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Lionel's Family Faces Starvation from COVID-19

I met Lionel during a writing retreat in the Dominican Republic in 2018. Fighting illness and the homebound isolation of a cold Canadian winter, I decided to finally visit my friends who have been serving as missionaries in the Dominican Republic for a decade. From the home base of their apartment complex, we took a break one Saturday to see the local market, which primarily served tourists. Lionel was a salesman in one of the jewellery stores.

As I admired blue laramar pendants, I noticed the sun was setting. "I have to get a picture!" I exclaimed. I rushed to the nearby shore, where the western sky glowed in ever-deepening shades of ochre and violet. It was absolutely breathtaking. Lionel followed me out, hoping to close the sale. My rudimentary Spanish and his tourist-focused English limited our conversation until we discovered a common language, French.

Lionel's baby, ElsaI learned that Lionel was from Haiti, but that he worked in the Dominican Republic because jobs were more plentiful there. His wages supported his family in Haiti, whom he saw infrequently. But he was especially concerned about his sister Nerline, who had mental health challenges. She was struggling to raise her three children, and Lionel was struggling to help. We exchanged numbers, and I researched local organizations which might be able to help through my personal and NGO networks. I never received the hoped-for message that one of them proved fruitful.

This week, I got a new message from Lionel. We exchanged brief updates about managing the coronavirus pandemic. While I was struggling with isolation and stress, Lionel was struggling with survival. After the Dominican Republic closed its borders in March, my friends returned to Canada and Lionel returned to Haiti. He hasn't been able to find work since. He doesn't know how to feed his three young children and his wife. They depend on him for survival, and he can't provide for them.

I can't imagine the fear Lionel must feel. I've heard undercurrents of it from friends from the DRC, where food prices have doubled and work and grants have become precarious. My family and I have also faced unemployment and layoffs during the crisis, but we have the means to keep food on the table. Lionel doesn't know what he will do.

This crisis is disproportionately impacting people in the south, where social safety nets don't exist and savings evaporate as quickly as dew in the hot sun. If you can, please donate to a charity that is supporting people facing hunger right now, and encourage your government to be generous. And pray for miracles, including healing from COVID-19, and sustenance to keep families like Lionel's alive until they can work again.


  • Lionel with his wife Charles Direncia, Lionel Junior, and Krishna
  • Baby Elsa
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