Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unsung Heroes - Sandra Tineo

I've decided to do a few blogs on unsung heroes. We live in a hard world, but there are some people who unselfishly and sacrificially give of themselves to make the world a better place. One of those people is Sandra Tineo.

Sandra was born and raised in a slum of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, called Aguas Negras. Translated into English, it literally means "Black Water," and is named for the sludge that often runs through the streets, and often the homes of this poor community. I got to meet Sandra a few years ago when I was on a fact-finding mission for our church.

Like many others who meet Sandra, I was left with a lasting impression of a woman who loves her people and has a red-hot commitment to improve their lives. She told me that her activism started innocently enough; she asked her pastor, in a better part of town, to start a satellite church in Aguas Negras, because she believed in the power of the local church. When he said "no" she was devastated. But as she continued to pray, she felt God telling her that it was she who was supposed to begin this work - this was her calling.

That was her first venture into community transformation. Since that time Sandra has started a school, and organized health workshops and medical clinics. Sandra is an unassuming woman, simply looking to meet the needs of the people as she sees them. She has stumbled into a holistic approach to community development. Recognizing the need for jobs, she started a cottage sewing industry for some of the ladies. Seeing the need for greater communication, she opened a room with computers with internet capability for the locals.

Growing up in this neighborhood, right at the mouth of the San Carlos River and below the cities sewage lagoons, she had first-hand experience with sewer water running through the streets and even the homes of many in the community. She began to seek out partnerships to build better homes that were built above the flood levels, or often simply to raise the floor level three feet and do necessary repairs.

Touring through the neighborhood with Sandra it's clear how much she is loved. In the streets and in every home she is greeted with a smile; children call out her name. Recognizing her gifts, at least one North American Church has offered to put her on their staff and continue to allow her to work among her people. In typical Sandra fashion she declined because, in her eyes, it would have put her above the people she served.

So she continues to work where she grew up, helping where she can. When someone needs medical care, she will try to connect them with an agency or a donor that can assist. When a crisis arises, Sandra meets it with the faith that has allowed her to build a thriving ministry in a slum. She has been called the Mother Teresa of Puerto Plata for obvious reasons. Their motivation was/is to serve Jesus Christ through serving the "least of these." A true unsung hero - Sandra Tineo.
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