How do we know if our idea of help is what people actually need?
What would happen if we offered excellent eduction—the best education in the country—to those with the least access to any education? The Makarios school on the north coast of the Dominican Republic arose from that very question.
Words By: Iesha Boitmann | Photos By: Eric Morales & Rachel Sawyer
The key to the success of Makarios is summed up in one word: intentionality. They are not interested in just doing good. They intend to impact generations and change the future of the Dominican Republic. This goal is not an easy one to reach, but the staff and the supports of Makarios are dedicated to being catalysts for change through relationships that empower. “It has to start with relationship,” says Executive Director, Chris Buster. “When you intend to impact generations, you have to be willing to listen to their needs and invest in sustainable solutions. Too often, people decide what others need without asking. We are committed to providing hope and maintaining the dignity of our students and their families.” Relationships that empower begin with a healthy perspective of what poverty is.
This perspective is foundational for Makarios. They do not operate from a position pity for others; it’s about understanding that we all have a need for encouragement, friendship, education, and hope. The Makarios staff and their students exchange hope through relationship.
Reflecting on the experiences of poverty is not foreign to Chris Buster, Executive Director of Makarios. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Fort Worth, he was often on the receiving end of generosity from others. Chris’s leadership draws from his experiences receiving gifts that empowered him and gifts that made him feel undervalued.
“I remember taking cans to school for the canned food drives, only to find that many would be returning to my doorstep later that week,” he laughs. His mother stressed the importance of giving back, no matter how little they had. They were never victims, but generous givers of what they could give, and thankful recipients of what was given to them. “She pushed us to have grateful hearts,” Chris recalls.
When asked how he relates to the Makarios students, who live on very little, Chris made a point to emphasize that we all have opportunities. That’s how he chooses to relate rather than focusing on the lack of materials. “The worst thing we can do is make ourselves needed. We empower through education and relationships and create opportunities. We want to work our way out of a job.”
Chris can recall very few times in his life where tangible gifts alone were empowering. At 23, he was living without insurance when he was diagnosed with cancer. The medical bills became overwhelming very quickly. When a friend heard about what Chris was going through and stepped in to cover the entire cost of his surgery, Chris was humbled and grateful. “It was so impactful because it came from someone I knew well. I was working hard, and I needed help. It was the relationship that made the difference.”
Makarios encourages mission-trip teams to make friends, build relationships, and connect with the students and staff. It is much easier to give tangible gifts than to invest time in someone daily, but the investment produces more fruitful results: life transformation on both ends.
Makarios takes a holistic approach towards helping alleviate poverty. They strive to help maintain, and focus on creating a cycle of hope. It is the students’ relationships with their teachers and other staff that empower them to overcome their circumstances. “Children don’t have the ability to help themselves,” Chris explains. “That’s why we start there. We want the students to know that they can give back to their community no matter what age they are.”
Chris is visibly brighter when he speaks about those who make this organization run. “There are two groups of people who carry out the vision of Makarios: the donors and the staff. I am honored to be working with a staff of Dominicans, Haitians, and Americans who pour out their hearts for these children. We have a lot of dedicated professionals who have moved their families to the Dominican Republic to work with us.”
The school now houses over 150 students from surrounding Haitian and Dominican communities, and that number increases every year. They are providing quality education for children ages 2-12. Makarios’ goal is to expand the school by one grade per year until they have the first high school graduating class, all grades being dual language, and with the possibility of the organization starting a vocational school. Makarios is able to provide several opportunities throughout the year for people who wish to serve the children. As they expand, sponsorship and partnership opportunities grow as well.
“The students we work with empower us to do the work that we do,” Chris says, “and we want to celebrate them and share their stories with others.” Makarios’ work challenges us in how we think about our impact and the value of our resources. It’s clear there’s a part for each of us to play.
Administrative opportunities are available in the Austin office and on the grounds in the DR. To get involved with Markarios, and be a part of shaping the future of these children, visit markariosinternational.org and check them out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Teachers took the budding community leader under their wing. Cakito, now 22, is chaplain of Colegio Makarios and leads its soccer program.
“We always call him the mayor of Pancho,” says Chris of Cakito, who has received numerous community leader awards.