This has been the longest time I have been away from Cuesta Arena since I was introduced to her in January 2008. Protected by its isolation, Cuesta Arena endured the Covid pandemic. On Monday we traveled for the first time on this trip. As we turned at the canal in Batey 1, it seemed as though nothing had changed. As we made our way to the road through the farm, it felt like entering a portal to the future. When we arrived to the first few houses, you could tell the difference in the houses. Many of the houses along the main road in Cuesta Arena are new builds. There are even some much larger houses. In one of my last trips to Cuesta Arena, I learned of a professional baseball player, Richard Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Cuesta Arena and returned to build a house for his family. He went to the states as a Pitchers in 2017 for the Orioles, transferred to the Pirates in 2018-2021 and now plays for the Braves. His house always stood out but now blends in more as more and more new concrete houses are being built up.
As we arrived at the “Cuesta” or slope, the “colmado” or convenience store on the corner was torn down and a new build is going up. Even the road up the slope is now paved!!!
As we got closer to the school, I was overjoyed with the privilege of returning. Germania’s four kids were getting ready to go to school and I got to spend a quick minute catch up for they headed off to school.
During my trip, we spent a short time visiting with Germania, seeing her chicken farm, goats, and turkeys. Germania is now remarried and doing really well.
We also visited with Carmen and Frank (our school side neighbors, who once upon a time allowed us to use their outhouse) are also doing well. Their son, Javier, is now married and has a room on their house with his new wife. Carmen made sure to tell me that she misses Juan (who now lives in the city for school) and reminded me that she is his mom, since she raised him since the time he was 5. We are all forever grateful for the love she provided Juan in his mother’s absence. Most importantly the opportunity for him to remain in his community and grow up with his family. Guillermo even shared how the family is saving property for Juan, when he returns to Cuesta Arena as his portion of the family inheritance. It warmed my soul to see Maria’s legacy carried on. I know she would be so proud of Juan and all he has and will become. (See separate blog about Juan)
Guillermo is also doing well. He is working in construction which has really taken off in post pandemic DR. Even with the increase in work, he continues to make time to help care for the school, was present for the parent meeting, and helps at church on Sunday. Kendys and Guillermo lead a small group on Thursdays in Cuesta Arena. The community just continues to grow.
Kendys continues to travel Monday to Thursday to Cuesta Arena to lead similaneously the preschool program and the tutoring program. The preschool is only Open from 8:30-10:30am (Covid hours). Luz, the mother of Yordany and Gilbert, is the assistant teacher and such a blessing to have on the team. She is amazing to see with the kids and they adore her.
There have been lots of changes in the public school here. They changed from elementary, middle, and high school to a K-6 and 7-12 schools. Precovid, in the previous presidency, there was a change for all schools to go to 8 hours a day with the addition of lunch provided by the government. Previously schools were only open 4 hours a day in the morning for one group and 4 hours in the afternoon. It was a slow process to change over because they had to build new school and hire the teachers since they were double using the buildings. The schools were then closed for an entire year due to Covid and when they reopened, there was also a new presidency with different objectives. They are struggling to hire teachers and provide school lunches. The kids go only every other day and for only a few hours every day. Due to the change, we are trying to figure out how to restructure our tutoring program to best meet the needs of the community. For now, they come the same time as the preschoolers and play outside or help out with the preschoolers. They love to play volleyball and soccer. Unfortunately the basketball court we started in Oct 2019 still needs an iron worker to create the connectors for the backboard.
As Sairy and I walked Cuesta Arena and as I talked with Juan, we can see how much Cuesta Arena has changed. There is a new generation in charge. One that has seen the benefits of having a place for kids to go to fee safe and to play. This was always my dream. We can’t always control what happens in the home but the kids have a place they race to in the mornings to spend the day. It’s a much different atmosphere than when we first started. The women have more pride and the kids love school and learning! Our work over the past 9 years has changed all of that. It is such a blessing to see that even in the midst of a world pandemic, the work continued and the kids could safely play and enjoy the land.