My name is Juan, I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My story begins with my parents. Both of them are from Haiti, but due to difficult living conditions under the Duvalier government my parents left Haiti in 1979. Even though my father was a police officer living in Haiti was not safe, so my parents left everything they had and came to the Dominican in hopes of a better life and new opportunities.
My father came to work in the sugar cane fields. Even though he worked long days he did not make much money. He earned enough to pay for food and rent. My father did what he could to provide for my family, but as the years passed our family grew and the more challenging it was for my father. As much as my parents had dreamed of a better life, our family struggled to get by and had to overcome many hardships.
When I was born in 1991 my parents had already been living in the Dominican for 12 years. I am the middle child of a total of 9. I grew up in a “batey” (villages where sugar cane workers live). My childhood wasn’t easy because I didn’t always have what I needed, whether it be food, clothing, or shoes. However, I’m grateful because I had responsible parents, they taught my siblings and I good values and that we can be good people. So even though we didn’t have much growing up I had a good childhood. I grew up knowing what was good and what was bad. Growing up I spent a lot of time on the streets playing and I always running around my neighborhood. Surrounded by poverty meant I was also surrounded by a lot of things such as drugs, gangs, addictions, violence, murders and police brutality. All of this was normal to me. But because of what my parents taught me I learned to stay away from these things.
Everything was okay until my father started to lose his eyesight. I was only 13 years old at the time. Unfortunately, he could not afford medical help so he ended up losing most of his sight and was unable to work anymore. My mom had to take over and become the sole provider of our family. She’d try and find different ways to earn money. She’d make food to sell, she worked at a bakery, and she would also make “anafes” (makeshift stovetops) to sell. My siblings and I would help my mother out. I remember our family going to the trash dump looking for metal. My mom would use the metal scraps we found to make the “anafes”. We would also help her sell them in order to buy food. It was a very hard time for our family. At school other children would make fun of us because of our situation. Many times a week we did not have food and being hungry was part of our daily life.
From young age I had to learn to be responsible. I’d always do what I could to help my mother out. I also made sure I did well in school so that one day I could have a better future for myself and to be able to help my family. That was always one of my dreams growing up. Once I was 16 I started to work which allowed me to help my mother and my family. I worked for a couple of years in different jobs ranging from a candy shop making candy, to painting, welding, and industrial mechanics.
One day my friend, Carlos, saw me outside of my house and called me over to help him translate so he could talk to some Americans. Even though I didn’t know much English I knew a bit more than he did. After I helped Carlos, one of the Americans invited me inside the foundation where they were volunteering. I learned that this foundation helped children in my neighborhood and that the Americans were a YWAM missionary team. I ended up volunteering alongside them for a week and I really enjoyed it. After the team left, the lady who owns the foundation, Veronica, invited me to help with cooking and activities with the children. I liked what the foundation did so I dedicated my time outside my work hours. I also helped out when other teams came and worked alongside them.
A few months later Veronica asked if I wanted to become the main cook for the foundation. Veronica saw that I enjoyed cooking and working with the kids. At the time I was still working, but I decided to do both, so I took the position of the cook. I did this for several months, but I realized I had to choose one or the other. I thought about it for a long time and decided to quit my paying job. I remember a friend telling me I was dumb for leaving my job to cook for free. I told him not everything in life is about money. Remembering my past and knowing I’d be helping children gave me a real happiness. At the time that was more important to me than keeping my job.
For about 3 years I volunteered with the foundation helping Veronica to cook for the children and for teams. Then everything changed when a missionary doctor who worked with our foundation called me and got me connected with YWAM (https://www.ywamsanpedro.org/ ). There was a YWAM base here in the Dominican and in 2012 I joined their Discipleship Training School (DTS). DTS is a 5 month training program where I learned more about God. During the school I had the opportunity to go to Haiti for 2 months on outreach. I was able to see first had the need that there is in Haiti and understood why my parents chose to come to the Dominican so many years before.
After my DTS I chose to stay on as a full-time missionary with YWAM San Pedro. Although it wasn’t paid work I wanted to dedicate my life to serving God. I worked for two years being in charge of the kitchen. I learned how to organize myself and work with large budgets. I also worked in several children’s ministry and learned different ways to teach God’s Word. YWAM San Pedro also has a house building ministry where I led teams as the foreman on the house builds. I was also given the opportunity to go to Mexico for 3 months to do a Bible school, and later went to Israel to visit places where Jesus walked. In all I spent 5 years at YWAM San Pedro. I am thankful for these years as God gave me many opportunities to deepen my relationship with Him, but also to grow as a leader and gain new skills. During these 5 years, I was able to go back and get my High School Diploma. I also enrolled in an English Program to improve my ability to communicate with American teams and was able to further my education by taking night classes to become an electrician to increase my ability to help YWAM build homes for the needy.
My dream to have my own foundation began when I started to work with Veronica and her foundation. Seeing the need of children that come from low income families and from difficult neighborhoods — and also experiencing it first hand —made me want to do something about it. The children deserve an opportunity to reach God given potential: Our vision is to: In the name of GOD, reclaim the lives of the children in Villa Faro community and to break the cycle of poverty, increase literacy and to help and guide them to live out God’s plan to prosper them and not to harm them and God’s plans to give them hope and a future (from Jeremiah 29:10)
I thank God because once again He has opened the door for my dream to become a reality. As I begin Children of Peace Foundation I have the hope to be able to live out what God has placed on my heart. To give children a better outlook on life, to have their eyes open to new opportunities so that they don’t spend their time on the streets. To teach them about God and have His love for them transform their lives. For children to have a healthy development, have their basic needs met, to help them out with their school work, and give them a foundation of their knowledge of God. I know that God is with me and this all this can be achieved trusting in Him.