By Thomas Gregory
On Wednesday, I was part of a small delegation from our group who travelled with Rivers of the World’s Jack Wehmiller to visit the two sites where our church worked during our 2013 mission trip to the DR. The group consisted of myself, Steve Fortenberry, Larry Crawford, and Bill Crump, and our mission was to take note of the progress that had been made over the past three years.
During that trip three years ago, our group worked to build water purification systems in the mountain village of Hata de Mana and in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Juan P. Duarte, outside of La Romana. Since that time, the Dominican government has passed regulations that made our filtration systems obsolete, and efforts are underway to expand the buildings that house the systems in order to replace them with reverse osmosis systems that take excess salt out of the water, which enables the water to be sold to the villagers, creating economic opportunity for local residents.
We were told that the system our church paid for and installed in Hata de Mana would be moved to another site on the other side of the island, where water salination is not as big of a problem as it is on the southern side.
Although our team admittedly began the day a bit skeptical of the level of progress we expected to see, I believe we were all generally encouraged by what we saw up in the mountains and in the barrio. It was great to travel back up the beautiful mountain road that became so familiar to me on our trip three years ago. When we arrived at the site on the mountain, a construction crew was hard at work putting the finishing touches on the expanded water filtration building.
After inspecting the construction site, our team walked up the hill to the rear of the project site, to see a new temporary building that housed the town’s school while a new school building was being constructed on the other side of the baseball field adjacent to the school.
Before we left, I walked across the street from the construction site to visit a family our team had befriended in 2013 and to ask about Elenita, the young girl who had taken such a liking to Shannon Melton and her group of then-high school students who travelled to the mountain each day to work with the local children. To my surprise, Elenita’s grandmother remembered me and gave me a big hug when she saw me at her back door. When I asked her about Elenita, she informed me that she and her mom had recently moved to Higuey, a nearby city. It was great to visit with this old friend of ours and to hear of Elenita’s general wellbeing.
After leaving Hata de Mana, we stopped by Batey 106 to check in on our work crew, who was hard at work on the house and conducting Bible School with the local children.
The next stop on our fact-finding mission was the Joe Hartman School in Barrio Juan P. Duarte, which was built on the site of an old landfill. Driving into the barrio, the only thing one can see is trash. There is literally not a square yard in the barrio that is not littered in some way. That is, except for the Joe Hartman School, which is like an oasis in the desert. The Joe Hartman School is where our team conducted Vacation Bible School in 2013 and was the location of the second of our two construction teams on that trip.
When our team left in 2013, the barrio construction team was the one with the most disappointment, because they were not able to see the tangible results of their week’s worth of hard work. However, our return trip demonstrated how important it is to remember that mission trips aren’t always about what one group can accomplish, but about what multiple groups can accomplish over a longer period of time. The construction project that was in its infancy when our team was there in 2013 had been carried through all the way to completion and the result was a perfectly manicured courtyard playground for the children of the Joe Hartman School.
Adjacent to the playground site, a huge new cafeteria was under construction, a testament to the continued success of the school, as well as those, like our church, who continue to support the school’s efforts to educate the children of Barrio Juan P. Duarte.
We then left that barrio and accompanied Jack to Barrio La La Chosa, the site of another Rivers of the World project, which includes the construction of a Baptist church and a new school, a promising project that will provide much needed education in that particular barrio.
After lunch in La Romana, our small team of folks arrived back at Casa Pastoral very encouraged about the continuation of the projects that we worked on in 2013, as well as the work we were doing in Batey 106.