Before our story begins ...

In 1990 four Adrian Dominican Sisters (Renee Richie, Carol Gross, Maurine Barzantni, and Rosa Reyes) were invited by Bishop Priamo Tejeda to work in the diocese of Bani.

He offered them living quarters in a retreat center in Villa Fundación, but encouraged them to work both in the established town of Villa Fundación and in the new community of Cruce de Arroyo Hondo (7 kilometers distant).

In 1992 two of the sisters, Renee and Maurine, began to work in the small impoverished community of Cruce.

Ministries in the Dominican Republic

The Adrian Dominican Sisters have been in the Dominican Republic since the 1940’s, ministering in schools, parishes and communities. The relationships created by early Dominican ministry paved the way for many of the successes in the Cruce.

About Cruce de Arroyo Hondo

The Cruce de Arroyo Hondo is located in the south of the Dominican Republic some 30 kilometers from Bani, the provincial capital of Peravia. The town was first called Cruce de Arroyo Hondo because it is situated at the crossroads leading to an established town named Arroyo Hondo.

The majority of the 220 families which made up the community had recently come from the mountain villages located near Ocoa, San Cristobal, and San Juan de Maguana. Many of them had been dispossessed of their land for the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Most of the adults were illiterate due to lack of school in many mountain areas. They settled on this desert-like land because there were factory jobs available 17 kilometers away, salt mines were operating nearby, and there was a promise of parcels of farm land for families.

What they found was barren land covered with cactus. Water was very scarce; there were no telephone lines, no health service in the community and no school. The lack of rainfall made farming only possible for those with resources to irrigate.

 

Our Story Begins

... a nun...a funeral procession...a meeting under a tree

Our Story Begins with a nun in a station wagon driving through a small rural community, Cruce de Arroyo Hondo, in the south of the Dominican Republic. Sister Maurine Barzantni came upon a funeral procession wending its way under the noonday sun to the cemetery. She stopped, offering the use of her vehicle as a hearse. The men suggested that she leave the car and walk with them. This is exactly what she did and this act changed the community forever.

The burial was of a four-year-old child. The male family members asked her to say the burial prayers. They had often seen her passing through and wondered when she was going to stop. That was the beginning.

Mujeres Unidas (Women United)

The tree where Mujeres Unidas met

A few days later Sisters Renee and Maurine met with a group of women under a mesquite tree. There were thirty present. They shared their stories and discovered that although they had come from distinct places, they all shared common needs and desires for their families.

Over a period of a year and a half the women continued to meet, share, pray and grow in self-esteem. They called their group Mujeres Unidas (Women United). They set priorities and goals.

Salida del Sol

Salida del Sol, the first pharmacy

Their first priority was health service. The primary problem was that one could go to consult with a doctor in another town, but there was always a prescription which had to be filled in the city which was some 30 kilometers away.

With the help of Catholic Charities they received their first inventory as well as training for operating a pharmacy. After a year of successful administration of the pharmacy, the women opened a medical laboratory funded by the Rotary Club. Meanwhile, doctors from neighboring communities began to volunteer in the Cruce de Arroyo Hondo.

A major concern in those days was the number of undernourished children. The women started a nutrition program teaching hygiene, nutrition, pre-natal and child care to the young mothers. Many of the very sick children thrived under this program.

The women called the project Salida del Sol (The Rising of the Sun). For them it was truly a new day, a new future filled with promise for their children.

"Our children have no school!"

A meeting of Mujeres Unidas

The Mujeres Unidas became very capable and confident. At each community meeting, however, a new cry was being heard. “Our children have no school!” The sisters indicated that their age and their feeble Spanish did not allow them to take on this responsibility.

Finally, the clamor could not be ignored. The town had been constantly growing as more and more families moved down from the mountains. A census taken in 1993 indicated that there were 500 children of school age in the community. The sisters agreed to seek a solution. That takes us on to another chapter.