On this week’s episode of JustLove, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan focuses on supporting Refugees & Victims of Human Trafficking with Alice Min Soo Chun
Alice is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Solight Designs –a for-profit company based in New York that manufactures the “Solar Puff” – a portable/ foldable two-ounce flat-packing solar powered light.
Msgr. Sullivan and Alice will be speaking to us about her invention of the Solar Puff, what inspired her to invent it, and how the Solar Puff has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for providing reliable, safe and affordable lighting to people and families experiencing humanitarian crisis such as the earthquake in Haiti (where the Solar Puff was first used), to its current use of providing lighting – and therefore safety – to Syrian and other refugees in Europe and elsewhere.
Before moving onto the addendum, I say a genuine word of thanks to our partners in these three visits: Maestro Cares, GOYA and Altagracia Apparel. Without them the trip could not have happened. More importantly we will deepen these partnerships as Catholic Charities celebrates our Centennial and launches our next century of providing help and creating hope. Above all, I salute and recognize the excellent work of Catholic Charities’ Director of Government and Community Relations, Luz Tavarez, who organized, coordinated the whole trip so effectively and also documented it in video, audio and photo. Special thanks to Catholic Charities Communications & Marketing team, especially Paul Costiglio and Fanny Gomez, for their hard work to make sure these visits were well documented and posted. Gracias!
Now to an “addendum” that are my broader musings – not very definitive or fully developed. They do seem to me worth sharing to continue much needed conversation and dialogue about important topics of family, work, business, charity, etc… A diverse trip like this re-enforces some, modifies others and above all surfaces new questions and complexities and hopefully spurs renewed energy to positively deal with them.
The day began with three generations of the Hodge family, 11 of us, and luggage, crowded into a mini-bus for a two and a half hour trip from La Romana to Villa Altagracia in San Cristobal, located outside of Santo Domingo. The driver had an interesting approach that included driving ten miles in the wrong direction, slowing down on open highways and speeding up in crowded city streets. Oh well.
Today, we spent the day with 36 boys and young men who now call Niños de Cristo and their dedicated staff their home. We were joined by Donnie Hodge and his wife Ana. Donny is the owner of Altagracia Apparel. I’ll write more about this tomorrow after we visit his “fair wage and working conditions” factory in Villa Altagracia and talk with some of the families whose lives have been changed because of these jobs.
Sadly, some children cannot be raised and nurtured safely with their own families for many different reasons. Niños de Cristo provides the “family” for about 40 of these youth in the Dominican Republic. This home is located in the countryside of La Romana, about 1 hour west of Punta Cana. The home is only 4 years old and took the place of a much more crowded and outdated facility. This one is simple, clean and warm with a great amount of open outdoor space. (This is not what we New Yorkers are used to.) Speaking of New Yorkers, the facility’s current psychologist, Karina, is a transplanted New Yorker – Dominican Republic born, but New York raised and educated. Two years ago she returned to the Dominican Republic and is now the on-site psychologist trying to help these youth that have experienced hurt and scars rebuild lives. Karina guided us through the facility and she demonstrated knowledge, competence, and compassion. These same qualities were present in the home’s program director, Franklin, who oversees the day-to-day life of the home. He clearly knew everybody by name and they knew him. He was not a distant administrator but a caring professional that understands the individuality of each young person under the care of Niños de Cristo. This sense seemed to flow through all the staff we met at the orphanage.
Our generous partner in feeding hungry New Yorkers, GOYA Foods, invited us to tour its plant in the Dominican Republic. This provided an opportunity to see one of their busy factories that employs about 500 people. In addition to seeing the hard working men and women on the floor of the plant we also met the factory administrators. We also saw the finca (land) where gauyabas (guava) are grown.
I was accompanied on the tour by the director of quality control, a chemical engineer, charged with complying with regulations of both the Dominican Republic and the United States. He said most of the product from this factory is shipped to the United States. He also proudly spoke to me of the care that is taken to ensure no contamination enters into the products. And he shared with me the sad reality of the added precautions required to protect against intentional poisoning as a terrorist action.
In partnership with Goya Foods and Maestro Cares, singer Marc Anthony’s non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for
orphaned children throughout Latin America, Catholic Charities visits the Dominican Republic to learn more about the children and the work of Maestro Cares. Msgr. Kevin Sullivan illustrates his first day on the island.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more updates from the trip.