A Board Member and Father Travels to the DR

by Chris Meelia

Chris photoI am many things: a husband, business man, grad student and HHI board member, among other things. Above all, though, I am a Dad. I have five children between the ages of 6 and 12. I view much of the world from the perspective of a father first. I’m always wondering what my kids will think of the things I encounter — and pretty much constantly capturing pictures of the world around me to share with my children.

 I have been on the board of directors of HHI for the past year and I finally had the opportunity to experience first-hand the great work our organization is carrying out in the D.R.  I took countless pictures to share the experience with my children. I suppose I had expected my children would be humbled — that somehow they would have a deeper appreciation for how easy our life is and how fortunate we are. That is certainly what I came away feeling. To my surprise, their reaction was quite different.

 After showing pictures of our first stop, the village of Negro Melo, the questions began. Upon seeing the dilapidated houses in the village, my son asked, “Why can’t we build them new houses?” His question was contained a mix of excitement and pride for coming up with the idea. I explained there are lots of organizations that build houses for the poor, but there are not enough houses and too many people that need them. Without hesitation he exclaimed “Well, more people should build houses for poor people then!”village photo

 I then showed my kids pictures of the HHI clinic. I explained the makeshift conditions with sheets hanging from the wall and no modern amenities. Their reaction was “Wow, that’s cool.” As they pointed out, hanging sheets made the exam rooms look like forts. My daughter astutely observed that by doing it this way, “You could make a hospital just about anywhere.” My kids are right — it doesn’t matter what the walls are made of, what matters is what happens within those walls. I was proud to tell my kids about the impressive the care HHI was providing to patients — it was every bit as good as what we receive in the US.

 When I showed my children pictures of Pancho Mateo, the most densely populated of the villages, the questions were rapid-fire. Upon seeing a picture of a stray dog, my youngest daughter implored “Why didn’t you bring him home?” I explained there were a lot of stray dogs there, to which she more emphatically challenged “Then why didn’t you bring them ALL home?” I showed pictures of the polluted river and talked about the work HHI had done building latrines and trying to bring water to the village. I wanted my children understand the gravity of the circumstance. “Why can’t they just clean the river?” “Can’t they just start their own water company?” No description of complicated politics, economic hardship or even impossible science limited their ideas. “We have lots of water here — can’t we give them some of ours?” My children’s interpretation was neither “lucky me” nor “poor them.” Instead, they thought “Let’s fix it!” When I spoke of the great work HHI is doing to improve the lives of the people in the D.R., they were impressed — but immediately wondered if HHI could do more. To them, these are all fixable problems. From the simple eyes of a child, if we have healthcare, why don’t they? We have food and clean water — they should too.

 River photoIt occurred to me after sharing my experience with my children… the failures in the D.R. are not failures of politics, economics or even circumstance. This is a failure of our collective imagination. We simply lack the optimism to fix what is broken. Every child knows what adults bury beneath excuses and rationalizations: we can fix this. We could provide housing, education, healthcare and basic services to every citizen of every nation, if only we had the optimism and imagination of a child to not accept things as they are.

 I have a tremendous respect for the people of the Dominican Republic. They were welcoming and proud and happy to accept whatever we offer. I couldn’t be more proud of the work being done by the dedicated staff of HHI — I’m grateful to be part of this great organization. While the realities of the world cannot be simply addressed with the basic solutions my children offered, their questions are valid. Why can’t we do more? The answer is that we can. By supporting organizations like HHI and countless others on the front lines, we can make a difference. We all know what needs to change and for the most part we know how to fix it. When we don’t, or if we get stuck, all we need to do is ask a child. They may not have the answers but they will quickly and succinctly identify what the real problem is. We should all be challenging each other to be more imaginative about solving the worlds hardest but still very solvable problems.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 22, 2018 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Amazing post! Thanks for sharing your beautiful experience.

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