The following is a guest post from singer/songwriter Ella Mae Bowen, who was one of the incredible artists on the recent World Vision trip. Her own blog site, including this original post, can be found here.
I feel as though I have finally processed enough to share with you about a recent trip I was blessed to be a part of. This blog will come in two parts: this musing/ summary, and then another tumblr post of just pictures (my favorite. :)
Let me first give you all a little explanation for this trip. Why would 9 singer-songwriters, two charity executives, two film crew and one Dominican donor liaison be riding around a Caribbean island on a commercial bus? Well… .his wasn’t just a mission trip. This was a trip geared towards music and songwriting- The goal being both to grow the light shining on World Vision and to give a greater purpose to a part of our creativity by what we got to learn and experience. What made the potential impact sink in for me, was hearing this while on the trip:
3,000,000 children are sponsored by World Vision world-wide.
1,000,000 of those children were sponsored through what is called “The Artist Program” meaning, touring musicians are representing World Vision from the road and, through their music, getting children sponsored. World Vision is important to music, and music is important to World Vision. How cool is that?
So, here’s your cast of characters:
Luke Laird: songwriter extraordinaire, you actually just need to look up what he’s written. If you like Country music, you will die. (Not really die, but you know…) One of the best people I know in Nashville. His heart and his art are the real thing.
Natalie Hemby: Well, also, just look her up. One of my songwriting heroes and favorite people and artists. Big sister to all the ladies and a professional at loving on all the babies we came across. Her heart is as bigger than I could say.
Melissa Fuller: AMAZING Alternative artist, writer of anything, one of the most talented & genuine people you’ll ever meet, and my friend. She’s the artist most responsible for this trip happening and has been involved with World Vision for a long time. Love this girl (and the way she inspires me) so.
Molly Hunt: Pop artist who’s voice and melodies will make you weep, a legitimate angel on earth, and my best friend of 3 years. Stunning inside and out. You need to watch for this girl. I don’t know where we would’ve been on this trip without Molly.
Russel Dickerson: Phenomenal Country Singer, Songwriter and Performer you will be hearing much more from! Such a sweet dude and so real. And he found my purse when I lost it. Good people. :)
Elenowen: The married folksy duo that is Josh and Nicolle Johnson. The children just flocked to them and they held us together like glue. You must hear their harmonies and haunting lyrics. And just go look at them, too. They are straight out of an Anthropologie catalog. Legit, awesome folks.
Matt Wertz: You may know and love his records… Let me tell you, he is just as lovable. The life of the party, our alpha-male and a singer-songwriter I really admire.
Michael Bianchi & Mike Severson: World Vision Reps. Michael heads up the artist program, and Mike is a Country music rep for the artist program who really worked to make this trip a reality. They both work here in Nashville. Amazing what these guys do everyday and amazing that they made this trip happen.
David & April: Photography and film gurus that work with World Vision… and our personal comedians. I definitely felt like they could each be your dream fun aunt or uncle. Awesome. And really really good at their job.
Claudia: Our Dominican Donor Liaison, Translator, & Lifeline. She’s now one of my heroes. Passionate about people, speaker of 5 languages, giver of the best hugs. One cool woman.
So… we were all in a bus-you-take across-the-city-to-work bus. I felt like setting the scene was important. Onward now. :)
The first day, we flew into Santo Domingo and drove 3.5 hours down the coast to Barahona where we stayed the first two nights. While here, we visited World Vision Area Development Programs all between Barahona and the Haitian border, which was about an hour away. This area was extremely rural.
We experienced lively & beautiful, but emotionally full days, and then came back to our seaside motel and shared traditional family style dinners in a little cabana by the big ole’ blue sea. I never wanted to leave.
I could tell so many stories about what we experienced while there. The Dominican island is very poor in the western region. The Caribbean resorts you hear about are on the eastern coast. A large portion of the people we were meeting while staying in Barahona and driving out to small villages were Haitian immigrants or the children of.
The highlight of this portion of the trip, for me, was meeting a young woman named Francia. She was a Haitian girl, born to her mother in the Dominican. Her father had passed away. When she was fourteen, she was told she couldn’t attend school past the 8th grade because she did not have a birth certificate (a problem many Haitian immigrants face and have to leave school because of.) Over the course of some months, through hard work and the help of a relative, she got her birth certificate. Once she saw that process, she knew she could help other young people who needed to locate or receive their birth certificate. She helped at least 178 other children within the course of a year. In her words, she never expected anything in return.
However, word got around to World Vision who is developing her village, and Francia was nominated for a prestigious youth humanitarian award at age 16. She won! She got to travel to Holland to receive 100,000 Euros for her small, impoverished village and to deliver a speech. Let that sink in for a moment…
100,000 Euros is about $130,000 US dollars. But it is equivalent to a whopping 5,409,414 Dominican Pesos (where there is also frequently less to no tax.)
She helped develop her village in many ways. 13 homes were built. World Vision also has added a computer lab and small station to buy groceries.
Francia is now 18 and lives with her mother and her daughter Esperanza, who’s name means “hope.” She lives humbly, but she dreams of becoming a lawyer and standing up for children’s rights. It is most important for her to see her daughter grow up healthy and happy and receive an education.
Not only was she a hero in her village, but now she is a hero to all of us. I told her, as Claudia translated, that I couldn’t believe we were the same age and that I only wish I could be half of the young woman she already is. By then I was crying. We we all were. Sweet Natalie Hemby prayed over Francia and Esperanza while Claudia translated her prayer. It was something I will never forget. Natalie and Melissa stayed up all hours, I believe, that night in Barahona working on a song for sweet Francia. It is beautiful and I hope you all hear it soon!
On to the second half of the trip, which we spent in the city of Santo Domingo. As Claudia put it, the poverty there is more hidden, but no less real.
We stayed in a beautiful hotel that felt just like America. It looked mostly like a mini-Miami, but with parts of the city dating back to Columbus’ settlement. However, there are many hidden crevices in the city slums that are indeed very poor, dangerous and dirty. People who live very well and people who live with nothing are crammed all together in rows of shops and houses as motorcycles zip by and street salesmen shout. Many homes are above stores on dirty, busy (sometimes violent) streets. This is not really the kind of poverty you would see on a commercial asking you for money, but it is real, nonetheless and just as worth witnessing.
I met she and her older sister at a World Vision Area Development office. I think we were both nervous but excited. She is so beautiful with a deep knowingness in her eyes. She will be 11 in October. She sparkles. That hug was one of my favorite hugs I have ever and will ever receive. I cannot wait to get to know her better and grow with her.
While I am here, let me say this… If child sponsorship is something you have considered, I am 100% confident that World Vision is the best route to take. I say that, not because of new friendships, but because I experienced it firsthand. There is no idea of “this money will buy shoes and pay for school and it will be good for the child as long as it keeps coming.” That approach means that an element of the child’s success is highly dependent on you and your decision to continue. Though that may be true to some extent, that is not how World Vision chooses to see or approach it. What you are sending will intricately help the child, their family and the area that they call home. I wish I was more eloquent in this explanation, but in the words of Michael Bianchi, “World Vision wants to go into an area and work to put ourselves out of a job.” Meaning, the people are being empowered. Money may buy things that will make money for a family, for example, rather than a charity acting as a powerful source that gives them a check. The people are truly being given a hand up, not a hand out.
In light of that, and in closing, the thing I will remember most is the people. Their smiles, their unwavering desire to help themselves and empower others… Their joy in hard work… Their prayers for each other…. Their prayers for us- Matchless beauty and strength.
Stay tuned for pictures :) Love always and God bless!
Here is the link to World Vision’s main website and the twitter handles of all the artists on the trip:
http://www.worldvision.org/ (there is a specific page for every country, including the DR)