SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Angel A. Aloma had a mission when he arrived in this Caribbean nation in late November that didn’t involve the beaches that the tropical destination offers.
The executive director of Food For The Poor went to check out the many projects his Florida-based relief and development foundation supports, including tilapia farms and water and housing construction that nourish and shelter the desperately poor in the Dominican Republic and bordering Haiti.
He also had hoped to meet privately with the first lady of the Dominican Republic to discuss ways of collaborating to feed the hungry, educate children, provide stable shelter for residents who live in cramped, rickety shacks and to create communities where the people can become less reliant on charitable organizations. However, a last-minute complication caused the first lady to postpone that meeting until February.
During his journey in a 17-seat bus with FFP colleagues, the president of a Dominican charitable foundation and members of the U.S. Catholic press, Mr. Aloma saw the two different worlds within the Dominican Republic – the exotic vacation destination and the interior where famine and primitive conditions are the norm for thousands of citizens.
Though he has toured both the Dominican Republic and Haiti more times than he can count, he is still moved by the site of desperately hungry mothers caring for unclothed toddlers outside dilapidated shacks that shelter as many as 10 people.
As the bus traveled along the dirt roads bordering the Dominican Republic and Haiti, FFP Project Manager Liony Batista pointed out how one can tell the difference between the mountain ranges in each country.
The Dominican Republic mountains are lush and green, while the Haiti summits are brown and treeless, deforested by its impoverished inhabitants who burn the wood and bury it to manufacture the only resource that feeds their families – charcoal.
“It’s created an environmental disaster in Haiti,” Mr. Aloma said. “But, the people here feel like they have no other choice, and when you see the extreme poverty in this region, you can understand their way of thinking.”
Their travels took them from Santo Domingo – where they saw the thriving boys and girls being educated in two separate Catholic-run orphanages – to the Dominican-Haitian border where American priests travel by motorcycle and mule to far-off shantytowns to tend to the pastoral needs of the oft-malnourished villagers.
Through the generous donors who help support FFP – the second-largest U.S. international relief and development organization – the foundation provides emergency aid, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the elderly, skilled training and micro-enterprise development assistance to the people in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and 14 other Caribbean and Latin American nations.