This month I was able to visit three schools with our microfinance partner, ASPIRE in the Santo Domingo area. I am continuously inspired by the stories I hear in the field; the stories of passionate, dedicated, believers who have given so much of themselves to start a school in their community to provide a better education for students. I wish you could see their wonderful work first hand because I know it would inspire you as well. For now, here is one of a married couple whose story of perseverance and sacrifice is truly humbling.
Together Teodora and her husband Eusebio de León run Centro de Estudios Siloe (Study Center Siloe), a low-cost, Christian school located in the Las Americas region of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In this community there is no public school nearby. The distance combined with the unreliable teacher attendance and the overall poor quality of education in the public schools eventually drove mothers in the area to come to Teodora, asking if she would start a better school close by. Teodora was an experienced teacher and her husband, Eusebio a pastor. They listened to the concerns of the mothers and started a school in their home in 1996 with 13 students. It was a humble beginning with the kids sitting on empty cans of tomato sauce before they could afford plastic chairs. When the school began to grow, they gave up the majority of their home, their comfort and space in order to expand the school. They had already converted most of their house into a church so with the continuous school expansion they’ve left just a small room for themselves to live in. It is not enough space for them but still they reflect on their story and their situation with joy in their hearts. Eusebio says that “The most important thing about our work is seeing that children from the school who didn’t go to church before are now attending our church with their families.”

They have come a long way in 16 years. They now have 125 students, K-4th grade, and provide each student with breakfast every morning. They only charge $10 per month for tuition and still some families cannot afford the cost, so Teodora and Eusebio allow some to attend free of charge. Teodora says one of her biggest challenges is receiving late or no tuition from parents. She meets with parents who aren’t paying and kindly reminds them that without their payments she cannot pay the teachers and she struggles to provide breakfast for the students. When asked what her motivation is to persevere Teodora said “We are thinking about the future; about the future of the children. If we don’t educate them today, they’ll be worse off tomorrow. If we teach them, we can help prevent crime in the community. We don’t want them staying home, we want them here learning.”

Teodora and Eusebio are grateful for all that God has done for them. They are thankful for the progress they’ve been able to make, and getting a loan to expand their school has been part of that progress. They received a $2,700 loan from Edify’s partner, ASPIRE, in September 2011, combined it with their personal savings and built four bathroom stalls, a new set of stairs, and two new classrooms. Eventually they want to build a cafeteria, replace their tin roofs with cement, and build even more class rooms. Their vision is to expand to 8th grade in the next 5 years. Teodora says “The parents in the community are always asking me, when I will have fourth, fifth, sixth grade. So I know the demand is here.”

Teodora and Eusebio have three children, and are currently looking for a new place to live. Despite the challenges they are faced with daily, they say they “are content because they are doing the work of God.”