Since 2006 GRACE Cares has partnered with a local hero, Ruben Ottenwalder, to assist the vulnerable population in La Lomita located in the hills of San Jose province in the central part of the Domincan Republic. Past projects included care and support for the elderly, a chicken coop to provide food for the poorest children, a water project, school improvements, a community center, and various donations of school necessities, art supplies and shoes. Overtime the projects went beyond just La Lomita and are now throughout the Baitoa area.
Ruben works with several groups from the US and Dominican Republic including GRACE Cares on a range of projects improving his community. In 2011 GRACE Cares helped form HeartsDR a Dominican Republic based NGO as an umbrella organization for all of the work the community is doing. GRACE Cares continues to work with Hearts DR, find out more under Current Projects.
La Lomita Community Center
In 2007, GRACE Cares provided funding for the construction of a community center in La Lomita. The simple structure consisting of a floor, roof, benches and tables is always in use. The community center is a safe place for the children to play and is where they receive healthy meals. It is used for community meetings and as the clinic for mobile medical services. The land was donated locally and community members contributed labor and materials.
La Lomita Water Project
In 2008 funds were provided to build a well for La Lomita. The houses, tightly clustered together, did not have a well or water access. Collected rain water is not sanitary for bathing and cleaning because of rodents and bacteria. Before the well was put in, community members, mostly women and children, had to carry clean water from a half hour away. Needless to say there was never enough. GRACE Cares raised funds for this project and a well pump was located. Local volunteers assisted with digging the well and a professional company did the installations. Pipes were laid from the well up through the hillside bringing water directly to the homes. Now the well pump is turned on once per day (when the electricity is on) and all of the residents can fill their water tanks with plenty of clean water.
San Jose Adentro Elder Care
The goal of this project was to provide a safe environment and care for elders who have no family members left in the community. Economic challenges in rural areas have forced many Dominicans to move to larger cities or to immigrate to the US. Ill and elderly family members are left without the traditional safety net.
Ruben Ottenwalder and Jesus Valerio built a small house, and hired a local woman to provide care for the sick and elderly. Project funding also provided food and medical transportation as needed. For four year, the home housed a number of individuals. By 2010, alternative housing and care arrangements were made for remaining residents and the home was given to a local family. The current residents continue to provide temporary shelter for community members in need until permanent arrangements are made.
Poverty is the root of the difficulties in La Lomita. Without jobs it is challenging for parents to provide their families with food. To increase local sustainability GRACE Cares helped start an egg business. Incredibly, this project was funded by a 12 year old girl, Grace Springer-Goldberg who raised $1500 selling jewelry she designed and crafted. Additional funds were raised for the chickens, feed, and pay for workers during start-up.
This project faced challenges with disease and finding affordable quality feed. The project eventually reached a sustainable level where egg sales generated enough money to cover costs with eggs left for children in La Lomita. The feeding and care of the chickens has been perfected but the enterprise needs to be done on a much greater scale to have a strong impact.
Many of the families in Baitoa and other rural areas of the Dominican Republic can not afford to cook with natural gas. Instead they use traditional open stoves, which require large quantities of wood, produce lots of smoke, and are very inefficient. Efficient stoves save time gathering wood, preserve local resources, and improve the respiratory health of the women preparing food for their families. After studying and experimenting, a design for an efficient stove using locally available materials was created. During the summer of 2011 Joe Busch worked with Ruben and his team to build the first twenty of these stoves. The profits on these stoves are used to provide subsidized stoves to needy families in the community. Read more about the success and plans for the Stove Project.
School Improvements and Collections
Ruben and his team have worked on a number of school improvement projects. The government and foreign-NGOs built a beautiful new school building with lovely bathroom facilities. They failed to provide a well or other source of water for the school so Ruben and the community installed a water tank. They have also helped build a high school in walking distance from their community piece by piece. The community first built the roof and some walls. As funds become available the team has been pouring concrete floors and adding exterior walls to the classrooms. GRACE Cares has collected and distributed Art Supplies and school supplies on numerous occasions. Read more about our past and ongoing School Improvement projects with Hearts DR.