Every day the Buckner Family Hope Center at Villa Esfuerzo, Dominican Republic offers programs and services to help strengthen and empower their community members. The literacy program, however, is reaching the community on both a physical and spiritual level.
The situation is bleak for those who do not know how to read and write. Because they lack the basic literacy skills, adults are forced to work in menial jobs on the streets. The work is labor-intensive, the pay is low and without the necessary literacy skills, their future is dark.
To combat this, the Hope Center offers a reading and writing class twice a week to adults. Guariomex De Los Santos is on staff with the Hope Center, but volunteers his time to teach the literacy classes. He understands better than most the struggles adults face when they don’t know how to read and write.
De Los Santos used to work in the streets cleaning shoes until someone came and helped him in a similar way he is now helping his students.
“I am giving by grace what I received by grace,” De Los Santos said. “God has given me more than I deserve, and I know my work is not in vain. I am really sorry we as humans need money to survive because the most beautiful work you can do is the work that doesn’t need money, so that is what I have been doing in my life, and I am going to keep doing it that way.”
His service is reaching people like Dichoso Angomas. Angomas works on the street doing two different transportation jobs. With his tricycle, he hauls construction materials and supplies to different locations. When not transporting construction supplies, he picks up trash and hauls it out of the community. The work is menial and exhausting. He knows if he could read and write, his odds of finding better employment would increase.
Desperate to learn how to read and write, Angomas went to the Hope Center, asking if he could partake in their education classes. He was grateful when he was accepted into De Los Santos’ literacy class.
Twice a week, Angomas joins the other adults, learning first the letters and slowly putting them together to form words and sentences. He never misses a class. He knows how important this is for his future.
“Anywhere I go, I can get a job because I can read or write,” he said. “To read and write is important for many other things of course, but that is the most important to me.”
It hasn’t been an easy road, but he is diligent, and his hard work is starting to show.
“When I first started the class, I didn’t know anything about reading or writing,” Angomas said. “Now, I can read so much more. I was just sitting here in the classroom the other day, looking out the window, and I saw the writing on the store across the street. I excitedly told Guarionex, ‘I know what that says on the wall.’”
For De Los Santos, seeing his students get excited and improve in their reading and writing skills is his greatest reward.
“The best satisfaction is seeing the result in each of them and when they come and tell me the stories of their progress – how they don’t need to use their fingerprint to sign important documents because now they can sign their name – it’s so fulfilling to have that kind of feedback from them. When Dichoso said he can read everything, every word, it fulfills me, and there is no amount of money that would take away that satisfaction from me.”
At the end of the class, De Los Santos holds a graduation ceremony for the students. The skills they learn in the Hope Center literacy class allows them to attend the public school to continue taking classes to further improve their reading and writing skills.
And as a special reward, De Los Santos plans to take all the graduates to a movie because none of his students have ever been to the theater. The movie is in English with Spanish subtitles and now that they can read, they will be able to read the subtitles.
It’s hard to tell whether the students or De Los Santos is more excited for graduation day.
“Even though they are adults, I see my students as though they are my children,” De Los Santos said. “I am so happy with their accomplishments.”
Story and photos by Aimee Freston