Last month, several members of Sevier Heights Baptist Church traveled to the Dominican Republic. The group went with Knoxville-based One Vision International to a poor area outside La Vega in the middle of the country. 10News' Steve Phillips was one of 16 to make that journey.
Last week, he told us of the importance of baseball in the Dominican, and how One Vision is trying to help kids using baseball to further their education.
Now, we head back to the Dominican as Steve shares the remarkable story of an incredible woman named Matilda, who took back her neighborhood by using her small home to teach and play with about 100 children, and how her vision attracted help from One Vision.
The valley of La Vega attracted the attention of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Conquistadors because of its gold. It was a telling beginning for the city of 300,000. Today, many are still eking out an existence with little or no help, or notice, from the outside. That is true for the residents of the district called Carrera de Palma, north of La Vega.
"This neighborhood, I would say, is in between. It's in the middle of everything. I have seen neighborhoods that are extremely poorer than this one," described Edgard McKenzie of One Vision.
The poverty there is nothing like we saw in Haiti last year. Still, there is a great need, and not just for baseball equipment.
"It's very hard because they have very basic needs that need to be met and you just pray that they will be supplied," said Tiffany Webb with One Vision.
When we were playing baseball the kids, they were either running around barefoot or with their socks and the field was gravel. It was just amazing to see how fast they could run with just their bare feet.
"They have so little, but they are so appreciative of everything that you do and everything that you do have," said Matt Sellers with One Vision.
Food and clothing are the most urgent needs, but not the only issues there. Absentee fathers and poverty opened the door for drug dealers. Matilda Santiago Herrera raised two daughters there. When she suspected drug dealers were moving in, she moved into action.
"Yes I have seen a lot of children that their parents are in jail because they have done something bad. That's what I am trying to do. Rescue those children so they don't follow the example of their parents," Matilda explained through an interpreter.
Matilda's house is well off the main road through what barely qualifies as an alley. In her small three-room home, she began a pre-school and after school program that grew to 100 children. Her camps drew even more, up to 300 children. One Vision was already operating in the Dominican, and met Matilda last year and formed a partnership. Now One Vision volunteers are regular visitors and Matilda's dream is taking wings.
"It's not something I can see like I am seeing you right now, it's something spiritual that we can see far beyond. Only the Lord is the one that plays that in your heart," said Claudia Mckenzie with One Vision. "And this year, we had a big achievement thanks to One Vision, no children failed their class. Everybody improved their class."
"One Vision has a desire to come in and of course, reach people for Christ, but their whole desire is to be able to help a community be transformed, not just by the power of the gospel, but to be able to have opportunities educationally," explained Carl Smith, Sevier Heights minister of families.
"If young people can get a vision of this is a hope, this is something a goal that we can try to achieve with education," said Bryan Delius, One Vision volunteer.
You might think with all these volunteers and One Vision's support, Matilda might be satisfied. You'd be wrong.
"We are hoping that governor and politicians will help us, so the children can practice sports, leave the streets, and have a better education," she said.
Which creates another need for One Vision International.
You can learn more about One Vision International and their work in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti at their website, www.onevisionintl.org.
Some of the Knoxville volunteers were youngsters themselves. Next Wednesday night on the Nightbeat, Steve talks to the teens and an eight-year-old who went on the trip, and to their parents about that decision.