By Dan Hall
2011/2012 District 6040 Governor, Rotary International
As Rotary International Director, Larry Lunsford, observed, "The puppet painting and puppet show are a great hit with the Dominican kids," as he watched orphan children enjoying this afternoon activity. Rotarian Larry had joined a team of District 6040 (northern Missouri,USA) and District 6710 (northern Kentucky, USA) on a "Shoes for Orphan Souls" Buckner International mission to the Dominican Republic February 16 through 23, 2014. The "mission" was to place new socks, shoes, and "Texas Rangers" t-shirts on some five hundred and fifty-five of the neediest children in the Santo Domingo area and in the central mountains of the Dominican Republic. Afterward, we Rotarians had time to play outdoor games with the kids and have puppet fun. Along the way, we Rotarians learned the true meaning of love and service.
At every stop on our journey, we found kids grateful for their new shoes, socks and t-shirts. The kids were thrilled to have their very own puppet to keep. Quite simply, the kids just loved their puppets and the puppet show (more on the show later). Our Rotary mission team visited four orphanages and five Buckner International affiliated family educational and training centers called, Community Transformation Centers." In the process, we learned that puppets are just a wonderful medium to connect with kids and show them unselfish love.
At each visit, we would choose four or five older kids to help with the hand puppet show which was an excerpt from the kid’s book by CS Lewis, titled "The Chronicles of Narnia." The Chronicles series of seven high fantasy novels have become classics in children's literature. As a bonus, the book was part of the kid’s educational curriculum so they were already familiar with the story. We used the four hand puppets that the Puppetry Arts Institute had provided plus one volunteer had made a hand puppet of the Lion which had a leading role in the puppet play.
The Lord moves in strange and marvelous ways. As it turned out, one of the Buckner Dominican tour organizers had been the one to write the puppet show. She was also one of our tour guides and went with us to all eight locations. Her name was Maia Zavala. She had a gift as an extraordinarily expressive story teller whose dramatic voice and action added great drama to the puppet show. Prior to each show, she also coached the older kid "volunteers" to operate the five hand puppets. Even though the puppet show was in Spanish, and we USA Rotarians only understand English, Maia’s presentation was entirely comprehensible to us. Just like us, she had the kids "in the palm of her hand." When complemented, she only said that she didn't have any training in drama and what we had seen came as a gift from God (even surprising her!) Amen.
The final day of our mission was the highlight as we traveled to an orphanage of 31 boys in the AM and 42 girls in the PM. These were by far the neediest kids on our trip with many children without any shoes at all. The girls were very appreciative and thanked us through songs which were nothing short of angelic. These orphans were from one to eighteen years old, some of which had been abused or had been abandoned on the streets of Santo Domingo and brought to the orphanage by authorities.
It is hard to describe the sheer joy in the children’s faces, all 555 kids, as we gave them new socks, shoes and t-shirts. Some, with tears of joy in their eyes, would hug us in appreciation. We Rotarians learned that the shoes, puppets, and games were only the outward reason we were in the Dominican Republic. The real reason was to give human contact and love to the kids. These kids craved and needed attention from caring adults.....and they got it in spades!
As our Rotary shoes¨team headed home to the USA, we were much richer than when we came. We found our mission was not of material things, but in the eternal message of service above self.
[Editor’s Note: The author was a member of the Dominican mission trip. District 6040 Rotary clubs contributed funds to purchase the finger puppets, fine point magic markers, and hand puppets used in the puppet show. These clubs were the Lee’s Summit Sunrise Rotary Club, Kansas City Plaza Rotary Club, and the Raytown Rotary Club. For more information on doing your own puppet show activity contact Diane Houk, Executive Director, Puppetry Arts Institute, Independence, MO firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 816-833-9777. For information on starting your own "Shoes for Orphan Souls" project: buckner.org/shoes 1-800-774-SHOE or e-mail email@example.com.]