The Soul of La Finca


The Soul of La Finca

The Story of Alta Gracia

Field Note #230

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Not far from the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, a small community known as La Finca sits nestled in a vast range of rolling green hills. Small houses adorn the valleys, slopes, and peaks, and no one is a stranger in this beautiful town. In the DR your neighbors are truly your neighbors; they are your friends and your family, and all doors are open so that loved ones can enter at any time. The same open-door policy even goes for new visitors, such as a group of W|W global advocates.

Led by the W|W DR team in late June, our advocates participated in a filter follow-up in La Finca where 38 ceramic water filters were distributed six months prior. The group was split up to reach as many households as possible in our limited time, but half of the advocates found themselves enraptured by a single woman and her family that were as bright and beautiful as the hills in which they lived.

It was Alta Gracia - a 67 year old woman - who first greeted our small group with big smiles, contagious laughter, and cinnamon and sugar coffee brewed to perfection. She lit up at the sight of Estermin, the young translator accompanying our group. She quipped and joked with him as if he were a part of her own family, and he reciprocated the same love and respect as he helped share her story with us.

However, not long after our arrival, we discovered that Alta Gracia had given her filter away to her mother. When asked why, she simply said that her mother needed it more. Although we were meant to move on to the next home and the next filter, our group could not take our eyes off of the bright woman sitting before us. Questions flowed from the advocates like water from a broken dam, and with each reply we listened in quiet awe.

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Although Alta Gracia has never been to school, she is considered a nurse within her local community. She learned much of her medical expertise just from taking care of her husband, who suffered from stomach issues and other bodily ailments. Anytime someone in La Finca feels sick or gets hurt, Alta Gracia is the first person they look for.

One elderly woman in particular lives with Alta Gracia and her daughter. This woman is not related to Alta Gracia by blood or any other obligation, but she cares for her and takes her to the hospital whenever she needs. Alta Gracia does this out of pure care for her friend, as everything she does is for the people of her community.

My schedule revolves around others.
— Alta Gracia

Alta Gracia further explained the water situation of her community, which resembles what many other surrounding areas face. A truck regularly brings gallon-sized jugs of water to La Finca, but that water is contaminated by its prolonged exposure to heat in a plastic container. Alta Gracia and her fellow community members will purchase this water or travel 30 minutes to the unsafe river when it is not dried up due to droughts. But since the implementation of ceramic water filters in La Finca, these water sources are no longer as costly or dangerous.

Alta Gracia gladly offered to accompany us to her mother’s home just up the hill. There, we met two of her brothers along with her mother Lydia A-Polanco, who was 88 years old. Lydia is the mother of 18 children, and when asked how many grandchildren and great grandchildren she had, she simply threw back her head and said: “Ay, Dios mío!”

Perched on the kitchen counter was the ceramic filter Alta Gracia had given to her mother. Estermin explained to the group that there was clear change in the health of people all over La Finca since the filters were implemented - Lydia included.

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Another one of Lydia’s daughters and Alta Gracia’s sisters confirmed this. Alta Gracia had disappeared during our conversation with Lydia, but she reappeared at the home of her younger sister with a bright smile. Seeing how naturally Alta Gracia called out to her neighbors on motor bikes, walked into homes with warm welcomes, and greeted strangers at her own door made it clear that her heart beat for La Finca.

The people call her ‘the soul of the community.’
— Estermin

After the third household it was time for the advocates to depart from La Finca. Alta Gracia and her family bid us all goodbye with warm smiles, waves, and even a few hugs. Although the W|W staff and advocates were sad to leave, we knew this community was doing just fine on its own with people like Alta Gracia and Lydia pouring love where it is needed.

Today, with the hustle of us new visitors not around, Alta Gracia is taking her friend to the local hospital, checking on sick neighbors, laughing over old stories with her family outside their homes, and tending to her beautiful flowers and herbs that overlook the hills of La Finca. 

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EcolabCarsyn Bernhardt