Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Even if you search assiduously, you will be hard-pressed to find information on the Juan Luis Guerra Foundation. But in the Dominican Republic, this modest yet mighty bastion of help has been a saving grace for hundreds of families.
That is why this year, Billboard is honoring Juan Luis Guerra, a multiple finalist at the Latin Music Awards, with its Spirit of Hope Award.
Through Guerra's tireless and largely unheralded efforts, his foundation fills needs from the most basic -— everything from glasses to medicine —- to the most dire, including organ transplants and chemotherapy.
Operating solely on money raised through concerts performed by Guerra and his band, 4.40, the foundation is almost a family affair.
In some regards, it is a reflection of Guerra, the Dominican singer/songwriter who became a superstar through his reinterpretation of traditional Dominican bachata. Shy and almost reticent, Guerra is rarely in the limelight, save for promoting his music. Likewise, unless pressured, he rarely talks about his foundation's work.
"It's necessary for people to know about it, but I don't want to make a habit of that," Guerra says. "The word says, 'Don't let your left hand know what your right is doing.'"
Guerra's mention of "the word" reflects his decision several years ago to become a born-again Christian. That shift made him focus with renewed interest on his foundation, which he created more than 10 years ago to help people with vision problems in the Dominican Republic.
"That was decisive in my involvement," Guerra says. "The word was a stimulus, because that's what it calls for: doing good to all. And I truly like to be involved."
Today, the foundation focuses on children's health and acts as a kind of clearinghouse where disadvantaged children can receive a wide variety of care.
Patients are serviced by associations with a host of health centers, including the Plaza de la Salud and Padre Billini hospitals in Santo Domingo.
The day-to-day operations are run by Esther Vega, a woman Guerra describes as a "seeker of people in need."
Vega fields the multiple requests that come into the foundation and gives Guerra a list of the priorities every Monday. He decides how the funding is allocated.
"I am the head of the foundation, and the decisions have to come from me," Guerra notes. "I am responsible for every check and every decision."
Vega says, "No one knows the extent of what he does." She notes that the foundation's causes extend beyond health. A list of recent activities, for example, includes aid for the Alzheimer's Association, Teen Challenge (a center for recovering drug addicts), orphanages and the construction of several churches.
In a single week in March, the foundation donated heart medication and paper for electrocardiograms to a local heart center, donated three incubators to the Robert Reid Cabral hospital, financed a cataract operation for a 70-year-old woman and aided a child needing a kidney transplant and another suffering from hydrocephaly.
"That's the most beautiful thing about this," Vega concludes. "Many other places are full of bureaucracies. People seeking aid never get to actually speak with anyone. Our dealings are smaller and more direct. People come to me, and I direct them. Here, you know where the money goes."
Excerpted from the April 30, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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