Esperanza: A Transformed Community
Our car veered off the pavement, onto a dusty dirt road. We did our best to dodge the massive potholes that cluttered the way. After a few minutes, we drove into the little community of Esperanza, with makeshift houses on either side of the road. People lounged outside under whatever shade they could find. Little children sat in the doorways to their overcrowded small homes, watching us as we drove by.
Finally we made it to the massive wall at the end of the road, enclosed around a small school and church. The wall was painted with the Spanish saying, “Bienvenido Espiritu Santo,” meaning “welcome Holy Spirit”.
Our dear friend Pastor Mercedes, founder of this small church and the Pan Y Vida Children Center, greeted us at the door. We proceeded to walk into the small classroom area for the preschoolers, about 50 rambunctious two to four year olds, with only a couple teachers. The kitchen staff was getting ready to feed them their breakfast. For many of the children, these meals are the only decent ones they receive all day. We chatted with Mercedes, as she gave us all the amazing updates about her center.
Mercedes was excited about her most recent endeavor the last seven months, a painting class for some of her 11-15 year old students. She told us how an instructor comes from another town about 30 minutes away every Saturday to work with these 16 students, mostly girls and only two boys. As Mercedes showed us their recent paintings, we were astonished at the quality of work for such young and inexperienced students! Their class is preparing for a competition against each other, to encourage one another to improve their skills. Not only has this class inspired creativity among its students, but they recently shipped two boxes of paintings to Maryland to be sold, and made several hundred dollars! Mercedes proudly explained how she is trusting God for a new computer room to be built above her church. They now have enough money to build the floor and stairs.
As a reward for their work, Mercedes recently took the class on a field trip to a park and pool area for some rest and relaxation. Many of the students have never been in a swimming pool, let alone know how to swim, so this was a huge treat for them.
It is the small things like this, taking an art class or swimming in a pool, that contribute to making all the difference in the world in these children’s lives. Receiving any type of education in itself is a blessing to the children of Esperanza, where many 8 and 9 year olds have to work in order to help support their families. “Here they have the opportunity to be kids again, to play with other kids, to be in a space where their friends are kids. There is someone to take care of them,” explains Dominican VivaKids staff member Maria.
We asked Mercedes, “What do you think is the most effective tool you are using right now to reach this community?”
“Working with one family at a time, to focus on the specific problems. The problem is at home, with violence and fighting, and the example set for them is young girls getting pregnant at 13.” she replied. She proceeded to explain to us how she can educate and train children in the few hours they are at her school, but if their families are not being transformed, it is counter productive. Mercedes devotes hours upon hours spending time with individual families in her community. She trains them on how to communicate well and the importance of being intellectually, physically, emotionally and mentally ready before marriage or children.
Voodoo is also prominent throughout the community. One woman Mercedes worked with thought witchcraft had overcome her, but when she was given medical attention, she realized it was simply parasites in her stomach.
When Mercedes first arrived in this community many years ago, there were no churches. Now there are seven churches, two of which Mercedes and her husband started. “They need everything,” Mercedes tell us, “They think clothes and food is most important. They don’t realize it is God that they need in their life as well.”
Though the work is hard, Mercedes continues to see small strides of success in her students. One of her students, 13-year-old Maylenis, struggled with a severe form of anemia. Her stepdad was also extremely violent and abused Maylenis. When Mercedes learned of the situation, she confronted the mother, and worked hard to get the stepdad finally put in jail. Maylenis now attends the center everyday, and is doing much better emotionally, physically and academically. She also comes from a family deeply involved in witchcraft; but Maylenis has given her life to the Lord, and been baptized and burned all her idols.
It is stories like these that keep Mercedes and the team plugging away at this work. As Mercedes reminded us, ““God is working! It is necessary for Him to change the hearts and minds of people.” She always has a smile on her face, despite the obstacles that come her way. It is amazing what God can do with a willing heart full of faith and obedience.
Mercedes has asked for prayer in the following areas:
o A new playground for her center
o The government to pave the streets in their community
o More bathrooms in the community
o Better houses/homes