Lending a hand in Los Toros

St. Joseph parishioners continue to see benefits of mission trips to village in Dominican Republic

ST. JOSEPH PARISH VOLUNTEERS have been making mission trips to the Village of Los Toros in the Dominican Republic for about 30 years to provide support for health, housing and education. Top photo, parishioner Katie Tunder Krogmann (left) handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to villagers. Bottom photo, Isaias Dias (center), who is deaf, learned sign language from sisters Helen Kassens (left) and Carolyn Langlois. Photos courtesy of Mike Weber and Donald Kabara
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

For about 30 years, volunteers from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Grafton have been making mission trips to the Village of Los Toros in the Dominican Republic and providing health care, education and friendship to approximately 5,000 villagers.

“Seeing Third World poverty first-hand is pretty eye opening,” Los Toros committee organizer Mike Weber said. “The experience has changed everyone who has been involved by making them aware of those suffering from poverty.”

Starting in the late 1980s, parishioners have been making two to three trips per year to Los Toros, many of which were led by Deacon Donald Kabara.

“We go down and help them, but our philosophy is to help them help themselves,” he said. “We want to give them training, education and resources to grow.”

The mission builds two to three cement houses per year that cost about $5,000 each. 

“At one time many houses had dirt floors. Slowly but surely, we are making sure each house gets a cement floor,” Kabara said, adding other houses have had a tin roof and an unfinished bathroom installed.

“Many of the people use outdoor sanitation still.” 

Volunteers have also built a library for the villagers and provide pre-natal care to women, dental hygiene and monetary support for businesses and education.

Weber said the program provides 12 scholarships to students to go to college in the capital city of Santo Domingo and about 60 partial scholarships for others to attend weekend classes.

All of the villagers are farmers who grow bananas, lemons, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and tobacco for Cuban cigars.

“Dominican farmers live in village and have to walk to their farms. It’s not like Wisconsin,” Kabara said. “Los Toros is a farming village. There are no other jobs.”

Over the years, returning volunteers have developed lifelong friendships with the villagers. About seven years ago, two sisters from the parish became acquainted with a boy and his mother who are deaf. The ladies took the family under their wing and taught them sign language. They also found a special school for the boy about 25 miles outside of the village, where he recently graduated from high school.

Weber said a number of the villagers have visited Grafton and even some have married volunteers.

“There are many amazing stories and little miracles that have occurred during these trips,” Kabara said. 

Weber said the number of volunteers per trip varies from about five to 20, adding volunteers don’t have to be members of the parish. The next trip is scheduled for October and a youth group mission is set for May, which is usually the largest group.

Kabara no longer leads the mission trips, but he often returns to the village. His next personal trip is scheduled in September. 

“After 30 years, I have many strong relationships with these people and they are now part of my family,” he said.

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