By: Willow Welter with Yrahisa Mateo

Poverty spreads a message of despair. The Church in the Dominican Republic spreads a different message — one of hope. Meet three inspiring Dominicans whose lives show the power of hope to transform entire communities.

When Hope Spreads: 3 Stories of Transformation

Poverty spreads a message of despair. The Church in the Dominican Republic spreads a different message — one of hope. Meet three inspiring Dominicans whose lives show the power of hope to transform entire communities.

Written by Willow Welter with Yrahisa Mateo
Photography by Abby Chu
Video by Jim Kallemeyn

The Dominican Republic is a place of contrasts. A place where the impossibly clear waters of the Caribbean Sea lap against gorgeous beaches. But a place where some families don’t have running water at home.

A place where European fashionistas buy Prada purses at high-end malls. But a place where some children can’t afford the uniforms required to go to school.

As these contrasts coexist in the island nation, so does another: one between despair and hope. While some Dominicans believe poverty’s insidious voice that says there’s no hope for a better life, others believe a different message. It’s one spread by Dominican churches that partner with Compassion to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

This message tells children that there are plenty of reasons to hope and that they have choices for their futures.

This truth is so strong that it spills outside church walls into the lives of the children’s siblings, parents and communities. Among those who heard this message of hope as children are José, Juan and Erika. Each of them was connected in some way to a Compassion partner church in the Dominican Republic. As adults, they are not only supporting themselves and their families, but they also have hearts of service and are giving back to their beautiful communities.

Dr. José Frank

Dr. José Frank grew up in a home that flooded every time it rained.

But he says that as a child, he didn’t realize his family lived in poverty — until he got sick. “We didn't used to go to the hospital when we were sick,” José remembers. “And I asked my mom why we didn't go to the to the hospital. And she said that it was because if we go to the doctor, he's going to give us a prescription, and we don't have money to buy it.”

But through Compassion’s program at a local church, José received regular health checkups. At his Compassion center, he also received food, Bible lessons, tutoring and playtime.

“Honestly, at first, food was my biggest motivation to attend,” José remembers. But as he developed a deep love of learning, he found new reasons to attend the center. His tutor Sehilyn taught him the importance of school and helped him with his homework.

Sehilyn, José’s childhood tutor, remembers: “He was always in any extra course or any extra training Compassion would do, whether that be computer science or music or English. You would always find him there trying to learn something.”


As a child in Compassion's program, Dr. José Frank's tutor Sehilyn and his sponsor's letters motivated him to work hard in school and dream of a better future.


“Sehilyn was a professional, and I wanted to be like her,” José says. “The love she showed me and the way she motivated me to move forward was essential to me.”

Sehilyn still remembers what José was like as a child. “He never sat still. He always wanted to research things, learn things. … He was always looking for things to investigate.”

José’s sponsor also influenced him to work hard in school. “Through the letters of my sponsor, I saw a different world than the one I was living in — a different reality,” José says. “She motivated me.”

Surrounded by poverty that was telling him to give up, José needed all the motivation he could get. “It's hard for children living in poverty to have dreams,” he says. “Thanks to Compassion and my tutor Sehilyn, who showed that no matter where we live or no matter where we grow up, we can be someone.”

“We have the right to dream no matter where we live.”

Thanks to his high grades and hard work, José earned a full government scholarship to attend medical school in the city. After graduating, José returned to his hometown because he wanted to serve his community.

José now works in a busy clinic where he helps many patients each day.

“I could have many options, but I decide to focus on Jesus because I know that outside of him there's nothing,” he says. To that end, José and his wife, Donnelly, are working to start a foundation that will focus on restoring the physical and spiritual health of children in need.

José says there’s one clear way he knows he broke the cycle of poverty: His own daughter doesn’t need to be registered in the program.

“I don’t know where I would be without the support of Compassion,” he says. “My tutor’s motivation was the foundation to become the man that I am now.”

Juan Soler

The community where Juan Soler grew up is known as one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Santo Domingo.

“Almost daily, someone would die,” Juan remembers. Whether to violence or drugs, he lost a lot of friends.

Juan knew two places he could go to escape the chaos of the streets. One was the rooftop of their small home where Juan loved to fly his homemade kite. The other was a church down the street.

“I would go to church with my grandma,” he says. “Grandma was a strong believer. That filled me with faith and my love for God.”

Juan’s parents had left him and his sister to be raised by their grandmother. The church they attended offered Compassion’s child development program, and Juan’s sister was registered there.

The church's Compassion program had a one-child-per-household limit. Although Juan wasn’t officially in the program, he still benefited from it. He would often attend group activities at the center with his sister, and the financial help the program provided for his sister eased the burden on his grandmother. That in turn helped her better support both children.

The influence of the church in Juan’s life is obvious. Unlike his friends who didn’t survive poverty, Juan held close to his faith. He studied hard in school instead of getting into trouble in the streets. After high school, he attended a public university where he earned his engineering degree. Then he went on to work for the city on traffic improvement and safety.

Juan recently started his own engineering company. His current project? Volunteering his time and money to design a new building for the church that helped him so much as a child. With colorful walls, gorgeous plants, a toy-filled playroom, a kitchen and several classrooms, the church is an oasis in this noisy, crowded neighborhood.

“I think the most important thing is for people to have hope,” Juan says. “And to have a place that will actually pay attention to them.”

Juan points out that the area has gotten a lot safer than it used to be. He credits the church and better law enforcement with the change.

Juan’s plans for the church aren’t yet complete; a large sanctuary on the top floor is under construction. Its windows look out over the community where people of all ages spend their evenings flying kites from the rooftops.

Dr. Erika Herrera

When Dr. Erika Herrera arrives on the dusty streets of a small community in the eastern Dominican Republic, children shout and run up to hug her.

They know her because she frequently visits their church and Compassion center. As a partnership facilitator, Erika works closely with churches to learn how Compassion can best support them as they serve the children in their unique communities.

Her path to this current career was a winding one beginning when Erika was a child in Compassion’s program.

Erika grew up in a one-room home without electricity or running water. While her mother stayed home with Erika and her three siblings, her father worked odd jobs as a house painter. Her parents struggled to send their children to school because of the costs involved and because public schools were unsafe in the 1980s, Erika says. But they couldn’t afford private school on her father’s unreliable income.

That’s when Erika’s parents learned that a local church offered a program that helped children in poverty. They enrolled Erika in Compassion’s program, and she began going to a private school run by te church. The program covered the cost of her uniform, books and other supplies.

Because so many expenses were covered, her parents were able to enroll Erika’s siblings in a better school. Soon, all four children were getting good educations because Erika joined the program.

“I had cousins who were four or five years older than me who, by the time I finished school, hadn't finished school yet because of all of the instability,” says Erika, who watched some peers and cousins get married by age 14 and pregnant by 15.

But Erika thrived as a student and graduated from her private Christian school. With the mentorship and support of tutors at her Compassion center, she enrolled in medical school.

“If I hadn't studied at that school, I may have not even considered that it was possible to actually get to study medicine,” she says.

Equipped with hope for her future and a service mind-set, Erika became an emergency room doctor. “It’s very hard, but it’s very satisfying,” she says of her work at the hospital. “It’s a time where people need compassion. They need mercy. They need you to feel for them and cry with them.”

As she served her community as a doctor, Erika got married and started a family. She gave back to the program that helped her so much by becoming director of a Compassion center.

After a few years of juggling all these roles, she grew weary in her work as an ER doctor. “There's a lot of domestic violence here. … And you'd see kids that would come punched or bruised because of their parents, and drugs. … I felt like, I didn't study for this. I didn't study for this brokenness and this violence. I was praying to God because I really wanted to change.”

It took two or three years of prayer before someone from Compassion Dominican Republic called her with a job offer for partnership facilitator. “I felt that God actually was pointing me to that path of working with Compassion and getting to the root of the problems I was seeing at the hospital.”

In her new career, she still gets to spend time with children, which she loves. She gets to serve people in need and show them mercy like she did during her time as a doctor.

“I feel like being a doctor and studying medicine was something completely necessary for my life,” reflects Erika. “And the work that I do right now is also very important because I have to look at the child and I have to see him as an entire, whole being — his own person and what he needs — and create plans and strategies to actually get him what that is. And that's something I learned while studying medicine.”

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Churches spread hope through holistic child development.