I Have 13 Friends in the Dominican Republic
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
About a year after we started dating, I whisked away my future husband Josh to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic for a romantic getaway. We spent our days eating guacamole by the pool and our nights, dancing like weirdos in their empty night club.
Flash forward to this past summer and my trip to the country's capital of Santo Domingo was just a bit different. No bikinis, no night clubs and certainly no poolside snack service. This time, I spent a week co-leading a new summer camp called Camp Possible geared toward children who are amputees, along with their friends and siblings.
Oh, and don't worry. I still ate lots of guacamole.
Camp Possible is sponsored by Operation Go Quickly, a non-profit that improves lives in developing nations in many different ways. On this particular mission, our team was focused on getting to know local families, distributing pediatric crutches, teaching the basics of amputee soccer, getting crafty, sharing evening Bible devotionals, and just enjoying a beautiful summer week together. All of these efforts are led by Dr. Fred Sorrells, a lifelong missionary from Texas with unabashed passion for both adaptive sports and Jesus. The girls were giggling one afternoon and I asked (in Spanish) what they were laughing at. Turns out they had just decided to nickname Fred Papa Noel de Caribe aka Santa Claus of the Caribbean.
I started thinking about what to bring months before the trip. I packed light. Just a few t-shirts, two pairs of leggings, a pair of sneakers and sandals, a USA hat, red bandana and two pairs of socks. Plus a fanny pack to hold my bug spray and sunscreen. No makeup. No hair stuff. Pretty much the opposite of the wardrobe I had packed for Punta Cana a few years back. Part of why I packed light was so I would have more room for camp gear like like soccer balls, t-shirts, games and craft supplies for the week. I carried pretty much the whole week of camp activities in my suitcase. When I hoisted the bag onto the scale, I let out a breath of relief when it stopped just 4 pounds shy of the 70 pound weight restriction.
Camp Possible was held at the Instituto Bíblico Central De Las Asambleas De Dios in Santo Domingo, which is the oldest capital city in the Americas. The Instituto Bíblico is a large seminary campus surrounded by avocado trees, a cheerful rooster and the resident chicken. The dining hall was recently renovated, so we enjoyed all of our meals under their new tin roof.
A few months before camp, Fred and his co-leader Gabby made home visits with families with children who are amputees. They found these kids through prosthetists on the island. Anyway, they expected about 15 campers to spend the week with us. In the end, 7 showed up. And as it turns out, 90% of them were teenage girls! When they walked in, I honestly thought they were moms dropping off their kids...until they sat down in the desks and looked up at me, waiting for something to happen. Mild panic set in, because I had packed books and crafts for elementary aged kids, so I was really nervous that the girls might be like ughhhh who is this girl we have to hang out with all week. I couldn't have been more wrong.
These smart, interesting and FUN young women were true camp girls from the very start. I was embarrassed by my toddler coloring sheets, but they were just pumped to color and tell me about their lives. Most of the girls grew up going to church, but they were still excited to learn more about the legendary Old Testament character Queen Esther or how they can have their own personal relationship with God.
They made me feel right at home as if I was just teaching my regular Sunday class at Vintage Church here in Santa Monica. They shared their hopes, dreams and fears with me in a way that just radiated trust, vulnerability and lovingkindness. After just a few hours together, we settled into a beautiful little rhythm.
Like most summer camps, we did a lot of crafting. My favorite project was creating gratitude letters where they wrote down everything they're thankful for in their lives. The average daily wage there is about $8 (that's $160 per month), so it was beautiful to hear the authentic details about all the riches they're so thankful for. None of them had ever attended a camp before, so they were excited about the opportunity to even be part of Camp Possible.
I downloaded and printed really fun + free coloring sheets from Bible App for Kids
You can see how our bare seminary classroom was transformed into a colorful home base!
Our many hours of crafting required fuel and it was actually really easy to stick to my vegan diet there, so I enjoyed a rich diet of plantains, yuccas, rice, bread and avocados. Camp Possible was fortunate to have three amazing volunteers, Adelaida, Eveline and Roudeline who cooked for us throughout the week. Our bellies were always filled to the brim with fresh, local ingredients. My favorite meal was boiled yucca with guacamole. It was even better than the beachside guacamole I'd enjoyed at my all-inclusive resort all those years ago.
All of my meals were filling and delicious thanks to the kitchen volunteers,
...they had never cooked for such a large group!
Ever heard of Montezuma's Revenge? Not on this trip! I got pretty sick in San Juan de Los Lagos, Mexico last year, so I was really careful about avoiding tap water. The volunteers even encouraged me to use the same plate and fork for every meal, so I wasn't using any contaminated plates. I drank boat loads of bottled water and felt bad wasting so much plastic, but there wasn't really anything I could do about that.
The best part of any camp is the people. My summer camp was a big part of my life when I was growing up, so it was exciting to help create similar experiences at Camp Possible.
Here are my favorite memories of each camper and volunteer, so you can "meet" them and get a sense of their unique personalities.
1. Rosanny, Age: 5
An angel. So happy and always smiling. She didn’t want to be at camp or participate for the first day. Then something clicked! She loved GLITTER. She put it on everything. Her hair, her clothes, her art. The wall was covered. She was happy to play with the older girls. She’s a natural on crutches and very tiny so she moves fast. I saw her walk for the first time on a tiny pair of crutches. Asked to eat her Frosted Flakes cereal with me when we went to the soccer field on Wednesday. Loved to give me hugs from the second she arrived at camp. Everyone at camp adored her and she sobbed on the last day.
2. Saira, Age: 10
Best laugh. Super funny and silly. Her favorite catchphrase to say is, “Ayyyyyyyy.” She loves dancing and is super flexible with yoga and has great balance. Even though we had a lot of soccer activities, the truth is that she hates soccer. On the last day of camp, I asked Saira to bring her gratitude list home and to tape it next to her bed, but she said they couldn’t afford tape. I watched as she took the used tape off the wall to bring home with her. She loved making bracelets too.
3. Carlos, Age: 11
What a charismatic and happy kid. He’s a very gifted soccer player already and someday could be one of the best in the country, if not the world. He moves quickly on crutches and has great foot skills. I gave him my USA hat. He’s moving to the Bronx with his mom, Karla in September. Karla, by the way, makes incredible beaded earrings. He likes to make crafts like nunchucks and a sword with paper and they’re so so good. Photos and videos on my Instagram of Carlos using his crutches launched a spontaneous fundraiser for pediatric crutches that raised more than $1,000. He’s a very cool dude and likes YouTube videos of popular songs like DJ Snake and Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What". Carlos was very homesick and only slept at camp one night but came back for the daytimes. Loved seeing videos of Josh skiing and said he wanted to learn how to ski even though he hasn't seen snow yet. His favorite video of Josh's? The Amputee Rap!
4. Melina, Age: 15
Pure sweetness. Melina has a huge heart and was always quick to help the younger girls, Saira and Rosanny. She was pretty nervous so she brought her cousin, Lilli with her. Her prosthetic is pretty old but she runs around with confidence, chasing her friends and giving amputee soccer a trip. When we studied David and Goliath, I asked about the giants in our current lives. She said mean girls. Whenever I looked over, she was helping the younger girls or moving Archerly so she could be closer to the group. She is not that into soccer but loves making bracelets. Some interest in soccer but it’s going to take a lot of practice with crutches and improving physical endurance. She was in tears one afternoon because she mentioned bullies. She loves the movie Mulan and seeing photos of my dog, Mushu. She lives in a two room house with 4 people including her 18 year old sister who is pregnant. She got the paint fight started on the last day and at first I was hesitant because I knew it would get messy, we didn’t have soap, or paper towels even. But I’m SO happy I just let the girls run with it. She had amazing red and black braids, so I gave her my red bandana on the last day of camp.
5. Ancherly, Age: 15
An angel with a smile that could unite nations! She loves to SING. She worships passionately with raised hands and knows every word to the songs. She loves making bracelets. She’s smart and silly. Her big sister, Maria Graciela is a hero and takes her everywhere in her chair. It was her 15th birthday in her first day of camp and she’d never been so far from home! She LOVED every second of camp and had no hesitations. We had a cake; surprise guitar guys who are in seminary sang to her; we made a card, kids made decorations, we gave her a Bible, bookmark, crayons, paper and a book about Esther. She prayed for me before my flight. We played a game where the girls would say phrases and words in Spanish and see if I could say them and Ancherly always gave me easy ones. Her favorite thing to do is play the piano and she has played for 3 years.
6. Lili, Age: 15
Confident. Capable. Communicator. Lili is a natural leader and has so much potential to help young girls and lead Bible studies. Her father abandoned the family when she was young. She has tried to kill herself. Lili always made me feel confident in my Spanish and always listened patiently when I was trying to find words - all the girls helped me find the words when I couldn’t place them. She is a natural leader and speaks eloquently about the Bible and how God is working in her life. Her passion is for children but she is also interested in studying architecture. We talked about intimate relationships and how she should respect her body and her soul, not giving it freely to just any man. That she is worthy. Every spare moment, she was reading her Bible. She loves Pslams 23. She put stickers all over her Bible and wrote her name inside. I dedicated it to her from me and Josh. She was so sad in my last night that she didn’t want to share her favorite part of camp in the group circle. She has never left the DR but was very interested in hearing about the countries I’ve visited so I showed her this travel blog.
7. Maria Graciela, Age: 18
Fantastic big sister with quiet confidence. She is one of the primary caregivers of her sister Ancherly and does everything with a loving smile - bathroom breaks, moving her from her wheelchair, but also giving her sister independence and not hovering around. She’s super cool and has neat style. She would be on FaceTime a lot with friends from home to tell them about camp. We are now friends on Instagram! The girls attacked her with paint in the paint fight and her quiet guard fell into crumbles and she was in hysterical laughter. She gave me cornrows on the last night of camp.
8. Gabby Edege Ganna, Age: 28
Gabby is the reason all of our campers showed up! She was the person responsible for being out in the community and making sure parents trusted the camp and understood the opportunity. She is the oldest of seven siblings and her dad left her when she was young. Someone mugged her last week and took her passport then held it for ransom for $25. She’s upbeat, positive and has a calming presence. She is trying to start a business producing handmade sandals that she designs, so I hope to help her market them!
8. Yennifer Lachapel, Age: 31
Yenny is sweet Rosanny's mom. She seemed apprehensive the first day, but quickly warmed into the group. We are the same age and she has 3 daughters, one of them is 14 so she was a kid herself when she had her oldest. She has a loving boyfriend and together, they run a sandwich shop in a neighboring area. Rosanny lost her leg when she was one year old due to a bacterial infection. She took a bus 2 hours to camp. Rosanny is a treasure. Yenny is an awesome mom and loves God. She was weeping during worship one night as she looked at Rosanny during the song “You give me everything.” They don’t own a suitcase. They came to camp with the clothes on their back and a large faux Burberry purse. She couldnt afford the bus back, Rosanny was tired and crying, so I offered to pay for her $25 USD Uber ride home (2 hours) and she refused vehemently saying it was way too expensive. I gave her my IKEA sports bag and they were all excited to have a place to put her new crutches, which she learned to walk on the other night. I also gave her my favorite tie dye USA tank top. I got to see her walk for the first time on them and she rocks!!!
10. Eveline Souffrant, Age: 31
Eveline speaks Haitian Creole, so we could barely communicate until I remembered I could use Google Translate to instantly translate our conversations. Eveline lost both of her legs in the 2010 Haiti earthquake but I never would have known because her prosthetics are so hidden beneath elegant long skirts, ballet flats and stockings. Part of her prosthetics are broken so she asked if I could help so I triaged to Fred. Even though she's lost both of her legs, she was on her prosthetic feet for five days cooking meals and cleaning dishes for the girls. She heard about Camp Possible through her friend, Adelaida. She had never been to summer camp and especially loved our evening devotional readings (even though they were in Spanish!) and worship songs. Even though she couldn't understand the words in Spanish, she still smiled and lifted her hands high. I wish we had a video of me trying to read her Haitian Creole Bible aloud, because it was hilarious.
11. Francillon Chery, Age: 48
A quiet soul with loud faith. Francillon from Port au Prince lost his left leg in the 2010 Haiti Earthquake and his wife left him and their two daughters for another man. He’s trying to put them through school. There’s no future for an amputee in Haiti due to the civil war, discrimination and poor economic conditions. He is an incredible artist and works in paint and metals. Francillon is a native speaker of Haitian Creole and is naturally very quiet and introspective. He sat with the children and colored incredible sketches with Crayons, construction paper and paints. He is a master at the handmade traditional art of reusing old oil drums to make wall art. It’s exquisite. I bought one of his metal art pieces and paid him $60 cash USD the daily average income in Haiti is about $1 USD.
You can purchase Francillon's paintings, prints, notecards and more here. If you're interested in his traditional drum metal artwork, please send me a private message.
12. Adelaida Feliz
The mother of Camp Possible. Originally from Haiti, but lives in the Dominican Republic now with her daughter Saira. We had amazing food all week, because she brought two of her girlfriends, Eveline and Roudeline with her. Adelaida asked me if I could bring pack a pair of sneakers next time I come to the Dominican. I gave her my New Balance shoes and she said they felt so much better on her feet than flip flops because she’s on her feet everyday. They are a bit small on her but she loves them. She also wanted my used socks that happened to be dirty and she put them right on her feet. She cooked all the meals for 10+ people for 5 days and had never cooked for a large group before but said it gave her a sense of purpose to help. She’s an amazing worship leader and prayer warrior - she prays with fire. It was so inspiring. She teaches kids at her church and even they don’t have paper or crayons or even bibles, she is so grateful to God for all of their abundance.
If you would like to support Adelaida, you can buy her homemade headbands ($10) and scrunchies ($5) by sending me a private message. Adelaida can customize with any colors!
13. Fred Sorrells
Last, but certainly not least. Fred is the engine that keeps the train moving. He's been a full-time missionary since 1972, sacrificing everything to serve and love people in developing nations. His passion is to connect amputees with sports opportunities like amputee soccer to help forge a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Outside of the United States, and especially in developing nations, people who have amputations simply don't have the same level of social acceptance and professional opportunities.
Fred is a citizen of the world. He lived in Africa for over twenty years and is fluent in French and Malagasy with a working knowledge of several other African languages and cultures. I helped him translate Spanish throughout the week. I met Fred last year through my husband Josh who connected with him a few years ago through the amputee soccer community.
We got involved with Operation Go Quickly, because Josh and I were moved by Fred's relentless drive and were impressed with how strategically he allocated funds for the organization, so we got more involved. Fred also runs simultaneous missions in Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ghana and Puerto Rico...did I mention that he does all of this on about 2 hours of sleep per night?!
What an incredible adventure. God continues to lead me in a path toward ministry, aid and mentorship for young ones, so Camp Possible was a perfect fit. If you're interested in supporting Operation Go Quickly, you can do so in a number of different ways!
How to Support Operation Go Quickly
1. Donate via PayPal...100% of the funds go directly to these kids!
2. Ship pre-owned sports gear (e.g., t-shirts, jerseys, shorts, cleats, sneakers and socks) to Operation Go Quickly. Many of our campers don't own sneakers or activewear.
Operation Go Quickly
c/o Dr. Fred Sorrells 1806 Lake Bluff Drive Garland, TX 75043
3. Volunteer. Join me at Camp Possible 2020! Email email@example.com if you are interested in serving at a future camp.