The 2016 Dominican Republic Mission
By Julia Ariail
Posted September 8, 2016
An initial set of over 500 trip photographs from one missioner’s camera is posted online here. Photographs from other missioners’ cameras will be added to this album soon.
The ‘Go Team’ and the ‘Home Team’ combine to make up the Christ Episcopal Church Valdosta mission to the Dominican Republic. A very successful DR Dinner and Auction held at the Cotton Corner in downtown Valdosta on April 8 raised $12,000. After a commissioning by Fr. Dave Johnson at the 10 a.m. service on May 8, the eight-member ‘Go Team’ made up of Julius and Julia Ariail, Deacon Leeann Culbreath, Phyllis Hiers, Meg Hiers, Bill Querin, Fred Richter, and Paul Stevenson left for Orlando. The commissioning also included the blessing of some gifts for the church in El Pedregal including a Spanish lectionary for the lectern and an embroidered fair linen made by Julia Ariail.
The team gathered for dinner Sunday night at an Orlando restaurant. Team leaders Julius and Julia Ariail held a team meeting at the hotel distributing the red team t-shirts and discussing the schedule. Deacon Leeann Culbreath led the team in a worship service in preparation for the upcoming trip. At 2 p.m. on Monday, May 9, the team flew to Santo Domingo on JetBlue Airlines. Karen Carroll, the DR diocesan mission team coordinator, met the group at the airport and delivered “take out” supper supplies of empanadas and cold water as we boarded the chartered bus to El Pedregal.
Padre Daniel Samuel and his wife Deacon Aurianne greeted us warmly when we arrived at the Campamento Monte de la Transfiguración in El Pedregal around 10 p.m. Monday night. The team moved into the second story of the dormitory. We gathered at 8:30 Tuesday morning for prayer in our dormitory’s common room with an altar set up by Padre Daniel and Aurianne compete with a lectern and flowers. After breakfast and a reunion with Thomasina, the cook, and Leidy, our interpreter, the team set to work on various projects.
Bill Querin and Paul Stevenson began the work of installing ceiling fans in the school with the help of a Dominican electrician. The rest of the team began sanding the camp’s swing set and volleyball posts in preparation for painting them. Julius is photographing all over the village and camp. We walked through the village greeting old friends and checking construction projects from previous years. One highlight of the day that had nothing to do with us was that the government public works department showed up to pave the main street of El Pedregal. This was a major attraction for the children, who were briefly dismissed from school to see the spectacle. After dinner and evening prayer, Fred held a yoga class to help all of us stretch out our sore muscles.
Every day we have morning and evening prayer with Padre Daniel and Aurianne reading the Spanish version of the readings and a different team member leading the prayers. We made progress on several projects on Wednesday. We painted the swing set with four different colors and the volleyball posts in green. We installed the volleyball net when the paint dried. Phyllis Hiers and Leeann Culbreath taught the first day of the environmental science class to about 20 fifth through eighth-grade students in the common room downstairs in the dormitory and out on the lawn. The children picked up trash on the road to the camp and talked about how many years it took each piece to decompose. They also held a meditation under the trees on the lawn of the camp. All the fans are assembled and two were installed.
At lunch we presented Padre Daniel and Deacon Aurianne with the Spanish lectionary and fair linen. Julia and Leeann helped Deacon Aurianne place the linen on the altar for use at the 6 p.m. Wednesday service. We also had time for several visits with our friends in the community and in the local medical clinic.
Thursday was very busy. Fred, Julia, and Meg applied a second coat of paint to the swings and the one remaining seesaw. Then Fred and Padre Samuel went to the hardware store to buy a second seesaw board, new rope for the swings and hardware to attach the seesaws. Later in the day, a metal worker from the hardware store came to try to fabricate the metal pieces needed to attach the seesaw, but that didn’t work quite as planned. We will work on this specific project again in 2017. Phyllis and Leeann taught the environmental class with Meg and Julia helping. Today’s focus was clean water. As part of the class the children decorated an altar frontal made of felt by Julia. The frontal had a river, waterfall, flowers, trees, animals, birds and mountains like a scene around the village. There was even a rooster eating a handy supply of corn kernels.
The professional installers for the screens in the dining hall came today and completed the first part of the work. Each opening will have sliding metal framed screens. The work looks very professional and has to be custom made as all the spaces are different. There is a lot of noisy sawing and hammering. Progress!
Bill and Paul are working hard to install fans. The wiring is a puzzle. Paul is very good at sign language for wiring configurations with the electrician who speaks only Spanish. Padre Daniel asked them to install 4 additional fans in the common room on the first floor of the dormitory, so work began there after the environmental class. The rabies clinic was a great success. Dr. Meg set up the clinic in the school courtyard. With only a sign on the gate to advertise the clinic from 2 to 4 p.m., 49 dogs and cats were vaccinated. People of all ages brought dogs and cats on homemade leashes or in pillowcases. Grandmothers, children, the owner of the local colmado (general store), teens and mothers came with their pets. Only one dog escaped. He took one look at the other dogs and headed out the gate as fast as his legs would carry him. Meg saved the last dose of serum for a dog that hangs around the camp dining room.
Our daily schedule includes 7:30 a.m. – morning prayer; 8:00 a.m. – breakfast and planning meeting for the day; 9:00 a.m. – 12 noon work on activities and projects; 12:30 p.m. lunch; 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. – siesta!; 2:00 – 5:30 p.m. – work on activities and projects; 6:30 p.m. – dinner; 7:30 p.m. evening prayer and team discussion about the day; 8:30 p.m. – yoga.
Friday is Splash Party Day. Since school is still in session, the children will line up at the school at 9 a.m. There were about 160 children using the wading pools that had been filled with clean water from a local water company. We had slip-n-slide tarps, newly painted swings, rope climbing, volleyball, dancing to a dj’s music all morning. At noon we served hot dogs, cookies, soft drinks, ice cream and cake. The teachers at the school were the main supervisors, and the team helped serve food and drinks. In the afternoon Fred, Paul and our Dominican helper Pedro are assembling a set of bookshelves for the first floor of the main dormitory. Bill and Paul are completing the installation of the ceiling fans. Leeann, Julia, Phyllis, and Meg visited the greenhouses, then walked to the river.
On Saturday the team, our translator Leidy, and a dozen teens hiked 4 miles in about an hour to a local waterfall. Having proven that even the older ones of us could actually walk there, we decided to call two taxi trucks for the return trip. The trucks took a roundabout way back to the camp through nearby farmland and the town of Jarabacoa. We got to see some new territory. Bill and Paul completed the installation of the 4 fans in the dormitory. That’s 16 total.
After lunch six of us went in a rented van into Jarabacoa for sightseeing and shopping. The other two elected to stay at the camp for the whole afternoon just reading and resting – something they had never done before for a whole afternoon.
Saturday evening the camp staff and leaders of the church, school and community honored us with a gala supper in the dining hall. Each team member received a framed certificate of appreciation for our mission ministry. We presented gifts of t-shirts and team crosses to our two Dominican translators and project assistants, Leidy and Pedro; and team crosses to all of the other adults present. Padre Daniel Samuel was very gracious in his remarks about our presence and the improvements our completed projects have made. We presented a certificate for 50 scholarships to the school to Padre Daniel and told him we hoped to collect more. We would be sending the money in July for the 2016-2017 year.
After dinner we went to our rooms and started the sorting and packing process. Several of us will be leaving behind unneeded shoes and clothing that we stacked neatly in a spare bedroom.
The Sunday morning church service began at 9:00 a.m. The altar frontal decorated by the environmental class adorned the altar. It was a happy and sad experience. Leeann participated in the service as deacon. As is the custom in DR churches, everyone in the congregation hugs everyone else at the peace. We are all tired, but we hate to leave.
Our chartered bus arrived at 10:00 and we left for Santo Domingo where we deposited our bags in the lobby of the Hodelpa Caribe Hotel and went for lunch on the Condé (pedestrian walkway) and explored the Colonial Zone, the area of the city dating back to the early 1500’s. We moved into our rooms at 3 p.m. and rested until 6 p.m. The team gathered in the lobby and walked to a rooftop restaurant overlooking a plaza containing the restored building that was the governing headquarters of Christopher Columbus’ son, Diego.
We had an early start on Monday. The bus arrived at 5:00 a.m. to take us to the airport for the 7:30 flight to Orlando. Julius and Julia went to the airport with the team, waved goodbye to everyone, then took a 12:30 p.m. flight to Puerto Rico for the annual conference of the Global Episcopal Mission Network, attended by Episcopal missioners who work in many countries.
After we returned to Valdosta, we received funds from Fred Richter’s church, Trinity Episcopal in Statesboro, and from Elizabeth Welch’s church (Elizabeth is a former team member) in Dothan, Alabama, that allowed us to send a final total of seventy scholarships to Padre Samuel in July in the amount of $24,500.