An angel makes 'faces shine with happiness' in Dominican Republic

By Darrel Hammon

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Louise ZoBell with a group of children in Puerta Plata

Louise ZoBell, Starfish Foundation

PUERTA PLATA, Dominican Republic — Angels come in all their glory in many ways. For the Dominicans who live in Puerta Plata, a resort city located on the northern beach of the Dominican Republic, one of their angels comes in the form of Louise ZoBell, a mother and grandmother from Stirling, Canada, and married to Jack ZoBell.

Her beginnings in the Dominican Republic did not begin so angelically.

In 2006, Louise ZoBell took a trip to the Dominican Republic that she earned from the company she was working for and learned a sobering lesson. When her daughter, Charlotte Palmer, took a few school supplies and other things with her, Zobell wondered why and she helped distribute them. If it hadn’t been for her daughter and a few school supplies, she would have “honestly, never thought of it.”

And from then on, she couldn’t forget about serving. From that first experience, the ZoBells traveled to Puerto Plata each year to give back to the Dominican Republic.

It was in January 2011 when her “whole Dominican experience exploded into what it is becoming,” Louise ZoBell said.

That year, her group took more than 200 small packages to give to Dominican children in one of the schools. Her brother Barry and his wife, Laura, decided to go with them, and they took a few basketballs to give the children.

On that trip, they took six suitcases filled with things they had been collecting. “This would be the most we would ever take because the airline had reduced the amount of luggage that we could take free," Louise Zobell recalled promising her husband. "I laugh when I think of that now.”

After they took their 200 small packages to the school, their guide told them that if they would meet him the following morning, he would take them to another community they could walk to from their resort. ZoBell asked what they should bring because she had given almost everything away at the school. The only thing she had was a little suitcase of used clothing that another couple had left for them to distribute. Their guide said, “Bring anything. You’ll see.” The walk that day, Jan. 29, 2011, changed her perspective.

ZoBell initially thought poor people lived in orphanages. The first time she was introduced to real poverty was standing on a little porch not far from their villa and handing out a few items of clothes to the local people.

“At that time, I had never given used clothing away," ZoBell said. "I had brought a few new things with me to the resort and given the workers. People were swarming around us and jumping and grabbing to get anything they could. I was moved to tears.”

Her Jan. 29, 2011, Facebook message to her friends said, “Today, I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We walked to an area minutes away from luxury into squalor. We took many things with us, but by far not enough. The poverty was unbelievable. A 20 peso bill equal to 60 cents was clamored for. … I have been to orphanages, schools, poor areas, etc., but I’ve never seen anything like I saw today.”

She knew she had to do something differently. She and her husband formed a foundation called the Dominican Starfish Foundation. The foundation takes its name from the starfish story about the lesson an old man learned while walking along the beach early one morning. He saw a young boy pick up a starfish stranded by the tide and then sling it back into the ocean. The man stopped and asked why he was throwing back the starfish one by one. “With so many,” he asked, “what difference are you going to make?” Instead of answering, the young boy leaned down, picked up a starfish and tossed it back into the ocean. Then, looking at the man, he quietly said, “It makes a difference to that one.”

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