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Logwood Project: 1/03 Update

A most fortuitous coincidence: the Caribbean Mercy Ship docked at Puerto Plata the same week I arrived. Lucia, the American who has begun a small school in Boca Nueva, alerted us to the fact, the day I arrived. Next morning, Nicolas and I were the first of the locals to walk up the gangplank and ask: "can you help?".

Within a week, a team was conducting an eye screening clinic at our little "clinic house", at the east end of Boca Nueva. With only a day's notice, over 60 people showed up for the screening. Four elders were identified as cataract operation prospects, and 40 residents with moderate to severe vision problems were given appointments for vision tests and glasses.

We arranged to pay transportation for all these people, a total expense of $120. For this small sum, three elders received free cataract surgery (the fourth, a Haitian woman, decided she didn't want to chance it and declined). And 40 residents, about half from Nicola's immediate family and half from the community at large, have received glasses for vision correction. For me, what I count the biggest success, was that the coordination of all this was turned over to Modesta Brito, Nicola's niece who lives out at Los Cocos. She was thrilled at the chance to play Majordomo, and it put a member of the community in charge of the project to help the community.

Modesta was also pivotal to the second huge success of this visit: my friend and colleague Connie Van Dyke, an experienced knitting teacher, came and spent a week at Los Cocos, hosted by Modesta in her traditional cottage. Modesta has been doing crochet work for me for several years. She began creating edgings for shawls, and has produced the wristwarmers and foot warmers out of the handspun tussah peace silk, that are for sale on the website. Other women in Boca Nueva have been learning handiwork through classes sponsored by Lucia at her school. Yarns which I collected and sent with Nicola in October had all been distributed, with many requests for more, so I asked Connie if she would like to join us for a week, and she, being an extraordinary adventurous soul, agreed.

We had 16 students at the open class, held at Los Cocos under the Almond tree. At least 5 others received instruction on other days, notably Juana, who has lost a leg and could not walk out to Los Cocos, and Gustavo, a 10 year old nephew, a real sweetheart who not only learned to crochet, but also how to spin. It was a delight to walk through Boca Nueva in the days after the class and see ladies knitting outside their houses, teaching each other. Yarns, generously donated by the Aurora Handspinners and by Lynn Nagasako, Connie and myself, were all dispersed, along with knitting needles, crochet hooks and spinning spindles.

Connie's focus on the spinning was to teach how to use the local wildcrafted cotton. This is the fabled Sea Island, long staple cotton of the Caribbean. There, it grows into small trees that live for years, and is free for the collecting. My long term goal is the spinning of the silk we are raising, and the production of finished textile goods from the silk. These will be the first Organic, cultivated Peace silk items produced for the modern market.

Peace silk production returned with the new eggs which I brought with me. All the old eggs, which included a third generation adapted strain, were lost due to problems with electricity and refrigeration. Since the weather was actually quite cool in January, it soon became clear that the 1,000+ silkworms happily chomping down the mulberry leaves would not mature before we were scheduled to leave. Thus we enlisted Jose, one of Nicola's older brothers, to complete the raising, and continue with a second raising, using the leaves from our trees.

These trees, all less than 3 years old, have grown huge. We really now have a forest of mulberry and neem trees where formerly was bare sand. Jose is replanting all the stems from the stripped branches (after the silkworms have eaten the leaves). He will soon have his own trees, and is making a second raising table to increase production. I am offering a per cocoon payment structure which will allow any family to earn a living from their marginal land, without an excessive amount of work. This kind of enterprise is what the community needs more than anything. Several other people have expressed an interest, so I am sure now that it will grow. It's no get rich quick scheme, but it is a real product, easy to raise, and a guaranteed market.

Other successes of this visit include distributing toothbrushes and toothpaste to many children, and the treating of dozens for impetigo, using antibiotic cream. (Truthfully, I will consider it a better success when I return and I don't have to treat anybody because they have learned to use the cream themselves! ) We gave out the school supplies, baseball gloves and bats generously donated by Dennis Wright, who visited Los Cocos with his sister Beth in 2001. We brought more books for the library; Lena, Juana's daughter, has been put in charge of the library, so children have access when we're not there. The big surprise was finally learning what would inspire the young men to read: comic books! I'd brought adventure stories before, but no one ever checked them out. This time I found, for 50 cents each, comic books in Spanish at the local Excalibur used comic book store. They went from my hands to their eyes. Immediately: opened and read.

We hosted a big party for the children on the Sunday before we left. The women cooked two huge caldrons of chicken and rice so everyone would be fed. The men put up poles and tarps so the rain wouldn't stop the party. Connie and I danced with all the children. Gustavo reported back to Dolores that now he was happy, because I danced with him! Sadly, Dolores, at 95, is getting too frail to come out to Los Cocos, but happily, by the time we left she was in good health, able to walk a bit and relishing the audio tapes that I've begun, tapes of her stories of the time before everyone else there was born, of traditional songs and festivals. The children have promised to continue making tapes whenever she is well enough to speak.

We also hosted two work parties. One was a beach clean up before Connie came. Storms had brought mountains of plastic garbage to the beach. With a few bottles of rum for energy and good feelings, the entire community of Los Cocos turned out to help Nicola rake up the garbage, dig holes in the sand and bury it. Then a second storm dumped a new load! But, it was a little less plastic this time, a lot more organic debris, and, really, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and laugh. Still, I hope that the one day of seeing the beach really clean will serve as an inspiration, for everyone said: "we should do this for Semana Sancta" (Easter), when it is tradition for everyone to flock to the beaches for a big, week long party.

The second work party involved Jose, Nicola and all the young men. The huge storm had breeched the canal, and all the low land behind the houses where Dolores, Nilcia and other members of the family live in Boca Nueva had turned into a lake. Despite the sandy soil, it was not draining and the fear was that a few days of warm weather would turn it into a mosquito breeding ground. We contributed $100 for pipe and cement, and the men dug a trench from the lake to the canal. It went across the road and through our lot, past the "Casa de Gusanos" (silk raising cottage), between the mulberry trees, in places 6 feet deep. Without a pump the lake drained slowly, but it did drain. And the pipe is permanently in place, as this is likely to occur again with the next big storm.

The down side is the government is still planning to sell the entire community and natural area, with the adjacent rich farm land, for money to line their pockets. The supposed proposal to put in a water treatment plant so the canal that runs through the community won't be polluted each year is something no one talks about anymore. The sugar mill was sold to Arab investors who are interested in only paying less than minimum for both sugar cane and the labour of their workers. The economy is worse than ever and is starting to engender robberies and kidnappings like in Mexico.

But, a small amount of direct pressure on the Ministry of Education by Lucia's home church in Florida has resulted in a beautiful new public school building that will open in September for all the children, including the Haitians who have received no schooling up to now! One truly wonders how one branch of the government can build a palace of a school and the government bank can sell and sell permissions to residents to improve their houses, while at the same time expecting to bulldoze it all away as soon as somebody with enough money shows up.

Cheryl Kolander, Director




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