ATT. Customs spokesman Abinader Fortunato
April 23rd, 2012
Dear Lic. Rafael Camilo
General Director, Customs
I am writing to ask for your assistance in resolving a heartbreaking situation with our shipment, currently in customs in Santo Domingo. A delay in this shipment is preventing help for hundreds of children in Cabarete. In addition, the final outcome of this situation will greatly influence our family’s desire to return to the Dominican Republic at any point in the future, as well as what we share with others about our experience.
Back in early September of 2011, our family decided that instead of material things we wanted to celebrate Christmas with a family travel experience. I became intrigued by a visit to the Dominican Republic. Not the plush all-inclusive resorts where we would remain locked inside a fence and be pampered, but an area where our children could experience seeing the natural beauty of the country along with some of the realities of daily living in the country
Hotel availability, flights, and passport updates ended up making a Christmas trip impossible, so instead we booked all of the arrangements for our children’s spring break during the first week of April, 2012. Given the extra time, we started brainstorming about ways we could make an impact on the lives of the children in the Dominican Republic. All three of our boys play and love baseball, so that seemed a logical option.
In October of 2011, “Diamond to Dominican” was officially born.Our dream was big, but we were willing to work hard to make it happen. We created a mission statement: “Our hope is that this baseball equipment will provide these children with smiles, laughter and enough hope to dream – maybe even all the way to the major leagues!” We wrote a summary: “Diamond to Dominican is a family guided mission project to collect and distribute used baseball bats, balls and gloves to children in the Puerto Plata region of the Dominican Republic, where the average annual income is $2,850 and 42% of citizens live below the international poverty line.” We printed business cards, made flyers, and set up a Facebook page.
We contacted baseball leagues, travel teams, community sports programs, schools, churches, sporting goods stores, college baseball teams, local businesses, batting cages, hitting instructors, and anyone else we could think of that might help. We set up collection bins throughout our community and spent countless hours collecting, sorting, and storing items in our garage. As the collection grew, so did our excitement. I also began taking extensive notes about everything we were doing, with plans to write a book documenting our experience.
We knew that due to weight and bulk, shipping the equipment would require a great deal of research and some professional expertise, so we ended donations the first of March to allow more than adequate time for shipping. Although we had heard horror stories from many others about dealing with customs agencies in foreign countries, we felt confident that we would not experience any issues, particularly given that ours was a charitable act to help the children of the community we were planning to visit.
We arranged for SEKO Worldwide to get the shipment to Santo Domingo, where the local customs broker Frank Leo, S.R.L. would handle getting it cleared through customs and delivered to us at our hotel in Cabarete on Monday April 2nd or Tuesday April 3rd. I completed the required paperwork and provided copies of my passport. Michael Scates of Iguana Mama introduced us to Jon Wunderlich, Director of The DREAM Project, who arranged for us to meet the local children at their baseball field. Everything was in place! We arrived on April 1st full of hope, with some of our league shirts and a few pieces of baseball equipment in a suitcase.
Each day after our tour adventures, we walked into the hotel exhausted, smiling, and eager to greet our shipment. Each day, we were disappointed. I learned that Frank Leo needed another copy of my passport before customs would release the shipment, so I scanned and emailed it from the hotel manager’s office right away. I was beginning to worrybut tried to remain optimistic. A delay of another day was not what we wanted, but it could be overcome.
Wednesday morning we visited Monkey Jungle to do the zip line tour. We took a large package full of toothbrushes, most of them children’s sizes, to donate for use in the dental clinic there. We got back to the hotel, and I called Fernelis in his office in Santo Domingo. He could not tell me an exact reason for the delay but informed me that we were running out of time, as customs would be closing early for the Easter holiday.
On Friday, we met Michael and his family along with Jon at The DREAM Project school. From there, we went to the local baseball field where we presented the small bag of equipment we had with us to the local children and their coaches. They were shown photographs of all the remaining equipment. It is hard to explain the excitement we saw. Afterwards, our sons joined the children in a baseball game. Despite the many adventures we experienced all week and the beautiful things we saw, this was by far the greatest moment of our trip.
Since our return, we have shared photographs and stories of adventure with many families who are considering traveling to the Dominican Republic. I have written numerous reviews for TripAdvisor.com, where I have been a member since 2008. I have maintained email contact with many of the people we met there including Jon Wunderlich and Michael Scates. All of us, along with Neal Cooper and Kathy Peguero of SEKO Worldwide, have spent countless hours trying to get customs to release this equipment. Kathy is a successful young woman in SEKO’s Miami office who is originally from the Dominican Republic and fully recognizes the positive impact that can be made on these children.
I have updated our Diamond to Dominican blog as well as our website postings on our local school, baseball and community sites. We are scheduled to make a presentation at our church on May 13th to share our experiences. I am also in the process of writing my book that will be published on Amazon.com and anxiously waiting to see what the final chapter will consist of.
Our family and those that support our efforts have done everything we can at this point. The final outcome of our story lies in the hands of the customs officials in the Santo Domingo office. Won’t you please help us to locate this shipment and get the import fees and taxes waived as hey should be for this charitable donation so that it can be released as quickly as possible for the children who so desperately need it?
If the shipment is delivered, we look forward to booking our return trip to the Dominican Republic, continuing to provide aid to the local people there, and asking others to consider doing the same. Finally, it will ensure that my book, along with our family’s story of bringing baseball to the children of Cabarete, has a happy ending.
Thank you greatly for your time and assistance in both reading this letter and getting this issue resolved as quickly as possible. I have included some photographs on the following page that we feel speak for themselves.
Renee D. Ward