By: Erin Chan Ding, Willow Global Volunteer Journalist
The village where Kelvin lives is not just a village. It’s more than that—and in the eyes of some, much less. It’s called Batey Jalonga. Many bateyes, like Batey Jalonga, dot rural areas of the Dominican Republic and are the kinds of places where Dominicans go when they’re looking to serve those less fortunate. Some have no access to clean water, to toilets, to adequate housing, to sufficient nourishment, to proper health care, to transportation, to education. People would say, “Jalonga? Nothing good could come from there.”
The hope for change lies in what God has already done in the batey – not just with peace, not just with health but especially when it comes to education.
Kelvin found Pastor Hector Mendoza and Juana’s church at age 12. In his mind, Jesus was not just about preaching the Gospel but also had a model where he did things for people. As a teen, Kelvin partnered with the Mendoza’s to figure out how it could best serve the community.
They saw that many in the congregation couldn’t read the Scriptures. They saw that people who were affected by HIV couldn’t read the prescriptions. They saw that illiteracy affected the capacity of parents to take care of the health of their children.
So it started with adults, 32 of them from Batey Jalonga. The church began to teach them to read, started health education and invited them to church.
When others found out, the demand grew to 160 adults. When surrounding communities heard, those adults approached Batey Jalonga, wanting to learn how to read and write. And then it wasn’t just adults. There were kids who were kicked out of school for bad behavior. And kids who did not have the money to catch transportation to school.
The church selected ten young people, including Kelvin, to helm the adult education project. But with more people coming, the church and community had reached a demand beyond its capacity.
So it reached out to a local senator and pleaded with him for resources. He agreed to come and check out the learning program. When he arrived, he cried.
“He had no experience that a batey can function,” Kelvin says. “And the adults in bateyes? They didn’t go to school.”
But in Batey Jalonga, they did. Even if it they had to learn while sitting under mango trees, which they did, too.
So what now? A school. A liceo, specifically. A high school.
The reason? There existed a cavernous gap between the kids who attended elementary school in the batey and the adults who were now being educated.
Nine out of ten kids – 90 percent – of kids in Batey Jalonga, according to Kelvin, dropped out after sixth grade.
It wasn’t out of laziness or truancy. It had to do with logistics and money.
The nearest high schools for those living in Batey Jalonga stood 13 kilometers and 21 kilometers away. On average, parents paid 200 pesos a week for their kids to hop the bus to go to these schools. As some still worked on sugar cane plantations, they only received pay for half the year, during the sugar cane season, and could not afford to send their kids.
So thus, a high school for Batey Jalonga. That’s what the community wanted.
But how? It would cost $54 million pesos, or about $1.17 million U.S. dollars, to build. Where would the money come from? The school system in the Dominican Republic isn’t like the one in the United States. Not every community gets a high school.
In Batey Jalonga, where parents couldn’t even afford to send their kids to school, the thought of raising $1.17 million dollars, seemed ludicrous. With enough appeals to the government, perhaps it could be done. But Kelvin, Hector, Juana and the community had someone else in mind: God.
After trying to convince the Ministry of Education that the community and the people learning should have a school, God intervened. The Ministry of Education called. They would see Kelvin. In fact, they were desperate to see him. They were desperate to learn about what was going on in Batey Jalonga.
When the Ministry of Education visited the community, they saw kids and teens, who, despite rough conditions – curtains cordoning off classrooms, classes studying outside, all the teaching done by teenage volunteers in the community (like Kelvin) – the students were focused, concentrating and learning. They sent books, furniture and a special permit so that the teachers could teach the kids until the teachers – who were themselves students at the time — finished college. The school would be built.
In November 2013, the president and the first lady of the Dominican Republic dedicated the school. As of today, it is the only high school in a batey in the entire Caribbean.
El Buen Samaritano rises three stories tall, painted a sandy yellow with burgundy trim. It has an idyllic courtyard with palm trees.
Its reputation for excellence has swelled so much that instead of kids in the batey having to travel miles and miles for school, teens from other communities travel to this unassuming village, the one previous generations had made fun of, for their education. The school ranks in the top 10 in the nation of the Dominican Republic.
A sign on a school wall carries a verse from Proverbs 9:10: “El temor de Johova es El Principio de la Sabiduría, y El Conocimiento del Santísimo es la Inteligencia. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Muses Kelvin, with absolute conviction: ‘This school was built by God.’”
Indeed, it was. El Buen Samaritano, built by God in the most unlikely of places. Built by God in Batey Jalonga.
For questions, comments or suggestions, e-mail the Willow Global team email@example.com.