To provide sustenance and offer a better quality of life to his family, Juan de Dios Videau Soler arrived in Puerto Rico in 1994, invited by his neighbor in Cuba, Father Francisco García Cervera, who by then was looking for help to support a revolutionary project: a shelter for HIV patients in Ponce.
However, Juan de Dios never imagined that his journey to the island would position him at the head of a transformative mission for thousands of homeless people, HIV patients and addicts in the south of the country: a desire that became the Centro Cristo Pobre .
As he explained, this whole story originated in Havana, one afternoon in 1994, when at the end of another intense working day, he went home to face the same reality of many of his neighbors.
“At home I only had a mango to eat,” he confessed.
“And I took to the streets to see if I could get at least a pound of rice and beans, but I couldn’t. We had to go to bed without eating.
“Then I thought I had to do something so that my family could eat” and, without thinking twice, he accepted the invitation of his friend, the founding priest of the La Providencia Shelter, who had already been evangelizing in Puerto Rico for some time.
Thus, led by Father Francisco, both Cubans rolled up their sleeves and gave themselves to the rescue of evicted patients with HIV.
“The need brought me to Puerto Rico, because I didn’t know anything about HIV, drugs and not even crack. I never knew about drugs in Cuba, but I learned a lot with this population ”, he commented.
Previously, Juan de Dios had studied electromechanics in the former Soviet Union commissioned by the Cuban government and, although it was never to his liking, he recognized that by then, in 1973, he had no other option.
Later, he was a professor at the Cuban Naval Academy and worked at the Cuban Electric Union as a line programmer, but none of these experiences fulfilled his expectations or he was as passionate about as his long hours at the Centro Cristo Pobre.
“I just fell in love with my job,” said smiling Juan de Dios, who now also has a professional certificate as a Level 4 Addiction Counselor. “This is the mission that God had for me.”
And although upon arrival on the island he also worked for a pharmaceutical company, his passion for community service, he insists, weighed more on his conscience and heart.
A clear example was his pininos in the delivery of food to homeless people in the urban case of the city, a task that he adopted together with volunteers from Ponce and that culminated with the birth of the Cristo Pobre Center, an oasis in which they provide not only food, but decent spaces for cleaning, as well as a support center to facilitate the search for opportunities and their quality of life.
The result? “Great stories of overcoming,” said Juan de Dios.
“When I arrived, in my mind I only wanted to solve the problem of my family, but later I understood that this was my mission in life. I dedicate almost 24 hours to this project, to that family in which I consider many as my children, and I think I fell in love with this job. This is my vocation ”, continued the missionary, just before exhorting younger generations to explore their role as volunteers.
Among many satisfactions, he insists, few compare with the sensation of walking down the street and bumping into someone “who says, ‘Juan. you do not remember me? You helped me and now I’m working, well and with family. ‘
“So we have many who keep in touch and already have families and children. Others have joined us and today make up part of our team of employees ”.
And after more than 25 years working with this community, he also feels great pride in reviewing how the center has been transformed into what today everyone knows as the Albergue Cristo Pobre.
“Our vision goes beyond core services. Now we are looking for housing alternatives, but with work and we are looking for more funds to create another housing program with agricultural services, “he said.
Specifically, it refers to the successful first phase of the agricultural housing program in which ten participants are housed in apartments located in the Real Anón neighborhood, where homeless people also work in planting and raising laying hens.
Likewise, Juan de Dios is now also redoubling its efforts to achieve Care Act funds that allow it to identify housing for participants who are already in the independence stage.
“Since Hurricane Maria we have had evidence of fire. The earthquakes have been maintained almost all the time and with this coronavirus we have had to reduce the beds, from 52 to 33, and established very strict protocols to avoid contagion “. Fortunately, with discipline and monthly testing of all participants, no positive sample has emerged.
And because the Covid -19 pandemic has also impacted the density of the group of volunteers, Juan de Dios took advantage of the situation to, once again, invite those who are looking for a reason to live and serve.
As he underlined, the rewards of this volunteering are immeasurable and the gratitude of those who seek love and smiles is even greater.
To help the participants of the Albergue Cristo Pobre you can call 787-841-7149. You can also help by donating personal hygiene items, food, or disinfectants to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The hostel is located between Unión and Guadalupe de Ponce streets.