I should have been more specific and I should have considered the question from their point of view. In hindsight, it’s really funny how quirky life is sometimes.
We have just completed a really cool building project in Aguas Negra, Dominican Republic. It was with a Christmas Hero Holiday group, and together with the help of some amazing local workers, a new house and property wall was built for a family that was desperate for some help. Their house was falling apart, they were continually flooded with sewage and mud, and they were always getting sick. A few weeks before the project, when we stood there chatting with the kids at the house trying to determine the details of what the build was going to look like, I thought I was asking the right questions.
“How many people live here?” “Are your parents alive?” “Do they live here?” Each question seemed so straightforward that I didn’t think much of it. Their dad was a construction worker (meaning he makes about $10 a day when there is work) and they said their mom didn’t live there.
“So he is a single dad?”
“Yes,” they answered.
“How many children live here?”
“Three,” they answered.
“So there are four family members in this house?”
It seemed so simple.
They were a really great family to work with. Each day the team showed up at their house they eagerly welcomed them and their gratitude shone through in everything they did. It only took five workdays to get the house and wall done. The team from Canada was amazing and they loved every minute of it.
But the big surprise and laugh was on me the day of the house dedication ceremony.
I had told everyone that there were four people living in the house and that he was a single dad, because according to my information, that was accurate. I hadn’t been there throughout the week and was only able to join them on the day of the house dedication. So when we called the family forward, I was a little surprised to see the father and a woman, two daughters, two sons and a granddaughter in the mix. I guess I asked the wrong questions.
When I asked how many family members lived there, the daughter that answered me only told me about her family members - not the ones that were not biological relatives. When I asked if the mother lived with them, I failed to ask if their father had a new wife/girlfriend and they naturally didn’t offer the information. When I asked if he was a single dad, I think they thought I was asking if he was their only dad.
But the best part of the whole chaotic jumble was during the ceremony. The tiny house was crammed with about 50 people, all of them excited for the family’s new home and for the cake that was waiting to be eaten. As the mayor of the community gave a heartfelt thanks to the Hero Holiday group, kids and adults jostled and chattered and seemed to be hoping we would get to the good stuff soon. As he was talking, he turned to the family at the table and congratulated them on their new home. At that exact moment, the step-mom’s cell phone rang and she did what anyone would do in the middle of a house dedication where people are addressing you publicly - she answered it! However, it was what she said that made me burst out laughing. In rapid Spanish, she told the person on the other end of the phone, “I can’t talk right now because we are getting our new house!” and then she snapped the phone shut and nodded her head at the mayor, giving him the signal to continue his speech!
As we were about to cut the cake and start the real party, the father of the family, a quiet, serious looking man who was clearly used to many years of physical labour, raised his hand. In an emotional voice, he said something that made everything worth it all over again. “Thank you to our new friends from Canada for our new home. I never dreamed we could ever live like this.”
His name is Gapito, and no matter what the details of his family life are that I managed to misconstrue, I hope that 2011 is a year of amazing things for all of them. They deserve it. Happy New Year, Gapito.
Absolute’s Hero Holiday program happens throughout the year in Dominican Republic, Mexico, Thailand and Haiti. You can join us! Check out www.absolute.org. This is how hope begins!January 5th, 2011
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