Reality and new hope
To call the devastation and destruction wrought by the hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings and raging fires this past month epic might just be an understatement. If you're like me, you found yourself waking up uneasy, wondering what possibly could come next.
For me it grew personal as I heard from two friends, newly-met this year, who found themselves facing down disaster as their properties, belongings and memories were wiped out -- one who'd spent years building a beautiful inn in Rincon, Puerto Rico and another who'd built a beautiful family on generations-owned land in Calistoga, California.
Their notes to me, excerpted below, were both heartbreaking and yet reaffirming, testaments to resilience and redemption as they worked through their own losses by helping others.
From Rincon, while accessing Internet service for the first time during an airport door off:
"Words cannot describe the devastation. I lost so much at the Inn, the wall, the pool, and the structure is undermined. The Inn lays teetering at the ocean's edge. I've yet to get an insurance adjuster despite many pleas. We have no power and little water, which we must boil as it is contaminated. Most banks are closed. I volunteer in town and feed the neighbors to keep busy, My children have started a fund to help me rebuild. It's very humbling. I can also receive supplies to help locals through the mail. Sunday I'm going to the mountains to deliver food. Believe in us, we will rebuild our beautiful little town."
And from California, while fires still swept through Napa Valley:
"We are shocked and heartbroken. There are so many farms, in addition to orchards and wineries -- imagine the sight of calves and goats and ponies in Suburbans driving down the freeways away from it all. No cell or Internet north of San Francisco, so whenever any of us find a signal we swerve off the road to call one another! Smoke down to the ground, and masks are needed even when driving in a car with the windows up. I can't believe it, but it's the reality. We are grateful though for all we have, and unlike our country neighbors we have a home to return to in the city. Some of our neighbors are moving in with us here this weekend. Our greatest sadness is for those who lost pets and horses in the fire, we pray they surface when the smoke clears."
So it was perhaps fitting that I rounded out the month in the company of folks similarly building hope out of despair, visiting my sister in Virginia and her close friend Joy Reyes, in from the Dominican Republic. The two met while my sister and her family were in the midst of a two-year mission trip in the DR and Joy, then there with her family for nearly five years, was struggling to build a small school for local girls.
Build it they did, literally out of rock, and their mission to bring about "nueva esperanza" -- new hope -- grew from that simple school to a safe haven for abused girls and a workshop for local women to learn a trade and support their families.
For many Americans the Dominican Republic is a vacation destination, but it is also one of the world leaders in sex tourism and trafficking -- and many of those forced into that underworld are children under the age of 18. For many women in both poor neighborhoods and resort areas the only way out of poverty is through prostitution, injecting themselves and then their daughters into a vicious and enslaving cycle.
The girls who come through the New Hope Girls Academy, many under the age of ten, have seen more hurt and trauma than most of us have seen in a lifetime. And yet, as you can see in their eyes from the video above, they are indeed rising above their own pasts, believing they have a bright future.
Joy and her team still work on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew and can use all the help they can get. You can learn more about New Hope Girls Academy on their website here and follow them on Facebook here. To help support the growing group of local women working at New Hope Creations, visit and shop on their website here.
"No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.” -- Dalai Lama XIV