What determines one’s upward mobility? Was it truly just hard work and determination? Since I grew up surrounded by people who went to work, earned money, fixed up their homes, threw the football around and vacationed occasionally in Florida, I internalized the notion that if you work hard enough, you could rise the social ladder and live well.
So why was the scene so different in the DR? My naïve brain circulated the question: why couldn’t people just work? As 17 Dominicans and I zoomed through the narrow streets of my friend’s barrio (low-socioeconomic neighborhood) in a gutted 10 passenger van, my eyes were wide open, taking in the sights and smells. As we bumped down the road, I was particularly struck by how many young moms were sitting outside dilapidated homes holding children and peeling veggies. A friend who had researched family statistics in the DR told me that many women are single mothers and must find means to provide for their family. So how were they providing for their families? If they didn’t have jobs and they didn’t have a spouse’s income, how could they live sustainable, dignified lives? While I was excited to be on campus sharing the gospel with University students, my mind kept wandering to these single mothers. Who was helping these moms?
One day while sharing my thoughts with a friend working for another mission organization, she shared about some soap she recently purchased. The soap was produced by a small group of women who ran a tiny local soap factory. As I investigated said soap company, my interest continued to grow. An inventive and compassionate Chilean American founded the little enterprise with the vision of bringing hope to women living in difficult conditions in a specific low resource neighborhood that he visited frequently. As the founder shared more about his motivation for the company, my eyes were opened more and more to the complexities of poverty. I could no longer hold tight to the notion that anyone could find work and pull themselves out of impoverished situations. It just isn’t that simple. Living in this neighborhood, the woman faced extreme barriers to employment and upward mobility. Childcare, transportation, job opportunities, adequate work clothes and many other factors played into their lack of employment. But this small business was eliminating many of these deterring factors making it possible for these women to work.
More, the soap factory was transforming the community around it. Women were going to college, children had appropriate footwear, families paid school fees, homeowners repaired their homes, and most of all, there was renewed hope. Undeniably, I wanted to be a part of it. What an amazing way to partner with God to bring restoration to a community! God began to stir in my heart the desire to be a part of community transformation by creating employment for the underemployed. My ongoing prayer is: God, how can I use the passions and talents that you have given me to partner with the Holy Spirit in driving change in hearts and communities?