By Annette Brennan
When my youngest daughter approached me and asked if I would chaperone the St. Mary’s High School DREAMs trip, I had to say yes. Although, I was super busy with my work, and had a million reasons to say no, something immediately made me agree. The sheer fact that she, an 18-year-old girl, wanted me (her Mom) to share this experience with her and her friends, made me feel honoured and somewhat obliged to go.
So in February 2016, with two fellow chaperones and a group of twelve remarkable students, we spent a week building a home in the very poor rural community of Rodadero, Dominican Republic. It was demanding work …heavy, dirty and hot…but we gave our selves fully to the project. And as we did the community gathered around us. The Mothers came with coffee and large grins of hope, and the men came to lend a helping hand. The kids ran from school each day to help and watch and play, pulling us away for games of catch, hopscotch and piggyback races. As the days went on, the work seemed lighter. And our hearts grew bigger. We fell in love with the people and the community, despite speaking different languages and living very, very different lives.
During an evening reflection with the group, I attempted to describe the feelings in my heart – the incredible surge of love for a community who were strangers to us just days ago. My fellow chaperone and now close friend, Dan Bowman, turned to me with a smile and said, “Annette, that is the Holy Spirit at work”, and at that moment a light went on for me…that light I now know as God.
You see, I had drifted away from God. I was busy building a business and raising a family. Always busy, always so much to do. And when life got really tough and literally brought me to my knees, I didn’t stay there and pray. I got sad and distant. I used my work to distract me from my pain. On the outside, I held it together, but on the inside, I felt broken. I thank God for helping me say yes to the DREAMs experience. It truly changed my life. It brought me back to my faith and has inspired me to put that faith into action.
When I returned to Canada from the DREAMs trip, I knew I had to do something to help the people of Dominican Republic. The light inside me demanded me to do more than just remember that one special week. I came to learn about ADESJO (Asociacion para el Desarrollo de San Jose de Ocoa) and the incredible work they do helping in the poorest communities of the DR. I was excited to learn about their new focus on creating sustainable industry for women, to empower them to break the cycle of poverty. I had met so many incredible Dominican women whose lives were just so difficult, and I wanted to do something to help.
This is how the DominicAnna Pottery Project was born. We launched the project with ADESJO in September 2016 and now have 5 communities participating. Each week the women in these communities gather to paint pottery (picture a “quilting bee” of sorts). They sit together, chatting and teasing, as they hand-paint colourful tiles, trivets, ornaments, vases, and bowls. They put their hearts into their work, and you can just feel their sense of pride and accomplishment. The painted pieces are glazed and kiln-fired by the ladies themselves to become bright, shiny and durable. They are sold through ADESJO’s office in Ocoa year-round, and in Canada during Christmas and Mother’s Day campaigns. 100% of the money raised is distributed back to the women, helping them support their families.
One Dominican woman of special note is Berkys Arias, a young mother now pregnant with her second child. She has been involved with the DominicAnna project from the very beginning and is now the project leader responsible for kiln production and community coordination. She proudly refers the to project as a “revolution” (which I understood even without translation!) She wants a better life for her children and sees the DominicAnna project as the way to create that. Having three children of my own, I know first-hand the depth of a mother’s love and commitment.
On this Mother’s Day, I thank God for Berkys and for all the Mothers of Dominican Republic. I am blessed to be in a position to help them…as God knows they are helping me.