As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetime. Although some of you may well have memories of World War 2, the end of which was celebrated last month.
We finished our third year in the Orchid Project at the end of February. We planned to return to work on 30 March, but of course that did not happen. In March I went to the south of Ecuador to do some training with staff from the health ministry and local government. They were wanting ideas on how to motivate the families of people with learning disabilities, to see that it is worth teaching life skills to their children. It was a good few days and I think I was able to answer their questions as well as give them plenty of tools to use in the future. The following week Ecuador closed down, so they were unable to start to use them. I heard recently that they have now restarted work with some of their clients. Please pray that God will work through them to improve the lives of those they are working with.
On my way back to Santo Domingo I stopped at Manta on the Pacific coast for four days to recharge my batteries. I was then due to go to Quito to help set up four new Orchid Projects, but that has been put on hold until September. I thank God for the chance to dip my toes in the ocean for a couple of days.
We went into full lockdown on 16 March. No work, no transport and a curfew from 7pm–5am. That soon got extended, and has remained from 2pm–5am. We are able to go to the supermarket twice a week and to the bank and chemist once a week. We are not allowed out to exercise. We have to wear a mask and gloves when outside. Masks cost $1 and a pair of gloves 50 cents. However, if it is a choice between a mask and a pound of rice for the main meal, many do not buy
masks. They go out without one, and if they are stopped by the police it is a $100 fine, then a month’s wage, then prison for a third offence. Those who cannot afford the fines are sent to do community service. The green areas in town are suddenly looking very clean and tidy, as there are many people doing community service at the moment.
At the end of March I had to rethink how to teach my students. Some of the parents have phones with WhatsApp, and the others have mobile phones. So I began sending homework to them. It has been difficult with those who don’t have WhatsApp, but I have just had to write long messages to them. The rest have received photos and YouTube clips of what I want them to do. I have relied on parents to help them with reading and cooking etc. In return I have received many videos and photos of the work they have done, some of which you will be able to see here. Some parents are more willing to help me with this than others.
As the majority of people in Santo Domingo live hand to mouth, they have no savings to fall back on. None of my students’ parents have been able to work for 10 weeks, except two who are nurses. One of them had to stop last week as she developed symptoms of COVID-19. Thankfully she had no fever and should be able to return to work in a couple of weeks.
You can imagine what it must be like to have no money to buy even basic food for the family. People with disabilities receive a small government handout each month, which parents have been using and have managed to survive for a couple of weeks on it. During April and May I have been able to get some groceries and a few dollars to each family, which has involved a lot of walking. I have been grateful for an excuse to exercise. One of the mothers sent me a photograph of her shopping receipt, because she was so pleased to be able to provide for her family. These really are hard times for many. It has been good to meet up with the parents and two of my students. The others had to stay home as their parents are afraid to let them go out. I have also met up with Gloria, my volunteer helper, three times. Her husband is a solicitor, and unable to work. Please pray for her as she copes with spending 24 hours a day with her husband. She is not finding it easy.
The Baptist church has been delivering food parcels to various members of the church who are struggling. I have been able to help with that. It is very humbling when you see the immense gratitude for what is probably a week’s supply of groceries. I am very grateful for all the support I receive from you, be it financial, spiritual or friendship – especially during this time. I thank God for all of you.
The other thing the church is doing is a nightly prayer meeting by Zoom. This involves someone leading a short devotion followed by time to pray. Last night was my turn. We have several people in the church with family members who either have COVID-19 or who have died from the virus. Please pray for Pastor William and his family. They are spread around the country, and in the past six weeks he has lost two uncles to coronavirus and his dear 101-yearold grandmother passed away, being too old and frail for heart surgery. Only a couple of people can attend funerals, and there is no travel between cities, so people are unable to visit or offer physical support to each other.
I pray that all of you are keeping safe and well, and that the next time I write I will have only good news to share.