Dominican Camp

Hatching Butterflies: Metamorphosis

I woke up Sunday morning at 6 am, after being serenaded by roosters all night long, who echoed their cries into the lush rolling hills outside Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic. Morning in the DR is lovely, with mist clinging to the trees, and the sun just started to bake the ground. After a chilly shower, I left my sleeping roommates (including my 15-year-old daughter Mary) to join about 50 boys with hemophilia to do morning exercises with “Cuchito,” their coach. If only we could wake up this way every morning of our lives!

After fun exercises and stretching, to get the boys’ joints limber, we marched– and I mean, marched–off to breakfast, always a healthy and hearty meal. The boys then prepared to leave their their DisneyWorld, their adventure land, their annual mecca. Packing, laughing, hugging–the Dominicans are known for their great affection towards each other–the boys reluctantly made their way to the bus and back to Santo Domingo.

But what a time we had! On Friday the boys were treated to a surprise: a visit from Marcos Diaz, world class long distance swimmer. Marcos gave a spellbinding speech poolside about discipline, perseverance and setting goals. He isn’t just a swimmer: he was born with severe asthma, and was not expected to ever do much in life. He didn’t let his asthma stop him, and set out to conquer it through swimming. We took many photos, and I think the adults were as excited to meet this national hero as the children.

We had carnival, arts and crafts and then, the Talent Show!! It was wonderful: full of music and dance, and unexpected but hilarious skits from the teens as they mimicked the adults–including the founder Haydee de Garcia, and me!

Camp “Yo sí peudo” has ended and was a magnificent, fun time for all. If you look at the logo on Ronnie’s yellow shirt, you’ll see the camp theme for this year: metamorphosis. It’s our tenth anniversary, and we’ve watched little children grow to men, from caterpillars to butterflies, ready to spread their wings. Knowing they have hemophilia, some disabilities, and even poverty, nothing could be greater than the smiles on their faces, and the hope in their hearts.

Please view our gallery of camp here. 

Hot Fun in the Summertime

What could be more fun than attending a camp with 50 boys with hemophilia in the summer heat with activities, great food, camaraderie, a talent show, carnival games, swimming pool and meeting a world class celebrity?

Doing it in the Dominican Republic, a tropical paradise.

It’s the 10th anniversary of a remarkable camp, “Yo si pudeo!—Camp “Yes, I Can!” I would dub this one of the best, if not the best, camps for hemophilia in the developing world. And I know what it has taken to make it so as I was here for the very first camp in 1999.

Back then, as I told the staff today, I came to the DR give direction and advice. Things like: you need volunteers. You need to raise money. You need to quarter the medical area, preferably out of the dorms. You need Plan B for when it pours rain for three solid days. You need name tags, a list of each camper, and above all, you need factor. And factor can’t be stored with the raw meat.

It was a long learning process, but with each camp, the experience got better and better. I was delighted in 2005 to attend my fourth camp and saw not only a medical room, but also one under lock and key, clean and organized, with fresh flowers in a vase. Not only did the kids have nametags, but they had groups, which were named, and each group assigned a teen counselor. The counselors were the teens who grew up in camp. Amazing!

Ten years of camp came together seamlessly to create an awe-inspiring four days. The children were dropped off by family members on Thursday at the Robert Reid Memorial Hospital in Santo Domingo, the capital. I eagerly greeted the children I had come over 10 years to know and love, and met some new ones. Once assembled, they were hustled off to a chartered bus for the quick 25 minute ride to Lomas Linda, a lovely, lush town nestle in the hills. This was an exceptional venue—a private function house, with a huge wrap-around veranda on which were oversized chairs and hammocks, enticing visitors to relax. Parrots in cages, a pool table, gorgeous tropical flowers, I felt like I was back in colonial times, at a governor’s house in some far reaches of the world. Except, of course, for 50 Dominican kids with hemophilia having the time of their lives.

All the children were assigned to a group, distinguished by a color, and had color bands around their wrists so there was never a doubt which group they belonged to. And each child had a nametag, so that we could all learn one another’s names.

See all the photos of camp here!

https://lakelley.smugmug.com/InternationalTravel/Humanitarian/Dominican-Republic-Camp-2009/

The day begins at 7 am sharp with stretching on the lawn, headed by “Cuchito,” the coach and motivational man who showers the boys with love and discipline, and lots of fun. “Consado? (Tired?)” he shouts; “No!” the boys yell back while marching. “Alegre? (Happy?)” he shouts; “Si! (Yes!)” they reply. For 30 minutes they march, stretch, jump and loosen up, then eat a healthful breakfast. After that, there is pool, arts and crafts, rap sessions, educational seminars or rest times. The older boys look after the younger; and everyone is expected to participate, pitch in, and be the best teammate possible. It’s a successful recipe: the kids are attentive, behaved, active and happy.

One big surprise came when the kids were assembled outside the compound, eventually allowed back in through a series of “obstacles” as a group, with each obstacle an educational game about hemophilia at a table, staffed by maybe Dr. Rosa, their pediatric hematologist, or Dr. Joanne, the adult hematologist. When they passed through all the obstacles, they entered the main lawn of the compound, where there was a carnival! The center of attention was a huge, inflated slide which could and did hold up to 20 boys at one time, sliding, diving through tubes, climbing over inflated bars and then emerging at the end through two holes. No one seemed to notice when the clouds opened up and poured rain on everyone for about 20 minutes. Everyone beamed sunshine from within.

Many of the boys suffer permanent joint damage, and though young, walk with disfigured ankles, knees, and hips. I see Gabriel, who has a dazzling smile, trying to keep up with his friends by hopping-running-hopping-skipping-running to accommodate his crooked legs. He cannot be more than 15. Others have bleeds, and need to be reminded to stop playing and visit the medical ward. Though factor is a luxury here, being together with their hemophilic brothers is an even greater luxury, and one they don’t want to miss.

Today we came back to Santo Domingo, with stronger bonds and happier children. I hope to write more about the experience because so many wonderful things happened, and because it was our tenth anniversary.

I ended the day telling the staff that I used to come to the DR to give them advice on how to run the camp. Now I come to learn from them how to run a camp, and how to raise children with hemophilia when there are few luxuries, little medicine and no resources. Well, not no resources; the DR is rich in human resources, where creativity, hard work and dedication is changing the lives of so many children.

Check in again soon to read more and see the kids with their celebrity hero….

Mission: Dominican Republic


The last day of our trip to the Dominican Republic was reserved to visit the homes of four families with hemophilia. We started out bright and early, the tropical heat slowly rising with the sun, and headed for Bonao, a pretty town located on the roaring Yuca River. It took about an hour to get there, to meet with the Carlos Manuel and Jose Luis Ortiz. With me were Jeannine, executive director of Save One Life (a child sponsorship program), Haydee de Garcia, president of FAHEM, Maria Espinal, nurse at the Robert Reid Cabral Hospital, and Zoraida, general manager of LA Kelley Communications. Zoraida sponsors Jose Luis, a young man with hemophilia, and our visit would check on how he and his brother were.

Meeting with them was pure joy. The Ortiz brothers are natural poets, and every word and sentence is chosen to express kindness, civility and warmth. No matter that they have hemophilia, that their family struggles economically, that they both have severe joint damage that leaves them with unbending knees and hobbling gaits. When you are with them, you are the most important thing in the world. They exude a kind of hospitality very rarely found. Marisa, their mother, had not seen me in about four years and we pounced on each other with hugs. She laid out a fantastic meal. We then walked down to the river, to see the beauty of Bonao. It was a lovely visit. We were sorry to leave.

An hour later we were searching for the home of the Gimenz family. They live on the fringe of Santo Domingo in a place I am sure very few if any Americans have seen. Dirt roads, towering palms, rows of tin roofs with chickens scuttling everywhere, this village or settlement is remote, not easily accessible and devastating for two children with hemophilia. Angel is only six and almost died in December from a head bleed. Thankfully, his mother, also named Zoraida, was educated by FAHEM about symptoms and knew what to do. Angel was hit in the head and began exhibiting symptoms of a head bleed; he was brought to the hospital that night. A miracle considering Zoraida does not own a car nor have much money, and transportation is questionable and unreliable. Angel’s older brother Andres watched and listened as we heard this story, occasionally smiling and dropping his head shyly when we looked at him. He had just attended camp with us. An extremely handsome young man of 15, he has a killer smile and a friendly manner. He gave me a brief tour of their tidy wooden home, only three rooms, shared with four dogs, cats and a hen and rooster in the back. Both boys need sponsors, so if you are interested in helping this family, please go to www.SaveOneLife.net and let us know!

Next stop, the Vasquez family, who live closer to the capital and down a small tienda or shop selling candy and things. The shop is really just a window from which they display what little they have to offer. Gabriel is the young boy also looking for sponsorship. Last stop was the home of Misael and Jayro Medina. Misael attended camp as a counselor and did a great job. His brother Jayro, deeply religious, has not walked in years. So many bleeds left him bedridden, during which time his muscles atrophied. But he does not whine or complain but shows again that warm hospitality. Though these are men, we will still look for sponsors to help ease their burden in life. Their father only earns about $25 a month, and life is expensive in the city.

See all the trip photos here.

Seeing the conditions of the poor, the crippled joints of hemophilia, might leave a person feeling overwhelmed, stunned, depressed. But not us. We feel honored to have met these families, impressed at how confidently they face life’s harsh challenges, and motivated to help them financially through our program. We saw the kids at camp who are already benefiting from having a sponsor–they use their sponsorship funds to travel to the hospital, to buy medicine, to stay in school. The Ortiz brother attend college and will one day get jobs in the tourist industry, where they can charm visitors to their land, thanks to the support from Save One Life, for funds, and Project SHARE, for factor. They are one success story among many; and you can help us have more. Adios for now!

ADVERTISEMENT
HemaBlog Archives
Categories