In August of 2020 Solar Oven Partners hosted a virtual solar oven mission which included a fundraiser for the program in the Dominican Republic. It was decided that the money raised would be used to provide food assistance to needy families in the DR. Our solar oven program director Pastor Erasme Figaro decided we should serve in an area that has most recently received solar ovens (prior to Covid19).
On Monday January 18, 2021 we set out for Dajabón, a Dominican border town in the northwest. Our plan was to contact as many solar oven recipients as possible in four rural villages near to Dajabón; Clavellina, La Gorra, Chacuey, and Loma de Cabrera.
The idea was that the people who were invited would meet in their village center and we would have a brief time of fellowship and then provide each family with a food basket. Each basket contained 10 lbs. of rice, 3 lbs. of dry beans, and 1/2 gallon of vegetable oil.
However, Erasme did not mention the food baskets in the invitation, only that we would meet together, discuss solar ovens, and pray. He figured that if word got out about food distribution we would be overwhelmed with crowds of people. When we arrived at our first stop in Clavellina at the appointed hour of 8am, there was not a single soul in sight. We waited about half an hour and one woman showed up, then soon after 3 more. It seems that being called to a solar oven meeting first thing on a Monday morning was not too high on anyone’s list.
We pondered our situation. We had 150 food baskets to distribute in four villages but the response so far was disappointing. So we talked it out with Alejandra who is a community leader and knows everyone in the area. We considered taking the food baskets to vulnerable neighbors, those who are ill, too infirm to leave their homes, blind, and many others in need who are outside the solar oven network. Alejandra began to tell us about all her neighbors and then guided us to their homes.
We stopped at the home of a woman who is bedridden after suffering a heart attack. This woman’s mother lies on her deathbed in the next room, dying of cancer. And the woman’s daughter in another bed with pancreatic cancer. We prayed in silence in the presence of these three and left three food baskets. We took no pictures.
We moved on to the home of an elderly man who is blind and living alone. He lost his sight about five years ago from making charcoal. He thanked us for the food basket and said how much it meant to him that we came to his home.
We went to the home of another elderly woman who in turn guided us to visit her son and daughter-in-law, Natalia & Caesar who was milking one cow from their herd of four. Their one room home was built of scrap lumber with 4 inch gaps between the boards. Their 10 month old baby girl was asleep on the bed. Caesar had attended the solar oven workshop a year ago but was unable to afford the cost of $20. We left them with food baskets, smiling and waving goodbye.
We arrived in the next village of Chacuey and pulled up to a colmado, a small kiosk with essential goods and snacks. Connected to the colmado was a patio with a roof and open sides which is used as a church meeting area. We met with a small group of people who had been invited and gave out about 10 food baskets.
Erasme than asked the pastor if there were needy persons in the area that we could visit. That seemed to open the door to the whole community. Phone calls were made, the pastor sent messengers to notify neighbors. The pastor’s son, about 12 years old and his younger friend were hanging around on their bicycles. They got into action and took off on their bikes to share the good news of food baskets.
People came steadily in twos, threes, and fours. One man came by donkey. He is old school, not interested in modern transportation. The donkey may be slow but it is a companion, reliable and easy on gas.
A basket was delivered to an elderly woman nearby. We were directed to her from another elderly woman who came to us barefooted. She had been praying and crying because there was no food in the house. She said this gift was right on time.
All told we gave out 50 food baskets and could have given all we had but we had one more stop to make so we kept back 20 baskets.
Our last stop for the day was in Loma de Cabrera. Our Dominican hostess and pastor Ester, guided us to the homes of persons in her church congregation. We visited a few homes that seemed to be middle class so we asked Ester if she could take us to some areas with greater need. Ester took us to some ‘hidden’ neighborhoods where we shared all the baskets we had left.
When we went to these areas Ester seemed more animated and engaged than before. We dropped her off at her home and returned to Dajabón.
Our experience in the Dajabón area was another example to me of why we seek out the ‘least of these’. And that is, the closer you get to persons who are forgotten and suffering, those who are vulnerable, who live ‘outside the walls’, the closer you get to the presence of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25.
Another Scriptural mandate is to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness (justice). When you pair that with the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”, then it is valid and wise to look for Jesus where we know he can be found.
During the time of this pandemic our solar oven team has been meeting regularly to rethink our solar oven plans going forward. Based on the experiences of the last five years distributing ovens throughout the Dominican Republic and based on the results of a comprehensive survey of oven recipients we are seeking an enhanced vision.
We want to improve the way we do the solar oven demonstrations, to form alliances with community groups and neighborhood leaders. To seek out those persons most in need of a solar oven and to motivate them to use their ovens frequently for their own benefit and for the health of our environment.