Sister Island trip joins island cultures

"Victoria Santos works on an art project with children living in Cruz Verde.Imagine that it is Christmas Day -- Christmas Day in the Dominican Republic.Outside, a scorching sun heats a humid jungle to 85 degrees. Around you, the people of the small Domincan town of Cruz Verde bustle over dusty, dirt roads on their way to prepare the evening meal. Christmas dinner consists of empanadilla, a patty made from a starchy root plant, plus plantains, rice, beans, and roasted pig all prepared in a huge, iron cauldron simmering over an open fire. After dinner, everyone in the town, from the oldest woman to the youngest child, dance and sing into the early morning hours.If you can imagine all that, then you know what the eight members of the South Whidbey Sister Island Project did on their Christmas Day last December.That day was just a small part of a two-week trip the group made to the Dominican Republic, a trip intended to build friendships between South Whidbey and Cruz Verde people, and to boost the towns artisan and agricultural economy. During the five days the group spent in the town, they planted shade trees on a former sugar plantation, taught art to village children, taught and learned about organic farming, and saw the various ways the townspeople are making a living in a country that provides few earning possibilities outside of agriculture. The art lessons were something new. The South Whidbey group brought art materials with them to leave with the children. The drawing, painting, and coloring the children did during the Sister Island group visit was all for fun, which is unusual considering most of the art produced in the village is produced for sale. Scott Mauk, one of the members of the Sister Island team, said making art has a completely different purpose in Cruz Verde.They don't see it as a vehicle of expression, Mauk said.Even so, the adult residents of the town were pleased that the visitors took the time to teach their children to enjoy something new. Victoria Santos, another member of the South Whidbey team, said working with the children convinced the town to accept the visitors quickly and completely. During a community meeting near the end of their stay, Santos learned that by caring for the children, they proved that they cared for everyone in the town.That has really touched my heart, Santos said. It was wonderful to hear that.The members of the team said they brought back more than they left behind. The group is planning to make regular visits to the town, so this first visit was meant to be a cultural introduction for both sides. There were some minor shocks in store for the team when they arrived in Cruz Verde. Joe Epstein-Solfield said the homes and buildings the team slept and ate in were as close to being in the open air as possible for being inside.Most of the houses were shacks, Epstein-Solfield said.Little wonder, since year-round temperatures average over 80 degrees.The team also saw some scenes apulled right out of life in the United States. One day, two Dominican men pulled into town in a Toyota SUV, listening to blaring rap music on their stereo. Team member Holly Adams said even the children were influenced by American culture.They had Tele-Tubbies, Adams said.But those things are not the real America the team wanted the Dominican Republic residents to see. The real America was represented by their team, which included a family -- Scott, Ann, and Sage Mauk -- high school student Maria Zontine, a middle-aged married couple, and two single women, including Santos, who grew up in the Dominican Republic.The wide range ages mirrored the ages of the people in Cruz Verde, something team members said made meeting locals easier. Scott Mauk said just talking to people was the goal during the two-week trip.The most important thing to the people is the relationship, Mauk said.Team members were able to see more of the Dominican Republic by traveling around the country during the remainder of the trip.The team intends to take regular trips to the Dominican Republic in the future, as well as bring people from Cruz Verde to South Whidbey. "

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