Day 5: The Barrio

By Thomas Gregory

“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” – Matthew 19:13-14

Today, I took a break from my usual group in Batey Hata de Mana and traveled to the barrio with the self described “Team Awesome.” Whereas the bateys are located in rural areas, the barrios are small neighborhoods in the urban areas. The locals describe them as ghettoes, where the urban poor live, work, and raise their families. For the past three days, Team Awesome has been working in Barrio Juan P. Duarte.

When we drove into the barrio in the yellow school bus, I joked that there was enough trash on the ground for it to be a landfill. As a city planner, I was disheartened to find out that Barrio Duarte was actually built on an old landfill, thus explaining the ever-present trash. All I could think about was that if Greenwood’s Mayor Carolyn McAdams were with us, she would have organized a cleanup campaign so fast it would have made the residents’ heads spin.

The first half of the day, I helped with Vacation Bible School at the school located next to the work site. We went to each classroom and read the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the kids, in Spanish, from the children’s Bible. In two of the classrooms, I got to read to the kids. It was an awesome experience reading a Bible story in a foreign language to kids who completely understood what I was saying, even though I didn’t know what the words I was reading meant. The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

After reading the story to the kids, we helped them with an arts and crafts activity, making paper serpents with stickers and crayons. The kids loved every minute of it. At the end of each lesson, the kids sang a song to us in Spanish, and we returned the favor by singing a song to them in English. The cultural exchange between old and young, American and Dominican, was absolutely remarkable.

After VBS, we joined the construction crew and helped them make progress on their water filtration system. We moved piles of rock, sifted sand from gravel, carried buckets of mortar, and dug footings for concrete walls. And all the while, we had a great time in the Caribbean sun, enjoying each other’s company, and helping make the lives of the people who live in the barrio a little bit better.

One of my favorite moments from the day was when we were moving concrete blocks from one side of the wall to the other, a group of local kids came up to talk to us. Earlier in the day, we had been talking about the lack of OSHA work site standards with the exposed rebar protruding from the cinder block walls. As the kids approached us, I reached down and picked up a plastic bottle, showed it to the kids, placed it upside-down on top of one of the pieces of rebar, and then pointed to the adjacent field.

The kids looked at each other with a look of excitement, and ran out into the field to retrieve plastic bottles. They returned within five minutes, each with an armload of bottles, and then proceeded to make our work site OSHA approved by placing the bottles on the rebar. They were so happy to be helpful to our crew!

At the end of the day, we had accomplished a lot and the team was satisfied with the progress that was made. Although I will be re-joining my team in Batey Hata de Mana tomorrow, I will always remember the kids of Barrio Duarte and the love they had for our group of VBS teachers. Little ones to him belong, indeed.