Lighting a fire for Haitian orphans

A simple holiday in the Dominican Republic in 1998 lit a fire under Ed and Sylvia Rypstra of Newtonville. The couple returned home with a new passion: to help the poor people they saw living in the slums during their island get-away. More than ten years on, the Rypstras are still working to help the needy, especially some children at an orphanage in a Haitian neighbourhood in the Dominican Republic. And now out of the ashes of apple trees will come more money for the orphans.

According to Sylvia, she and Ed started “Operation Dominican Republic” in 1999, with donations from members of the church they belong to in Bowmanville, the Maranatha Christian Reformed Church.  “Ladies from the church knit blankets and sweaters,” Sylvia told the Orono Times by phone. “The Bibles For Missions store in Bowmanville also supplies us with donated clothing, so we match up the blankets and sweaters with a baby sleeper and give the sets to the maternity ward at the hospital in Puerto Plata where the poor people go.”

The Rypstras bring the clothing to the Dominican at their own expense. They also collect and transport basic medicines like Ibuprofen and anti-diarrheal remedies for the hospital. And they recently found a company in Cambridge, Ontario that makes freeze-dried food which Sylvia said was tested for its popularity this past July in a poor, predominantly Haitian neighbourhood in the Dominican.

“We brought 63 bags of the food, and each bag will serve 100 meals. We got to serve the people and we also tried the food ourselves. It’s like a soup mix. People don’t have any money to pay for food. They may only get one meal a day. We wanted to see if they liked it. They added some salami because it had no meat in it, and they liked it. It was very successful,” she said.

“It’s really a three-pronged effort. We went to the slums, we went to the hospital, and we went to the orphanage.  We saw the need. Every year it got bigger. So now we usually go two to three times a year. It’s a working holiday, but we get fulfilled from it.”

Last Thursday, the Rypstras just returned from a one-week trip to the Dominican, their fourth this year, said Sylvia. They brought donations for the 28 children at the orphanage. “It’s a Haitian community in the Dominican Republic. The children are Haitian or partially Haitian, and they are discriminated against,” said Sylvia. “We’ve been involved with this orphanage since August 2009.”

“It’s just something Ed and I like to do. Our children are all grown,” she said, adding that the couple has six grown children and three grandchildren. “Once you go to the orphanage, you fall in love with the kids. We’re falling in love with what we’re doing. It’s our passion, I guess.”

“It’s amazing how many donations we get just by word of mouth,” she said. “That’s how we’ve survived so far.” She said they had $2400 in cash donations for this past trip, the most they had brought at one time so far. This money was used to buy food and building supplies once they were in the Dominican Republic, she said.

“This trip was the first time that two other couples came with us. We all paid our own way. The Lord seems to be opening more doors, and getting more people involved,” said Sylvia, as she began to explain the latest donation coming from John and Margie Sikma.

Although Sylvia retired from Foodland and Ed retired from General Motors two years ago, they have continued working on their farm, and have also worked part-time for Sikma’s Orchard in Newtonville. The Sikmas, like the Rypstras, belong to the Maranatha Church and are familiar with the work done through “Operation Dominican Republic”.  John and Margie Sikma decided to retire from the apple business, making this their last season for apples (they plan to keep selling their strawberries), according to Sylvia. “The apples were done just before Thanksgiving, and the next week they started bulldozing the trees,” she stated.

“The whole orchard is done already. John and Ed are working there right now, chopping the trees into firewood,” she said Monday afternoon. According to Sylvia, John told Ed that if he helped him chop up the apple trees for sale as firewood, then the Sikmas would donate the money from those sales to the orphanage. The apple orchard was 10-acres in size with a couple of thousand trees, according to John Sikma.

“Initially, I was just going to leave them there,” said Sikma about the apple trees, Tuesday afternoon. “It’s an awful lot of work, and I’m not looking for more work. But then I saw an avenue to make some money for the orphans and that’s how it came about.” He said they are selling about three-quarters of a face-cord for $80, which includes local delivery. The price is lower for multiple orders. Sikma’s Orchards will be closing its doors on January 14th.

In the meantime, the Sikmas hope to sell quite a bit of firewood in order to make a sizable donation, with which the Rypstras can buy more food and building supplies for the orphanage.

Apple wood is a hardwood, and therefore has above-average heating properties. It is noted for the pleasant smell it gives when burned, and is often favoured when barbequing, as it gives a nice flavour to smoked meats.

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