CHOOSING THE PERFECT LOCATION.
Carlos Fuente, co-founder of The Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, describes how Chateau de la Fuente evolved. “It all began back in the 80’s when we were looking to find a location to grow a special type of very flavorful Dominican wrapper. We were very fortunate to find this tobacco farm situated between the mountains and the river creating the perfect soil for growing tobacco. At the time there were no roads in or out, no electricity and not even running water. My father and I were convinced that this was our destiny.”
Eventually Carlos and his father built Chateau de la Fuente into a tobacco farm like no other company had done before. Today, that region fields unique tobaccos used in the most sought after cigar in the world—the Fuente OpusX. Having both been in business for over 100 years, the Fuente and Newman families own the two oldest cigar manufacturers in the country, still privately owned and operated by the founding families. “Our families had previously partnered in Ybor City (Tampa, FL) and we are very proud to continue that tradition for the next generation and beyond,” says Eric.
The tobacco farms brought work to many of the families in the community. Sadly, in the five communities surrounding Chateau de la Fuente, only a couple of primitive one-room school houses existed, and, as a result, very few children received an education. Many of the workers even asked if their children could work alongside them in the fields as they weren’t in school and wanted to make money to help support their families. During a visit to the farm, Eric recalls seeing these young children and wondering why they were not in school. The reason was that there simply weren’t enough classrooms in the existing schools.
A SIMPLE IDEA TAKES ON A LIFE OF ITS OWN.
The idea of building a school has proven to be a long and rewarding journey. At the outset, simply constructing a school would have been pointless. The local communities did not see the value of receiving an education and this proved to be a huge obstacle.
It was then that Carlos and Eric reached out to David Luther to assist with the logistics of how to engage the community and get the new school built. David stressed the importance of looking at the bigger picture. As he pointed out, it’s nearly impossible for children to learn if they are hungry, thirsty or sick. More-over, it’s difficult for children to succeed if their parents don’t see the value of education. David urged them to create an infrastructure around education that would transform the community.
In response, Carlos and Eric formed the Cigar Family charitable Foundation. From the outset it was important to them that the name “Newman” or “Fuente” not appear on the project—“Cigar Family members include anyone who shares their vision of “giving back” whether they enjoy cigars or not” says Carlos. Moreover, the Fuente and Newman families underwrite all administrative costs to run the charity so that every dollar donated goes directly to help the children and families of the Cigar Family Complex.
In record time, the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation and IDDI brought in electric power, built roads and bridges, and purchased school buses. They made a point of hiring local people to do the work which empower community members who then became stakeholders and played a major role in making positive change.
The community’s attitude towards education slowly began to shift. Finally, after many conversations and meetings with parents and community leaders, in 2004, the Cigar Family Primary School for students pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, was open for business. Eric recalls seeing the pride and joy in the children’s faces. “In the United States, at the end of the day children run from the school to get on the buses. At the Cigar Family School, when they arrive in the morning, our children are so excited to go to school that they actually run from the buses into the classrooms.”
THE BUSINESSPERSON’S PROBLEM/SOLUTION MINDSET.
As Carlos explains, “Eric and I are businessmen who are used to implementing business-like ways to address problems. We confront challenges face-on, one at a time in a building-block approach.” For example, when Carlos and Eric first arrived, the local communities lacked basic health care. In their eyes, this was unacceptable; so, the Cigar Family went out and built a Health Center. Students and their families now have access to an array of services in the areas of pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, laboratory testing, pharmacy and emergency services served by an ambulance. Another problem that became apparent was the unavailability of potable drinking water. Prior to the help of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, children had to walk miles to the nearest river to collect unsanitary water for their families to drink. Through the efforts of Rotary International and other civic groups these children now have access to clean, sanitary drinking water.
Soon after opening school doors, there was yet another obstacle. Once completing the primary school, the students had no place to go to continue their education. So, to meet this deficiency, the Cigar Family High School opened in 2005. The High School offers students a well-rounded education, and not unlike many American high schools not only offers programs in computers, music, dance, sports and organic farming, but vocational training as well.
The Cigar Family School offers much more than just learning to read and do math. Children gain self-confidence, learn discipline and discover untapped talents through sports, music and drama programs which can lead to successful careers. As Carlos remarks, “Maybe one of these children will one day turn out to be a great violin player. We’ll never know unless we give our students the opportunity.”
AN ASTONISHING RECORD OF SUCCESS.
Carlos and Eric are like proud fathers when they share the inspiring and remarkable achievements of their students. Eric notes, “One girl, Enerolisa, who was one of our first students, came back after graduating from college and is now a math teacher at the school. Nelson, another student, who once only dreamed of working in the tobacco fields, is now studying at a local university to become a doctor.” The academic success of the Cigar Family School is well recognized. For instance, the students have won first place in the Ministry of Education’s National English Language competition so many times that they are no longer allowed to compete. The School’s test scores rank among the highest in the region. One student, aspiring to be a doctor, was chosen from among 2,000 students to be President of the National UN Model General Assembly. The United Nations has recognized the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation as a model for other developing countries and communities. Children who once only aspired to be farm workers are now setting their sights on becoming architects, scientists and diplomats. Education has given the whole community a sense of hope and new meaning to life.