Yesterday in the morning, we took time to walk Cuesta Arena. It was the first time since Oct 2019, I had really taken the time to just walk the community and talk with the people. We started first by heading up the slope from the school. Most of that area is homes from German’s children. The first stop was Dona Carmen and Frank. Their son Javier is now married and has a house just behind theirs. They also rent a new home build behind them to a Haitian family that works with them. As we left, their oldest daughter Stephanie’s home is next. She now has a concrete home and opened a little store to sell drinks and sandwiches. Stephanie is the mother of Miguel, Lus Clarita, and Illuminada. All children who have attended the preschool and now involved in the after school program. Just up from Stephanie is another son of German, Johnny. His children Jeremy and Johanna both attended the preschool. He is now married to one of Solis’s sisters and they have a few children together. Johnny still owns a colmado (small convenience store) in the next town up, Los Almacigos. Their home is also now all concrete. Though not yet complete, he has a few bedrooms and a kitchen. The last home up the slope is Christians home. His older brother still lives at home and helps with the cattle and chicken business. That home has always been one of the nicer homes as their oldest daughter, who son attended the school, moved to the States.
Walking back toward the school, we visited the land owned by Guillermo, the house left for Juan (Germans old home), and Germania’s home. This area has their same homes on it and they now have about 1,500 chickens which produce more than 2,000 eggs a day. A few years ago they had just a few chickens and now have a booming business selling eggs in the community. Heidy is now studying hair (salon) at the university. Oriesleidy continues to monitor her sickle cells levels at the clinic. Ordeily works with Johnny at the colmado and attends his final year of high school on Saturdays. Jordaly is also working and in his junior year in high school.
As we walked down the now paved hill, we passed Solis’ home, the pepper farm, and the house where the twins used to live. On the corner were the small colmado that was own by Joan (whom we got a leg for), they have torn down the wood building and are now building a two story home out of concrete. The concrete colmado on the other side of the street is still there and the home at the bottom of the hill is just about the same. The twins family built a home just on the school side of the river. Its a 3 bedroom concrete home that they moved into a year and a half ago. Manuel and his family live across the street from them as well as other school families. As you cross the river toward the baseball field, there are some larger concrete homes that once felt out of place in Cuesta Arena but now nestle in nicely to the changing environment. They were built by a Cuesta Arena little one that played baseball on that field and now plays professionally in the states.
As I sat with Sairy and reflected that evening, it is truly amazing to see the change. The roads are paved, they have water piped from the city, electricity is a constant, and the homes are slowly changing from wood homes without floors to beautifully tiled concrete homes.
What changed? Was it the education, self esteem, ability to dream big, set goals? There are so many things that happened. I can’t help but think about the role the school has played in the change. When we opened the school 10 years ago, I handed the keys back to the community and told them it was theirs. If they wanted to keep it, they had to maintain. And they have! I also told Kendys that I really didn’t care if the kids ever learned ABCs, counted, or wrote their name. What I desired for the school was for the kids to know they were loved and to know that God loves them. I named the non-profit Renewed Hope Missions because I felt like the community needed hope. As I have reflected this week, they needed hope but love was the tool. Sairy and I both feel the change is the community is the lifting up of self esteem, the knowledge that they are loved and important, and the desire and push to be whoever they want to be.
On Friday when we went out to look at the stars, I stood back as the school was full of children playing on both levels and people were gathered in the area in front of the school and thought about how when we started, only the children came in and sat under the mango tree. The parents stayed close by, standing at the fence line, not sure about entering. The kids just sat there, eager to engage but solemn faced. Now, adults and children were full of laughter, joy, and love. It is so beautiful to see.
In May, we will come back and celebrate the 10th anniversary graduation. It will be a beautiful celebration. I want to invite anyone interested to reach out for information. I would love to see missionaries from across the years join us to come see and celebrate the work we have all done, not just over the past 10 years, but long before I even knew Cuesta Arena even existed.