each other to rely on.