Walking through the corridor that led into Barrio Blanco, Victoria Clement’s heart was pounding.
The White Rock woman had an idea of what she would see in the tiny Dominican Republic village, thanks to photos she had viewed prior to her trip, but admitted it was still shocking to see the conditions of hundreds of people, living in such squalor.
“It was as though someone had back-hoed over a landfill,” Clement said. “You could not find a door unless you were shown it. They were using pieces of plastic, tupperware lids and garbage to make their homes, because that’s all they had.”
Clement – along with a group of friends, known as “The Divas” – had ventured to the Dominican Republic in February to finally meet the family they had sponsored for a new home through a charitable organization.
The family, consisting of grandmother and village matriarch Regina, daughter Amparo and husband Alfi, granddaughter Karoly and great-grandchildren Kris Engelyz and Cari, embraced The Divas with open arms on their visit, Clements noted.
“It’s amazing to see these people, who have nothing, have so much love and spirit. They are our family now. We consider Amparo a sister,” she said.
After seeing the difference a properly built home made to the family, the six friends knew they would have to carry on with their work.
The Divas will host a June 8 White Rock fundraiser intended to support the building of further homes – but help is needed even more than they supposed when first planning the event.
On May 26, they learned Regina and Amparo were in a serious car accident while on their way to church.
“No one is dead, but there are many broken bones and surgery was scheduled for Tuesday,” Clements said in an email update.
“More than ever they are going to need the help as those two are bread winners and cooks for the men in the barrio who are building the homes. I can’t even imagine what’s happening on their end right now.”
The Divas’ fundraiser benefiting Barrio Blanco will be held at the Knights of Columbus Council 7015 Chambers, located below the Star of the Sea Hall at 15262 Pacific Ave., from 6:30-9 p.m. on June 8.
The evening will feature a Caribbean-flavoured dinner, carnival girls, music and an auction.
The group first became involved in the rebuilding of Barrio Blanco through friend and Eugene, Ore. resident Ron Zauner.
Two years ago, while vacationing with his wife at a resort near the village, Zauner ventured outside the hotel to discover, first hand, the impoverished community they overlooked from their balcony.
After meeting the villagers and hearing their stories, Zauner started up non-profit charity Providing Opportunity, which aims to improve the living conditions in Barrio Blanco with homes, work skills for residents and community building.
After mutual friend and Diva Jen Reilley found out about the organization and shared it with the group, all six jumped on board to support the effort.
“The work Ron is doing is amazing,” Clements said. “He goes in and sees what they need and works to find it. While he was in the trenches, that’s where he met the family we built the house for.”
The project for Barrio Blanco has been split into two phases, with phase one – which included the building of 20 homes, a school and clinic – recently completed.
Between September 1, 2012 and January 10, 2013, donors gave $50,000 to build homes, enough for 10 structures. By the time Zauner and his crew was done with those homes, more than $168,000 had poured in to continue the work.
One of the most important things Diva and fellow White Rock resident Raina Niesson noted was while the homes were being built for the families, nothing was simply handed to them.
Each family who was receiving a home was required to supply a worker to help in the build fulltime.
“The powerful thing about Ron and Barrio Blanco is that we’re creating opportunity. We’re actually creating lives for people as opposed to simply building them a house and saying, ‘here, have fun, good luck,’” Niesson said. “We’re creating a community by giving them the opportunity to create jobs, lives and an environment to not only survive, but flourish as well.”
The cross-border initiative is now moving on to its second phase which aims to remove 10 of the worst shacks in the village and build new homes, raise $10,000 to buy books and materials for the new school and fund classes, raise an addition $10,000 to buy medicine and equipment for the new medical clinic and explore work opportunities for residents.
Clements noted that the community has already received a fishing boat in order to create a small fishing industry.
To purchase tickets for the fundraiser ($100) or to donate to the auction, call Clements at 604-722-2914, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.peoplehelppeople.ca
For more information on Providing Opportunities, visit www.providingopportunity.org