What Links La Piedra, Guanin, and Student Services?
The community of La Piedra is an impoverished, at-risk community located northeast of the capital city in the Province of Santo Domingo. La Piedra is home to more than 5,000 men, women, and children of mixed Dominican and Haitian descent, with most families living on less than 50¢ a day. For nearly 20 years, Guanín has been serving the community of La Piedra by providing aid through medical, educational, sports, and cultural programs for both children and adults, infrastructural improvements, and by providing nutritious meals and daily health services, as well as special medical, dental, AIDS/HIV treatment and prevention programs, women’s clinics, summer, Christmas, and sports camps for children, childcare and education, elementary-school tutoring and education, reading and writing classes for the illiterate, ESL courses for both adults and children, computer programs and access to free Internet, agricultural education, toy and clothing drives, a wide variety of cultural programs, and more. All programs focus on providing residents with the tools for progress and life improvement for both individuals and the community.
With the promotional and organization assistance of Student Services, Guanín provides all of these amazing services with mostly international help through volunteerism and donations. We have introduced thousands of volunteers to the community through innovative programs that empower and bring people together from multiple cultures.
Isn’t it time for your volunteer group to experience Guanín and become part of our international family?
FUNDACIÓN CENTRO CULTURAL GUANÍN, INC.
Student Services works closely with the "Guanin" organization and in and around the Guanin Center is where alot of the volunteer work will be completed.
Almost 20 years ago, the Dominican non-profit NGO called Fundación Centro Cultural Guanín, Inc. arrived and began building a Community Center in La Piedra, assisted by the collaborative efforts of the entire community and funded by visiting international student groups and sponsors´ donations. The original idea was to offer educational assistance to the approximately 1,500 families who attempt to scratch out a meager existence in small pockets of soil among the rocks. Guanín began with adult literacy courses and tutoring in all school subjects for the children, as well as classes in English, but it was soon clear that without food, it is difficult to learn, so Guanín began serving a daily lunch to those who came to get an education. It was great motivation! Today, Guanín serves more than 500 free meals a day to children who normally do not get to eat every day.
But you can´t learn when you are ill, either, so Guanín spent a lot of money to dig a fresh water well and offers free drinking water to all (the water is treated with a chlorine solution), and started a clinic, providing a nurse five days a week, a weekly doctor´s visiting day, as well as medical missions almost every month that focus on dental care or women´s needs, elder-care, general check-ups, vaccinations, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention clinics, etc., plus free medicines, albeit of limited kinds and amounts.
To keep the children, especially the teenagers and young men, from getting into trouble, Guanín has built a swimming pool (and found volunteers to teach the children to swim), basketball court, volleyball court, and other activity areas, and offers a free annual summer and Christmas Break camp, where local children ages 5-15 can learn English and participate in a wide variety of sports, arts and crafts, and music classes—the camp counselors are all volunteers. Guanín also built a guardaría (nursery school) and the Colegio Bilingüe Dra. Lynne Guitar, an elementary school. Plans are to eventually extend the school to 12th grade and also to build and furnish a separate technical school, and to build better sports and recreational facilities, as well as a larger, better equipped clinic. Guanín is also seeking to repair and maintain the local roads and access to La Piedra and the surrounding impoverished communities, but that is an expensive, albeit much needed project.
A Detailed History of the Area of LA PIEDRA
LA PIEDRA—history and most urgent current needs:
La Piedra officially belongs to the Municipality of San Antonio de Guerra, Santo Domingo Province. It lies east of the Capital and north of the Aeropuerto Las Americas, accessible by roads that are little more than rocky cow trails—but small buses can get through if they drive slowly. With approximately 1,500 families and more than 5,000 residents, approximately half of whom are Dominicans and half Haitians (and many persons of both groups who are undocumented), La Piedra has the highest poverty index in the Province of Santo Domingo.
Some of the oldest residents here remember life in La Piedra in the 1940s (its name, appropriately, translates as “The Rock”), when all the nearby San Luis sugar lands and the undeveloped lands around them were a small part of the vast estates of “El Jefe” Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the fierce dictator president who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. After Trujillo´s assassination in May of 1961, the Dominican government laid claim to all the surrounding land and, in the early 1970s, sold tens of thousands of square meters of it to an international company called Torre B, which sent in bulldozers to carve out roads.
When Torre B’s VIPs arrived to drive around their new properties, they were aghast—the region is dominated by karst topography. Karst refers to land that is composed principally of highly soluble, very jagged rock, mostly limestone, which long ago was submerged coral reefs. Karst is the furthest thing from agricultural land that most people can imagine, even though the dirt that has collected in holes among the jagged rock formations is highly fertile. Besides being rocky, La Piedra is a very dry region, although vast quantities of fresh water lie beneath the parched rock in the underlying limestone caves and catch basins.
What happened to Torre B? The company abandoned whatever project it was that they’d had in mind for La Piedra, and a few people who lived in nearby towns like Toro de Baní and Guerra moved in to take over. The biggest business of the1970s through the 1990s was cutting down and burning the local trees and shrubs to make charcoal, although some farmed the rocky land. Large stretches of it, however, remained abandoned.
CURRENT RESIDENTS: The majority of La Piedra’s current residents began to arrive after the strong winds and flooding caused by Hurricane Georges (1998) and Hurricane Olga (2007) killed many of their family members and washed away their humble homes and all their meager belongings. These families had built makeshift homes without plumbing of any kind, constructed mostly of cardboard and discarded pieces of tin, along the flood banks of the Ozama River in the capital city of Santo Domingo. In La Piedra they have built similar makeshift homes, where there is no threat of flooding from hurricanes or other tropical storms, but where water, plumbing, electricity, telephone, medical and other services are either unavailable or available only from costly or far away sources.
Residents have formed community organizations to try to convince the government to bring these services to La Piedra, but this has not happened and there is no guarantee that it ever will. The people survive by raising chickens, maybe a pig or two, and by growing yucca, guandules (pigeon peas), plantains, and bananas. Cash money is hard to come by, but the men work at chiripeo (odd jobs) whenever they can. Drinking water costs 50 pesos for a 5-gallon bottle, more than in the cities and towns, and more than anyone who is lucky enough to have a job can normally earn in a day, so most families drink the water that the government pipes in, which means both the adults and children constantly suffer from amoebas and other water-borne bacteria.
At least the government has provided a modern public school, although it is understaffed and under supplied, with little to no money for books, repairs or maintenance (the same as most public schools in the rural Dominican Republic). But there are classes for those children from kindergarten up to grade four at the Basic School of La Piedra, with plans to expand to grade seven. (There are no high schools nearby.) Many of these elementary-school children are older than the average children in their grade levels because the law mandating school attendance is not enforced in isolated places like La Piedra. Our own research has shown that only half of the teachers show up on a regular basis, except for the day each month when paychecks are passed out, and the children also attend on an irregular basis because their parents make them work at home or babysit while the adults work—when work is available.