By: Rev. Jason Weber
The Campo Stare
I had heard about the ‘Campo Stare,’ but it was only last week that I actually experienced it. I was at a small village tucked deep in the rolling hills. It was September 8, the birthday of Mary Mother of God. I was teaching the children from the local school about Mary being Jesus’ mother and trying to teach them a song. I asked the children to repeat after me the first words of the song. Some of them did. Some others maintained a shockingly blank stare on their faces as though they had shut down, not knowing how to handle this new stimulus.
The parish of Bánica serves roughly 16 population centers. Pedro Santana, the parish of St. Joseph, serves more than 40 campos (villages). Ten of these campos are very remote and a few of them are quite disconnected from the rest of the world. It is in some of the more remote areas that we sometimes see the ‘Campo Stare.’ Fr. O’Hare and I theorize that it is from a lack of basic development as small children. Regrettably the culture here looks down upon weakness and upon children (there are, of course, exceptions), so the lack of attention and the lack of basic toys such as blocks or simple puzzles may contribute to a rather surprising inability to respond to basic stimulation such as words.
It is truly a small segment of the population that is like this, but from this small piece of information one can surmise to a certain extent how poor the education system is in the Dominican Republic. It is consistently rated by the Peace Corps as one of the worst education systems in the world — often times worse than countries that are more impoverished. Seeing this level of education, I almost always bring coloring paper and crayons and connect the lesson that I’m teaching with the image that they are coloring. This is not as necessary in Bánica or Pedro Santana, but it seems to be a good way to begin to reach the children in the campos. For the poorer campos, I’ll start by bringing a little ball and begin by tossing it one to another in a circle. I’m hoping that a little physical activity, as simple as it may be, may help to jog their minds as well.
But don’t let me leave you with this grave problem alone! There are beautiful families and children who are learning a great deal, as well. The principal of our school, for example, is the father of three little boys. The other day I was praying in the church, and he came strolling in with one of the little boys, hand in hand. They went up to the sanctuary, knelt to pray, then brought some flowers that could be used for the flower arrangement in front of the altar. His name is Hecfredes and he is truly an attentive father who is patiently teaching his children and raising them to the light of Christ.
There is, in the parish school, a little girl who is handicapped. Her classmates are learning to look after her and a little band of children walk her home each day. By caring for Maria, the children are learning to care for those who are weaker than they are and to see the struggles of others as opportunities to love.
The ‘Campo Stare,’ the problems with education in the country, and folks like Hecfredes and Maria, reveal the importance of the parish school that forms part of the Bánica Mission.
Road. Yes, that is a road. Some of the campos are only accessible by truck or motorcycle. I think you would need to carry the motorcycle across this one! Thanks to the generosity of donors and folks of the diocese, we do have a good pick-up truck geared up for roads like this one.
1) The successful beginning of a radio program.
2) That we can begin all day schooling very soon. Currently grades K-4 come from 8 a.m. to noon and grades 5-8 (plus pre-K) have class from 2 to 6 p.m. Most schools in the area are half-day. We are waiting for administrative details to be worked out, some final regulatory details to be taken care of, and the promised money from the government to be received (money from the government does not come with strings attached, unlike in the U.S.).
School is in session now and the year has gotten off to a good start. The work is cranking up as we begin catechesis sessions, sports, youth ministry, and more. If you have any questions regarding the mission, please feel free to send me an email. Other folks may have similar questions, and I can include them in the next newsletter. Thank you for your continued prayers and support!
Fr. Jason Weber continues the chronicle of his adventures as a missionary in Bánica. This blog was originally posted on the Bánica Mission website. Don’t miss Fr. Keith O’Hare and Andrew Lane’s appearance on EWTN’s Life on the Rock, November 7 at 8 p.m., discussing their new film portraying work at the Bánica Mission, Along the Border.