We have traveled to the Dominican Republic for two reasons: our yearly vacation and to meet Mari Luz, a child we sponsor through World Vision! We will spend the day with Claudia, tireless and enthusiastic Director of Donor Relations (and our interpreter); Maria, World Vision sponsor liaison; and Raymond, our driver.
We drive through Santo Domingo, beginning in a relatively good neighborhood and, after a wonderful tour of the World Vision national office, ending up in Mari’s slum. “It doesn’t look that bad,” I tell myself. I’ve seen worse, in Kenya. At least the street is paved and there are businesses, such as they are, lining the street.
The "nicer" part of the slum where Mari lives.
Then we walk down a steep hill, and descend into another realm.
Mari's home is at the bottom of the hill.
I am overwhelmed by the poverty. There is only a dirt path between the “homes”–makeshift structures that are so dismal and small it’s hard to imagine one person living in one, let alone a family of 6. I would venture a guess that many avid dog lovers in the U.S. would not house their pet in such a place. But such is the home of our darling sponsored child.
She is standing in the doorway, timidly peering at us. She knows we are coming. I don’t recognize her immediately, as the most recent picture was from months ago and little girls change so fast. But we look into each other’s eyes and she shyly smiles–she knows me from my pictures, and I recognize this is our girl. “Mari?” I ask. She nods almost imperceptibly. I’m fighting back tears. “Hola Mari!” She smiles and looks at the ground. Her grandmother and great-grandmother greet us and invite us in to their one-room shanty.
There is a chicken strutting around the kitchen and a small dog sniffing for its next meal. Three of Mari’s cousins are also there, being cared for by the grandmothers. They are all BEAUTIFUL children.
Mari with her great-grandmother and a cousin.
We ask Mari questions through our interpreter about school and life, which she quietly answers. I must tell her 10 times “tu es muy linda,” one of the few Spanish phrases I know. She is extremely shy, but sits with us for photos, her grandmother telling her often to smile.
Then we bring out the gifts we have carefully chosen for her. We hand her a Hello Kitty backpack FILLED with fun things: pencils, markers, writing tablets, coloring books (“Winnie the Pooh” she says with quiet delight), bracelets, hair stuff, a pink calculator, a Bible story book, and a photo album, which we promise to help her fill with pictures from our visit. She’s a bit dazed, I think, but seems quite happy. We have brought gifts for her parents and brother and sister (who are not there), and food items for the entire family.
I think all little girls like Hello Kitty!
Then Grandma tells us that Mari can’t go to school because her school shoes are “broken.” We ask Claudia if we can take Mari to buy her some new shoes, to which she enthusiastically replies, “Yes!” Mari is wide-eyed as we drive about 5 miles to a Payless Shoe Source.
Claudia thought it was the first time Mari had been in a car.
She quietly but cheerfully picks out two pairs of sweet little black shoes (one larger pair for when she grows out of the other) and some socks (we pick out white for school but she loves the Dora socks, so how could we resist buying them for her?)
First we measure....
She felt and LOOKED like a princess!
It is hard to say goodbye to Mari but we look forward to watching her grow up over the years through photos and letters. We are committed to her. Having met her makes the journey together that much sweeter.