JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR: Paths of inspiration lead to donation for refugees in Dominican Republic

LAST SPRING, JESSICA Foster, then a senior at Port Townsend High School, was sitting in a pew at First Baptist Church listening to the speaker, Jeff Lander.

The former youth pastor at San Juan Baptist Church, Lander had left to be Venture Teams manager for Children of the Nations, an international organization whose goal is to improve the lives of impoverished children through medical care and education.

Jessica, who had attended San Juan Baptist, knew Lander and his wife, Connie, who taught kindergarten in Port Townsend. But that morning, Jessica and her mother, Joyce Evalt, just happened to attend the service at First Baptist.

Hearing how Lander’s organization was making a difference did more than move them to tears.

“We bawled our eyes out,” Jessica said. “I said, ‘Jeff, I want to do this.'”

Last fall, Jessica was the one who was speaking to students about her two-month internship last summer in the Dominican Republic, where she worked with the children of Haitian refugees living in bateyes, or company towns for sugar-cane workers.

Her account of how the children have permanent bald spots due to lack of soap SEmD bathing in the river without it caused scalp fungus SEmD moved other students to action.

“This is 90 of them,” said Austin Krieg, 11, indicating stacks of bars of soap. “That’s how many we got at first. Now there are a lot more.”

Krieg is a student at New Day Learning Academy, where students have been collecting bars of soap to send to the Haitian children as a result of Jessica’s talk at the school.

Austin’s teacher, Maxine Peirson, added school supplies from the academy, which she and two other women started last fall to offer options for grade-school-age children.

A group of students who meet with Stephanie Boyle at First Presbyterian Church heard about the soap drive and contributed, Peirson said, as did people who came to New Day’s Shakespeare Night last Friday.

“It was a benefit for Children’s Hospital, but people who knew about the soap drive brought some,” Peirson said.

Betsy Johnson, a home-school mother, added art supplies from her stash, and Heidi Canda, mother of New Day student Holly Canda, knew that Jefferson Little League had surplus uniforms, shoes and equipment in storage that would never be used.

With a van, Canda picked up the soap, supplies and uniforms and delivered them Tuesday to Silverdale, where Children of the Nations is based.

Accompanying the donations to the Dominican Republic is Orcie, a plush orca whale that has been visiting New Day and happens to be migrating in that direction, Peirson said.

“We are sending him with the soap and our love for the kids,” Peirson said.

Jessica, who is attending Seattle Central Community College, also plans to return to the Dominican Republic to visit her host family.

This summer, she and three other students worked in five bateyes near the Dominican Republic/Haiti border, helping at schools and medical clinics.

While people who live the Dominican Republic, the second largest Caribbean nation after Cuba, are not affluent, Haitians, who are brought in to work the fields, have no money or transportation to buy basics, Jessica said.

Visiting the country’s border with Haiti, and looking through the chain-link fence, also brought home the marked difference between the two countries.

“It looks like a desert,” she said of Haiti. “It’s much poorer.”

With clinics so close, Children of the Nations staff were able to help earthquake victims, Jessica said.

The students’ contribution of soap and the other donations will be shipped out in cartons from Bremerton, along with Orcie, who Austin and other students have known since they were in kindergarten.

Back home, the students have been learning about infrastructure that they take for granted, like electrical systems.

For Jessica, living in a place with frequent power outages and limited running water was also a good lesson.

“It makes me thankful for washing machines and hot water,” she said.

This spring, New Day students will be working on NOAA’s “Ocean Literacy” curriculum, connecting what they learned about the Dominican Republic to the study.

That Orcie has migrated from Port Townsend Bay to the Caribbean underscores the main focus, Peirson said: that the Earth has one ocean, not seven, although we call them by different names.

Another lesson learned: that children on the other side of the world, no matter what language they speak, are our neighbors.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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