Tuesday morning started off bright and earlier for us in the Dominican Republic. We said goodbye to busy and crowded Santo Domingo and began the long drive to Puerta Plata. The bus rides have been long but have also been a great way for us to get to know each other and reflect on our experience. We have experienced laughtor and tears along our trip through the Dominican Republic, and it has been worth every moment to be able to experience first hand the amazing work that Nina, Matt, and Kyle do with Stop Hunger Now. All of CitiHope has provided us with an experience that none of us imagined by being our guides, including opening the doors to both the good and hard parts about being Dominican.
Our first site visit for the day brought us to a city called La Vega, where the Centro Educativo Christian TEARS school was located. Upon entering La Vega, many of the houses are run down and have trash infront of the homes, but once we arrived at TEARS, it was almost like a mirage in a dessert. The school stood over three stories tall and was brightly colored to reflect the joy of the children. Our hosts, Father Rodrigo and the Director, Antonio, provided a detailed tour of the building to all the NCSU students, Stop Hunger Now employees, and CitiHope. Over 200 students attend the school throughout the course of a day by splitting up shifts between 8-12pm and 1-5:30pm. Every classroom, from first to eighth grade was welcoming with bright colors and decorations on the walls. The children were so happy to have us interupt classes to say "Hola." Antonio and Father Rodrigo have spared no expense at providing ways to make the school, and have even started a water filtration program. The program provides clean water to the community and children for less then a dollar a gallon, but then puts all the revenue back into the school to support the work they are doing. It was incredible to see how they have put systems into place to make a substainable income and been able to provide the community with much needed water.
One touching moment in the tour was when we were able to speak to the Fifth grade teacher, Neseldia. Neseldia has been teaching at TEARS for over 11 years, providing the students courses in math and science. She provided us information about how the school handles classes when the power goes out, which is does for several hours during the day. The teachers continue to teach the students in the dark by opening windows or relying on a backup battery system that they had installed. Neseldia became very emotional when she spoke about the passion she has for teaching and how much TEARS has improved the lives of so many children that might have been overlooked in La Vega. The tears that flowed from her face demonstrated the love she has for teaching, even to those that could not speak English.
Visiting Centro Educativo Christian TEARS provided the group with insight on how programs can work with the community to create a lasting relationship that is beneficial for everyone. TEARS is an amazing school that is changing the lives of children who might not have been able to afford an education and opening the door to a world that has hope and promise.