Coffee with: Helping hand
The French-speaking children of the SugarKids Educational School in the Dominican Republic call Deborah Conabree "debrouillard."
It means someone who is adaptable to any situation, or someone who can make something out of nothing.
That fits the description for Tsawwassen resident Deborah perfectly, as the artist and aid worker has been trying to teach children life lessons that will help them become self-sufficient and prosperous on the Caribbean island.
"We bought them one shovel and it changed the whole world," she says. "It really doesn't take much to help."
Deborah was walking along the road one day and saw a dried-up cherry tomato plant dying of thirst in front of a house.
"It's so fertile that things will grow right on the side of the road," she explains.
After getting permission from the owner to dig it up, she placed it in a rice bag and brought it to the school and planted it. Following her example, children from the school took the shovel and found some more tomato plants and brought them to the school.
They now have a thriving garden which includes a banana and passion fruit tree.
"I'm really trying to teach them that food is worth more than money," says Deborah, adding the Dominican Republic has all the soil, sun, and rain it needs, but the people don't realize they can grow all the food they need.
In the Dominican Republic, a person can trade tomatoes for a ride on a motorcycle. And that's important, since a lack of public transportation keeps some kids from attending school.
In fact, Deborah says many of the adults who have their kids in school just sign permission slips with an "X" because they're illiterate. She's hoping donations will allow her to buy solar panels so they can run an adult education class in the evenings. Electricity is unreliable, so when the sun goes down at 6 p.m., school's out.
She estimates just one out of the 60 students at the school will go on to university. And though the community will usually rally around that one star, Deborah is concerned about what will happen to the other 59.
It costs $250 a month to the pay the rent and four teacher salaries to run the SugarKids school. Many of the students are Haitian refugees who fled their country following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Deborah was teaching English in the Dominican Republic in 2009 when she first heard about the good things the school was doing. Since then, she has made regular trips to the country to help ensure it stays open.
Last year she brought down two suitcases of gleaners fruit, which lasted from Jan. 15 to mid-May and it cost just $40 in luggage fees.
Deborah says the school was recently donated a 30-by-eight-foot plot of land that can be used to expand the garden. She's now organizing a secular mission to head down next Easter and do more gardening. She hopes by that time she'll be able to bring an ultra-violet water filter for purification.
To donate to the charity or for more information, visit www.sugarkidseducationalcharity.com.