Should I Feel Something?
By: Ellen Goldfinch
At four in the morning on March 13th, I stood in front of the counter at an airline terminal at Pearson International airport in Toronto. I was standing next to Leslie and Tia, two teachers whom I didn't know but was about to get to know over the course of the next two weeks. We had hockey bag after hockey bag, packed to the seams with Spanish books, school supplies, clothes, toiletries, medical supplies all for orphans as well as poor children and their families in the Dominican Republic. Behind the counter was a young woman who was pretty and tired looking and wore a large rhinestone crucifix. She was not going to let us get away with an ounce of extra luggage. As she began her calculations, I said, "Any money that you don't charge us goes straight to an orphanage. These are kids with no parents..." She looked me straight in the eye and cut in with, "Should I feel something?"
The next two weeks was an answer to the question, "Should I feel something?" Walking through the streets of Tamboril just outside Santiago, we were made to feel special. Forty-eight Canadian and American high school students and seven chaperones had invaded the city to help create an orphanage out of a daycare centre run by the saintly Sister Josephina. We raked, picked up glass, put three coats of paint on the walls, ceiling and garden walls of the grounds. We installed playground equipment and brought in dirt for flower and vegetable beds. We constructed a chicken coop. Our dormitory quarters were four rooms: one each for male students, female students, male staff, and female staff. We left our linens behind so that these could be used for the street children that would occupy these rooms after us. We played with the children, read to them in Spanish and reequipped their kitchen and classroom. We gave them bathing suits and took them to a water park. The students who worked on this project gave their all and were amazed to see children playing in the playground that had been a dumping site the week before. During the second week, we assisted Elio Madonia, a retired businessman now living near Puerto Plata who founded Fundacion El Samaritano which builds houses for Haitian illegal immigrants who work the sugar cane fields in dangerous conditions for $3.00 US a day. Many of their children bear the mark of the protruded belly that is a stark sign of malnourishment. Twelve people may live in a house with a dirt floor, no running water or toilet facilities and in some cases, no electricity. Elio and his crew provide these families with a free home with electricity, a concrete floor and a toilet. Each house costs $2500 US - throw in an extra $500 and it is possible to buy basic furniture.
It didn't look like much to me until we were given a tour of one of his villages completed five years ago. The cinder blocks were covered with plaster, some families had added on a second floor. There were shops and a thriving community. Most importantly, the children looked healthy. Hold a hungry child whose eyes stare into space and ask yourself, "Am I supposed to feel something?" Watch a sixteen year old mother with her one year old baby on her hip waiting on line to receive a cup of milk and a bag containing a slice of salami and a hard boiled egg and ask yourself, "Am I supposed to feel something?" Feel the hug of a child and ask yourself, "Am I supposed to feel something?"