By Kevin Woodhouse
When one thinks of the Dominican Republic, images of surf, sand and all inclusive vacations spring to mind; relaxing in the warmer climate for a restful week’s sojourn away from the stresses of everyday life.
For Kirkland residents Heather Yorston and her 12-year-old daughter Haley, this past summer’s visit to Puerto Plata took on a whole different kind of vacation trip.
The two intrepid travelers were part of Youth Upliftment’s College Amélioration Jeunesse Summer Camp program, created by 23-year-old Katelyn Bateman who fell in love with the many street children of Haitian descent she met while on a trip to a resort with her family five years previously.
Heartbroken that many kids were malnourished and without access to schooling, spending their days scavenging or selling trinkets to tourist, Bateman established the non-profit agency and through fundraising, created the college so the elementary and secondary aged children received a hearty breakfast, often their only meal of the day, as well as an education.
While the school thrived, Bateman, Haley’s former babysitter, was disheartened to know that many of the children of Puerto Plata had no organized activities or a safe place to go in the summer, thus the camp was created.
More than 60 kids take part everyday where mornings are set aside for lessons with afternoons open for excursions like trips to the beach. “For many of the kids, this was the first time they go actually swim in the ocean and play since for them, going to the beach meant going to work,” Yorston said.
The Yorstons also visited area villages, bringing gifts of food and lamp oil to some of the relatives who made school a priority for their charges. “One of the mothers walks 90 minutes each way to bring her kids to and from school each day,” Yorston said.
Many of the children live in abject poverty with no running water in their homes and sleep on cement floors but “despite there being a lot of need for the country, the people are very generous and welcoming.”
Haley described the weeklong trip immersed in a culture completely different from the West Island as “life changing. At first there was some culture shock because where we live, everything is given to you and there is a strong support system.
“In Puerto Plata, there is not always easy access to education and while they do not have many material goods, the children have their community, their family and now their school,” Haley told The Suburban.
One of the reasons that The Yorstons are proud of working with Youth Upliftment’s project is “I know exactly the kids we’re helping,” Yorston said. “I finally found a cause where I know we make a direct difference.
To find out more about Youth Upliftment, visit them online at www.youthupliftment.org.