By Lyle Fair
In the spring of 2015, Robert and Hilary Merritt created an organization called Cumberland Cares that would raise money to help a number of charity projects in the Dominican Republic. The intent was to create a group willing to travel to the island nation to build a home and provide funds to other needy causes. Furthermore, they wanted the funding for the home and other projects to come from the community of eastern Ottawa as a way to connect residences with a common goal.
A group of 18 from Cumberland and surrounding area came together and began various fundraising drives to which the east end Ottawa community answered without hesitation. By the early fall of 2015 the group had the minimum funds to build the home. Despite this, generous donors continued to donate allowing the group to provide specific needs to other projects.
The Cumberland Cares group of 18 left Ottawa on a chilly -13 morning on 19 Jan arriving in Puerta Plata in 30 degree heat. Within 24 hours they were hauling bricks and helping to build the walls of the house. The bricklayers were William and Richard, locals who did the real construction while our team provided the hard labour to keep them supplied with mortar and bricks. On rainy days we went to the wood working shop where we constructed windows and doors and painted them. Work was only scheduled during the morning as the heat became too intense by noon.
The primary effort of building a home was through the Samaritan Foundation that has been operating in the Dominican Republic for 28 years. During that time, they have been taking people from squalid shanty towns and relocating them in new villas. However, bricks and mortar alone do not build a community. An essential foundation of any rehabilitation of this nature is the creation of schools but these schools provide much more than education. They give the children a chance to eat, have clothes and the opportunity to move away from a life destined to be lived out in slums. Churches are also essential to provide them hope and soon the Foundation will also be building a medical centre.
Unfortunately for some, the chance to own a house or go to government recognized schools is out of reach because they have no identity papers. Many poor Haitians attempting to escape appalling conditions in their own country and others who were born in shantytowns without going to a hospital and were never registered with the government. Graciously, there are angels of mercy who are people akin to Mother Teresa like Sandra, Paul, Pastor Joel, Robert and Judy who have created schools on their own for the poorest of the poor.
Because of the heat, the Cumberland Cares group spent the afternoons touring these shantytowns and schools where we dropped of clothes. We also took diapers to a pregnancy centre, toys to an orphanage and sports equipment to a men’s rehabilitation centre. Small changes can make a huge difference like the water tank that we gave to one school where they said it was a Godsend. Tap water is intermittent because of rolling power outages so a tank allows you to fill it when there is water and have a supply when there is none coming out of the tap.
The houses that we were working on were one storey with cement block walls and a tin roof would. For the recipient family, getting one of these houses is similar to us wishing we were an astronaut and being told we were going into space. Those who receive a house say they are transformed, that God has given them the chance of a lifetime.
The second thing they are thankful for are Canadians. Canada for years have been a friend of both Haitians and Dominicans allowing many to immigrate to our country while many Canadians choose this Caribbean island as a winter holiday destination. Canadians are also known for our Voluntourism.
The amazing community interest of the Cumberland Community in Cumberland Cares suggests that it will continue in some form in the future, something yet to be seen. In the meantime, here are some Facebook locations that you can explore if you are interested in the progress of these initiatives:
The Samaritan Foundation
Cups of Cold Water
Hendy in the Dominican Republic
2nd Chance, International