When Alondra and Casandra return home this Christmas they’ll see their mother, brothers and sister again for the two week break from school and the residence for girls where they live most of the time. Their home is a 15-foot square, two-room concrete structure in the poorest neighborhood of Azua province in the Dominican Republic. When Alondra and Casandra return to the Hogar Teresa Toda after the holidays, more than likely they will be malnourished and a few pounds lighter.
The Hogar Teresa Toda is a refuge for girls and an opportunity for a better life. Girls come to the Carmelite Sisters of the Teresas of Saint Joseph who run the Hogar either because of government intervention in a situation of abuse or domestic violence or because they are suffering in extreme poverty and have been referred by a church or their parents have asked for help.
Sr. Josefina, Director of Hogar Teresa Toda, with her arm around Alondra, Casandra in super girl pink, with the girls' siblings in the kitchen area of their home.
When our Program Administrator, Juan Urrea, was in the Dominican Republic this past spring he traveled with the Hogar’s Director, Sr. Josefina Acevedo Marmolejos, on some of the home visits. The Sisters try to maintain a connection between the girls and their families, so at least every other month, they return home for a weekend when it is safe and appropriate.
The CARITAS girls come to the Hogar from families struggling with extreme poverty. When they go back to see their families, the Sisters make sure to send along a care package. Juan said this is typically five pounds of rice, some cooking oil, beans, as well as some cookies or candy. Even so, the Sisters candidly shared with Juan that the girls come back from Christmas and Easter break hungry.
Casandra proudly displays her organized closet.
One of the homes that Juan visited with Sr. Josefina was that of Alondra, 11, and Casandra, 9, in the neighborhood known as La Bombita in Azua. Juan said Azua is a rather nice looking city, but La Bombita reminded him of some of the projects of the United States, concrete buildings, heavily over-populated with large numbers of people living in small spaces.
When they arrived at the home of Alondra and Casandra it was after five o’clock. They made their way down a narrow passage between two concrete houses and emerged to find an even smaller concrete house. The two rooms that made up the home consisted of a kitchen and a room with a large mattress where the girls’ mother slept with all of her children. There was no running water or indoor plumbing. A rooster shared the living space.
Alondra and Casandra have two brothers and a younger sister. It is unknown if the boys attend school. Children are able to attend public schools with no tuition costs, but school supplies, required uniforms, not to mention meals, are not included.
Alondra and Casandra have the good fortune to attend Colegio San Jose for their education, as do all residents of the Hogar. Colegio San Jose is an academically elite school also under the direction of the Carmelite Sisters. Colegio San Jose has full-day morning and evening sessions and covers pre-school, primary and secondary education.
A typical day for the girls at the Hogar starts at 7:00 a.m. with breakfast. The girls take care of keeping their designated space clean, do assigned chores and complete homework from the previous day. A tutor and volunteers provide remedial instruction in a dedicated classroom within the Hogar for girls who need extra help. The girls also have access to a well-equipped computer room in the building. Following lunch, they board a mini-bus to Colegio San Jose which is about ten minutes from the Hogar.
Some of the Hogar girls with Juan Urrea, CARITAS' Program Adminstrator, and one of the volunteer tutors. In pink stripes left of Juan is Ranyelis, Casandra is to the right of her, beyond the girl whose face is hidden is Rosaura, Katy Ramona stands against the wall, seated in yellow is Alondra, next to her is Silvia Margarita drawing, Nayeli is next holding up her drawing, and on the left at the corner of the table working on her drawing is Angelina.
The computer lab at the Hogar.
Colegio San Jose, the school run by the Carmelite Sisters where girls from the Hogar enrolled in CARITAS' Dominican Republic child sponsorship programs attend.
After school they return home to the Hogar for dinner and exercise or leisure activities. Occasionally the Hogar has a movie night. Girls from age five through 18 live at the Hogar.
Upon graduation from secondary school (high school) the girls must move on. Juan said the Sisters help the girls to integrate into society, find a job, or look for ways to pursue higher education. On a visit through the city, Sr. Josefina, pointed out Hogar alumni, so to speak. Juan met a young woman working at a pharmacy and heard about other successes, such as a current teacher.
One of the classrooms at Colegio San Jose, the school attended by girls from the Hogar sponsored through CARITAS child sponsorship programs in the Dominican Republic.
Sponsors of girls from CARITAS Dominican Republic child sponsorship programs which serve students at the Hogar really make a difference for them with their care and support.