Today we’re hearing a story from Nate Slabach, our Vice President of Staff Care.
There is something so inspiring when I witness the positive, life-changing impact of long-term, holistic community development. Several months ago, during a visit to the Dominican Republic, I had the privilege of sitting with Ramona as she told me her story.
When the Students International micro-finance ministry site was opened in 2007, Ramona was the leader of the first group of women who received loans. With her first 8000 pesos ($200) loan she opened a small food stand and sold fried chicken, yucca, and plantains. After paying back her debt, she received her second loan which allowed her to buy a refrigerator, build a simple tin roof structure, and expand her menu to include breakfasts and rice and beans. With a third loan, Ramona also began selling basic food staples – rice, salt, oil, vegetables, crackers, and soft drinks.
Ramona faithfully attended the weekly Students International micro-finance group meetings as well as the women’s social work site meetings that were being held in her community. At the meetings, she participated in Bible studies and group discussions. Ramona said that always before she had been resistant to Christians, but through the Bible studies, “God began to change my way of thinking.” In 2008, Ramona gave her life to Christ and began attending a local church.
Then in 2012, her husband divorced her, and she lost her marriage, house, and business. In the midst of her devastating life circumstances, she decided to move to Santiago, a large city located an hour away. There she sold beans and crafts to survive. Even though she no longer lived near Students International, she maintained monthly contact with Daisy, the social work site leader. One day after processing with Daisy, Ramona came to realize that her extended family, her friends, and her children weren’t with her in Santiago, and they were what really mattered. Soon after she moved back to Jarabacoa where she reopened her small neighborhood store and once again became involved in the Students International micro-finance and social work ministry sites.
Ramona began praying that God would provide her a house. A small parcel came available and the owner graciously allowed her to purchase it on a land contract. She worked hard to pay off the property. Because of her good credit history with Students International, Ramona was given another loan for the construction of a simple house and attached space for her store. God answered her prayer!
As we ended our conversation Ramona said, “My prayer always is, God what is your purpose for me in my community?” Ramona uses her house to host a weekly cell group where ongoing discipleship takes place. In August, she opened her home to a Students International intern from the States who will be staying with her for eight months. Ramona not only is providing warm hospitality, but also helps the intern learn and practice Spanish in a cross-cultural immersion context. Ramona said, “The intern will be like another daughter and part of my family.”
Students International has been investing in Ramona for twelve years, and now she, in turn, is investing in others. When we think of holistic community development, that ultimately is the goal. That excites us!