Ceramic tiles at Fundacion Marlee-Jo, Agua Sabrosa, Dominican Republic

Life is unpredictable. I never imagined that I will establish a foundation for children in the Dominican Republic, and that I will become so deeply involved with other people’s life.
In 2010, after approximately two years of operating “Fundacion Marlee-Jo”, we concluded that the children of Agua -Sabrosa, and the entire village, need and deserve a real building. Most of the activities were conducted on the piece of land that we bought in the center of the village, under a very modest shed, which we built from coconut tree trunks and a Zinc roof. The shed that we loved and were initially so proud of, became too small to contain all the kids, and since it was open, we couldn’t leave anything there, plus whenever it rained, we all got wet.
We did not have a plan, nor enough money, but I knew that this is the right thing to do. God did not reveal himself, and I did not hear his voice, however, I had not even one doubt that this is his will.
I went to consult with Pastor Samuel, a sweet man with a big heart, and a smile that never sleeps, who, other than being the priest of a little community in the neighboring town El Limon,  happened to be a professional constructor.
After sharing with him both the vision and the urgency, he immediately replied: “I’m with you Oro, and I agree. This is the Lord’s will. I will help you in anything and everything that I can”. And so he did. Vladimir, the architect, told me that it would take him at least two weeks to complete a proper plan, and I replied that we begin working in two days, because that is God’s will. He called me the next evening and told me that he prepared something, and that he would need to be there when we begin marking the land.
With the help of local workers and a few experienced friends, we worked together to make this vision a reality. Somehow, the construction project, which aimed to improve the life and future of the children of Agua Sabrosa, became the holy mission of all the people involved. Doors opened, problems were solved, even the weather collaborated, and we completed the project in a relatively short time. The following Video on YouTube demonstrates the initial stage of the project. For some reason, it has been viewed more than a million times: La Zapata; Proyecto Construccion de Casa.
As we advanced quite rapidly with the construction, I thought that other than blocks and concrete, the building needs to have a soul. A few ideas were spinning in my head. One of them was to decorate the building with wall sculptures built on ceramic tiles. So I went to consult with the expert; “my clay sculpting mentor”, Jesus Guillen. When I arrived to his studio in Yamasa, he was out, helping friends fix their roof. So I went to look for him, to discuss the idea. “No problem” Jesus responded after listening to my idea; “We produce ceramic tiles here, on a regular basis, and I will show you how to make them. You can create on top of them whatever you like. When do you plan to begin this project?” he asked, and I smiled: “How about right now? I want it to be ready for the inauguration.” Jesus, a practical guy, responded: “I think we need 15 more minutes here on the roof. Right after that we will start your project.”
In the studio, Jesus uncovered an impressive mound of clay. He dug out a nice chunk, made a big ball with it, and began pounding it on the floor. He then turned it upside down several times and further flattened it with his hands until it looked like a round cake. Using a cardboard box and a hand made wood knife, he turned the cake into a thick square tile. “Here you go! That’s the way you do it. How many do you need?” “I need 10 tiles for the Fundacion MJ letters, and 7 more for the sculptures”, I replied.
I started working at 1 pm, and apart from joining the Guillen family for short meals, I didn’t stop working until the next morning at 11 am. The only thing I thought about, while working in the studio, was the kids reaction when they will see the sculptured tiles. I imagined them laughing, wondering and asking : “How did you do it Oro?”  When I was done, I thought there were a few details that could have been done better, but after working for 22 hours in a row, I was too exhausted to fix them. I left the tiles to dry on the shelves, which Jesus cleared out for me. I came back to pick them up, only a few weeks later, after they were fired in the kiln of the Guillen brothers. In the next stage, which took two more weeks, I sat down every evening to paint the tiles. Although, I loved the natural monochromatic “Terracotta” color, I thought the kids will enjoy much more the colorful version, so I painted each tile with a few layers of Acrylic colors.
When we completed the construction project, a nice white building stood in the middle of our land. The kids kept saying that this is the prettiest house in the village. They were running happily between the rooms, touching the walls and floors with their hands. Together, we chose the location of the tiles and attached them to the external walls of the building.
When everything was ready for the inauguration, we decided to do it together with the traditional carnival party in February 2011. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said, that this party was the biggest event the village of Agua Sabrosa had ever seen.
Today, the building serves as a school and as a recreational center for the entire village of Agua Sabrosa. Most of all, it is the children’s kingdom, where they can safely run around and play and dream like kids do.