This is the second in my series of blogs where I share my experiences working with FUNDASEP, of the Catholic Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic. I have been Cross Catholic Outreach’s project officer for more than five years, and I‘ve had the pleasure of working with this incredible social outreach organization. I must say, it has been a blessing. Over the years, FUNDASEP has done everything from building roads, bridges and schools to helping undocumented citizens obtain birth certificates. It has helped construct over 80 water systems and more than 1,000 houses throughout the diocese.
This year, Cross Catholic Outreach is collaborating with FUNDASEP to build 24 sturdy houses benefiting 110 needy men, women and children. We use a low-cost durable design that is effective at sheltering poor Dominican families and withstanding powerful storms. In fact, most who build homes for the poor in the Dominican Republic use cinder blocks and wood, whereas we use concrete panels and metal frames.
The homes we’re building in the Dominican Republic are very affordable because all the materials are prefabricated. But that doesn’t mean they are substandard. On the contrary, these homes are specially designed to be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant. They are sealed against water leaks that so often bring misery to poor families. To date, each one we have built has withstood all the major tropical storms that have swept through the area.
In all my years in the field, no partner does a better job of involving the community than FUNDASEP. Their goal is to not just to give the poor a safe place to sleep, but also to restore their dignity by inspiring the people to come together as the body of Christ. I cannot stress enough how important their community outreach is to the success of their overall program. I say this because their community meetings are incredibly inspirational. They get people motivated, and inspire to give of their talents and sweat. And what we call “sweat equity” is nothing to take for granted. It’s tough work! While the community members help out at the work site, they are also tending to their crops. What these villagers do with their hands is a tremendous sacrifice!
In my visits to these communities, we come across some heartbreaking stories. Among these is Yeidi Paula, a single mother in the Dominican town of Las Parillas. A colleague of mine first ran across her sitting outside her wooden shack, holding her toddler and communicating via hand signs. Yeidi’s father explained that she was born mute, and that she still lived with him in the house he built 37 years ago. Their only income was from his work as a farmer. They were very poor. As Yeidi’s grandmother put it, they “lived off of prayer.”
There was no telling how many times the family’s makeshift structure had been repaired and rebuilt over the years. It was probably four decades old. The floor is mostly dirt, and when the wind blows, it picks up dust clouds from a field across the road and sends the grime through gaps in the wooden slats. To make matters worse, family members must share beds because there’s not enough room.
Yeidi is just one of the 24 families whose lives will be forever transformed by a safe and secure new house. These families are coming from situations where they have no protection from storms, from the wind or the rain. They have no privacy, no security. That’s all about to change. I can’t wait for the day when I return to these communities and see these families in their brand new homes!