Don Kabara of St. Joseph’s Church in Grafton has been on a relentless mission to help the poor of the Dominican Republic for 23 years—and he’s not stopping now
Mention Los Toros to Don Kabara of Grafton and his face positively glows.
He loves the people there and they love Sénor Donald, rushing to greet him each time he visits with hugs and kisses and repeated “Muchas gracias” for what he and the members of St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish of Grafton have done for them.
A deacon at the church, Kabara spearheaded the parish’s global outreach mission in 1987. He recommended working with Los Toros in the Dominican Republic after visiting several other villages there and in Haiti, Brazil and Guatemala.
“They were somewhat organized and I felt they were ready to collaborate with us,” Kabara said.
At the time, people were hauling water from the polluted river that surrounds the community on three sides. They lived in makeshift huts with dirt floors and many were starving.
Twenty-three years and more than 100 visits later,
the people of Los Toros are still poor, but their lives are much better. Many houses have running water and concrete floors.
Farmers formed a cooperative to produce more food to feed their families and sell at markets. Their children are going to preschool, primary and secondary schools and a few are in college.
They built a preschool, medical and dental clinic, church, library, guest house, mission house and women’s sewing center and recently acquired an ambulance.
Now, they want to help their neighbors. “In the last few years, the people of Los Toros have taken us to neighboring villages and said, ‘We want to help them, but we need you to help us help them,’” Kabara said. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
Kabara is realizing a dream he’s had since becoming a deacon in 1977. Six months after his ordination, he attended a conference in which the speaker challenged the deacons to get involved in global outreach.
“My dream is to work with people and help the poor and the suffering, and to grow spiritually,” Kabara said.
Kabara, 69, who worked in international sales for Frank Mayer & Associates in Grafton for 30 years, retired at age 61 to fulfill his dream. He traveled to Brazil and other South American countries with his job.
“That’s when I learned how enriching it was to be in other cultures,” Kabara said.
He also retired from his liturgical duties — officiating at marriages, baptisms, funerals and assisting at Masses — to concentrate on St. Joe’s global outreach mission. He is officially listed as a retired deacon.
“I don’t believe in retirement. I believe in changing one’s life direction,” Kabara said. “I think when we become older, we have a unique opportunity to grow and pursue our dreams.”
His and the parish’s goals are for the Grafton and Los Toros communities to learn about and appreciate each other’s culture while enabling Los Toros to improve its living conditions by focusing on community development, education, health and spirituality.
Solidarity is a word often used to describe their mission.
“We debated what solidarity means. We’ve all heard, ‘You can give a man a fish and he will eat for one day or you can teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.’ We don’t want to just teach a man to fish, we want to go fishing with him,” Kabara said. “That’s solidarity, walking beside them.”
Parishioners do that by living in people’s homes with no indoor plumbing, taking cold showers, eating the food they eat and experiencing the joyfulness of the community, he said.
“Although they are poor, they have a joyful outlook on life. They are always positive and filled with joy,” he said.
Committees in Los Toros and Grafton choose the projects they will collaborate on. The parish sends people to the community to help by teaching or overseeing projects.
A group of nursing students will go to Los Toros in January to help set up a prenatal clinic to reduce the number of women and infants who die in childbirth.
A St. Vincent de Paul chapter was started a few years ago by St. Joe’s chapter and now is reaching out to its poorest residents.
“We don’t go to Los Toros to paint houses for a week. We approve loans for them to buy paint,” Kabara said. “We may teach them how to paint, but they have to do the work or get someone to help them.”
In turn, they agree to help others paint their houses and repay the loan to the Los Toros committee so it can be loaned to another person, Kabara said.
Kabara leads four trips a year to Los Toros — two for adults, one for college students and another for professionals.
In May, college students from St. Joe’s met with college students from Los Toros and youths in neighboring Sajanoa to discuss projects they can do to help that community.
In January, engineers helped Los Toros develop plans to extend a pipeline from their village to a neighboring village.
On Oct. 21, Kabara and 14 adults will visit Los Toros for 10 days and see how those collaborative efforts are going and assist where they can.
They will also check the progress of other projects. St. Joe’s holds the purse strings for most of these projects, but the Los Toros community chooses the projects and contributes financially.
About 100 Haitian refugees who fled after the 2009 earthquake have settled in the area and work in the fields. Their living conditions are very poor so St. Joe’s is helping them, Kabara said.
The parishioners’ checked luggage will be filled with school, medical and dental supplies and clothing and personal care items for Haitians.
They will return with luggage filled with items the people made to be sold here to raise money for the community.
Kabara’s wife Judy and four of their seven children have been to Los Toros and support his efforts.
Kabara plans to stay for longer periods in Los Toros next year. Los Toros is beautiful in January, he said, and he will spend almost the entire month there.
“When we get to the top of the mountain and see Los Toros in the valley, it’s so beautiful, I start crying,” Kabara said.
“It’s like coming home. I’m so fortunate to be able to do this. I can do it because my wife supports me, my children support me, and my parish supports me.”
More information on Los Toros is on www.lostorosmission.com. The web site even has Spanish lessons taught by Los Toros residents.
Deacon Don Kabara with items that will be taken to Los Toros. Photo by Sam Arendt