A beautiful stained glass window from the first Cathedral in Latin America, built from 1512 and onwards, by, guess who? The Spaniards of course. Even if I would not give them the glory for this particular window. This is obviously from a much later time.
The heat is overwhelming, even at 08.00 in the morning when Andres and Roger, a visiting retired CEO from Orlando YMCA, US, pick us up at Balcero Hotel just after a delicious breakfast with lots of tropical fruit. We are on our way to a very exciting place of history, and not only a very nice and cosy piece of history. As Andres opens the gate to this building, he explains to us that this used to belong to the chief of the secret police. At that time, in the fifties, this property was far away from the city centre and rather isolated. It was a house of fear, and people were held prisoner here and being tortured, and rumors has it that under the concrete floor in the basement there are a lot of dead people buried.
“One day an Italian guy came to my office”, tells Andres, “and he was behaving in mysterious ways. He looked around himself to make sure that we were alone and that nobody listened in. Then he whispered: You are sitting on more money than you can spend, if you give me 15%, I will show you where they are!” Andrew became quite nervous, especially when this guy wanted him to follow him in a big van going to some unknown place. He called his Board Chair and explained what was happening, but he decided to join this Italian on the secret expedition. They ended up at the YMCA property outside the city centre, the house that used to belong to the Secret Police Chief, and the Italian takes some heavy equipment from his van and they walk up the dark stairs inside the house.
In a corner close to the ceiling, he knocked on the wall and they could both hear the hollow sound from the inside. There was a secret room, and with the heavy tools the Italian opened the wall and stuck his arms inside the hole in the wall. Empty! Some people with the same knowledge had already been there and emptied the treasure inside the wall. When the dictator was killed in the early 60s the associated of the President had had to escape from the country with no time to pick up the hidden jewelry and dollars, but when things calmed down, they obviously had been able to send some secret representatives anyway, and the money was gone.
For Andres this was no big deal. An exciting day had come and gone, but as always, Andres has his own treasure – a YMCA full of shining eyes and happy smiles and a staff with no less smiles on their faces.
In two days now we have visited all 4 YMCA centres in and around Santo Domingo, and I have seldom seen so well maintained and well managed schools and activity centres anywhere. But Andres himself is a good construction worker, in addition to being an experienced business person coming from his own very successful business of selling copy machines. He gave up a flourishing business back in 1996. The YMCA was about to be declared bankrupt, but the newly elected President, Andres, did not want to give up. A few years after they hired him as General Secretary and he was able to put the YMCA on right course and make it into the blooming YMCA it is today. Congratulations! It took hard work and a lot of personal sacrifices!
Below you see Roger from Orlando, the Centre manager, called the Pastor, me, Andres and Romulo.
A view down the street outside the centre, a relatively poor neighborhood but in a good location close to an excellent local YMCA.
As you can see below, the flowers are growing willingly and making a blue door very beautiful.
All the children were eagerly joining for the group photo. They are coming from a poor background, but no lack of smiles and happiness and ordinary childhood joy!
Here we have moved out of the city, away from the secret police and to a small village in a very poor situation. The playground behind one of the buildings was once donated by Canadian SIDA, and when the headmaster wants us to see the playground, the door is open for a few minutes and all the children flow out like a playful river and the playground is immediately full of energetic activities!
Look at those faces!
This is what the YMCA is promising at this school, the only school in miles around the village.
Andres is discussing some business paper with the centre manager before we go for a walk through the village. It turns out that this village is a real YMCA village, in more than one sense.
Below you can observe what poverty looks like. We saw the same on the countryside in Nicaragua. These huts are almost falling apart, but still families live on the inside of them.
We were invited inside one of the houses, and this is a typical kitchen, behind the curtains the family sleeps on the floor.
The YMCA is doing house by house. It takes 5 days to knock down an old house of woods and to build a new one from concrete. They start on a Monday and in the weekend there is a ceremony with handing over of keys and celebrations for the family and friends before they move into the new YMCA built house. Seven houses are reconstructed in this way, and over the next weeks two more are in the process and there are plans for more to come. Roger from Orlando is one of the retired volunteers coming to build houses, and they also fundraise at home for the project before they arrive in Dominican Republic.
In-between all these YMCA houses Andres has a plan to build a house with toilets and showers for the neighborhood. It goes without saying that we are a very popular little group walking around amongst the villagers, and Andres is a beloved character here, and so is Roger.
The children are full of trust to all of us because we are walking together with Andres, and they are not afraid to give us a hug, foreigners as we are!
Life is not always just and fair, and absolutely with no reason whatsoever I am honored at the Mayor’s office and given a diploma to declare me an honored visitor to the village. On second thought there are plenty of reasons, the mayor wants to honor Andres and the YMCA here by honoring Andres’ visitors.
We return to Santo Domingo where Columbus once landed with his ship and officially rediscovered what all the indigenous people already had discovered long ago – a beautiful island in the Caribbean!
This is the beautiful Cathedral from 1512, full of treasures and beautiful sculptures, a real place of worship. I shall also not hide the fact that the excellent air conditioning in the church maybe felt as the biggest blessing of all! 🙂
Below is the first mansion of the Governor of the island and the architecture is simple, but elegant and very beautiful.
Now on our way to Andres’ home for a very special party together with friends and the National Board! Good night!