Libros Para Los Niños Completes 12th Mission Trip to Episcopal Schools in Dominican Republic
By Julie Wever
ESSEX, NY – The Libros Para Los Niños (Books for Kids) traveling team from St. John’s Episcopal Church, Essex, NY, recently completed its twelfth mission trip to Episcopal schools in some of the most economically depressed areas of the Dominican Republic. This veteran service team has been visiting the Dominican Republic during the last week of October, after what is traditionally considered hurricane season in the Caribbean region. The mission of Libros Para Los Niños is to support the best possible education for children in high need areas of the Dominican Republic and Haiti by providing the education tools to make this possible. Libros Para Los Niños postulates that an education is the most important gift that can be given a child and it is the one gift that cannot be taken away.
In addition to paying their own travel costs, each team member is responsible for providing and transporting 50 pounds of scholastic materials. As they whizzed and bumped along their route this year, members of the traveling team reported they were struck by the fact that during more than a decade of travels, “we have seen more of the Dominican Republic than most Dominicans have.” Past projects of the independent team have spanned the country end to end, including Jimaní on the Haitian border (Colegio San Pablo Apóstol), Puerto Plata (Cristo Rey) in the north, Barahona (Albergue Jesús Peregrino and Colegio La Redención) in the south, and Angelina (Santiago Apóstol) in the east.
Planning ahead is key for the team and is done in close collaboration with their mentor and spiritual guide, the Venerable P. Ramon Garcia. “Father Tony” as he is known affectionately throughout the Dominican Republic, has directed Libros Para Los Niños to the schools with the greatest needs. With Fr. Tony directly, or as an intermediary, the priests in charge of those schools generally submit “wish lists” up to a year in advance. Those wishes, which have resulted in projects for 2018, include:
Purchase of science lab equipment, and completion of work for the science lab in Saint Esprit in Lascohobas, Haiti, under the direction of Fr. Jacques Deravil
Scholarships, which make it possible for any child to attend school—or teen to continue their education—in a college or university
Purchase of food staples for the Albergues (nursery schools) of Infantil Cristo Salvador (barrio of La Yaquita de Pastor in Santiago) and Buen Samaritano (barrio of Ensanche San Martin de Porres in San Francisco de Macorís). Libros founder, Janice Summers Bedoukian states, “You cannot educate a hungry child.” So, these shopping trips in the company of 93-year-old Fr. Hipolito and his wife are both central to the mission of Libros Para Los Niños and, according to the team, lots of fun. Each albergue has good storage facilities and freezers available for storing food staples such as 300 pounds of rice and 60 pounds of red and black beans. The food generally lasts each albergue two to three months and helps provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches for children who otherwise would have little.
Purchase of a photocopier, scholastic materials, and supplies for Colegio Eden Infantil, a rural school, as well as purchase of a photocopier that will be put to centralized use, and expansion of a science lab in Colegio La Anunciacion, Santiago. Electricity in the seven-classroom Eden Infantil is only available for half the day. Nevertheless, the facility helps provides more than 60 students with the foundational education necessary to move on with their middle and high school studies.
Along with advance planning, flexibility is key to the ongoing success of Libros Para Los Niños. For the first time in the team’s experience, their momentum was impeded early in the trip by a one-day, countrywide work strike, or huelga, by labor unions protesting gas prices. Stores were closed, and the streets empty of traffic, which was unusual for the area. And the team reported spending “a rather dull day in the hotel in Santiago watching Army troops patrol the streets.” However, the team members’ resilience was rewarded mid-week when Fr. Tony invited them to attend the 100-year anniversary celebration of Los Todos Santos, his home church in La Romana. The church was founded by sugar cane workers from the British Isles. The spirit-filled service was alive with song, and participants acknowledged the many hands that make the church the vibrant center of city life it has been for the past century.
The 2018 Libros Para Los Niños traveling team gives sincere “¡Muchas gracias!” and “Merci!” (thanks) to private and public donors, the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, The Episcopal Church in Vermont’s Alleluia Fund, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, for helping make their work possible.
Julie Wever is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church,Essex, NY, and a member of the Libros Para Los Niños traveling team. She has completed four mission trips, including the 2018 trip.
In the featured image: Colegio Eden Infantil students and teacher in Los Conucos, DR