Project Esperanza

Project Esperanza is a non-profit organization that began as and remains a Virginia Tech student organization. Project Esperanza serves to connect the Blacksburg, Virginia community and the Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic community through service. Our programs are designed to work toward breaking the cycle of poverty present among the lower social classes in these two communities, as well toward breaking the cycle of apathy present among the upper classes.
Jun 6, 2012

Hanging in There ina Distracted, Divided Community

Let me explain something about the community of Muñoz that I am not sure I have explained before, or at least not in full, and not for quite awhile. The three bateyes that lie in the center of the community and house a large number of extremely impoverished Haitian immigrants are trafficked quite frequently by both tourists and volunteer groups. This is not the case with most batey communities in other parts of Puerto Plata or the Dominican Republic in general. The reason that these particular bateyes are so trafficked is because the community lies directly across the street from Puerto Plata’s major hotel complex, Playa Dorada. Therefore, it is so convenient to visit by tourists on excursions, (go-karts, horseback riding, monster trucks, etc.), and volunteer groups looking for a group of poor kids to play a game of soccer with, hand out some school supplies, etc.

Now, this interaction is both good and bad. It can be good because many people see the situation and want to help and give resources. It can also be bad because the way that help is given is inconsistent and sporadic and not always what is actually needed (ex: riding by on go-karts and throwing out candy). This is why we started the fair trade art shop – to try to harvest off of all of this tourist/volunteer activity and channel it into a consistent and strategic direction.

When we began The United Brothers School of Muñoz in the spring of 2007, there was another school educating Haitian children in a separate batey. We started ours in another one of the three bateyes, and around the same time, a Baptist church group started one in the third batey that lies between the other two bateyes. This seemed to make a fair amount of sense as there were plenty of kids from each batey to fill up each school. Then in 2009, one of the men who started our schools did something wrong. He found a Canadian man who was apparently interested in starting a school and told him that our school had no support, teachers were working voluntarily, and this man then began sending funds to the man on the ground involved with our school, who pocketed them. He quickly had a motorcycle and other advancements in life that he wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. When he was discovered and I was put in communication with the man who had been sending funds, he began doing disruptive things like locking up classrooms during school hours with locks that only he had the key too, causing class not to be held in the classrooms of other teachers, etc. It was quite ridiculous. However, what made it more ridiculous is that the man who was sending funds refused to see reason with me. He refused to work with groups in other communities who had sought funding for schools where there were none but found no success. He wanted to work with this same, I venture to say undisciplined and selfish individual to start a fourth school in the community..one that is external to all three bateyes.

Since this school began in the fall of 2010, there has been ridiculous competition between schools. Schools campaign to parents, promising food and uniforms and such if they go to their school. Education is lost and it is a matter of where a child can get a meal, which makes sense when people face hunger, but also devalues the point of education and is simply a battle of money. We have always maintained the view point that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish but if a man is hungry that day and can´t fish yet and you have an extra fish to give him, give him a fish to eat but continue to teach him to fish. However, the community has turned into something similar to the offspring of divorced parents who have no communication or collaboration between each other. There is no real consistency but they play off of the division to get what they can. Material possessions become the focus and not human development. The wiser of the parents know that this is ridiculous and attempt to avoid the scramble but it seems hard for people to stay unaffected. It is truly sad. Anyone who spends even just a little time working in both our grassroots schools can quickly compare the two groups. The Muñoz children are very distracted. We have, at times, blamed this to hunger, but I also blame it to the constant unnecessary distractions they have on their lives on top of their extreme poverty and family problems. These distractions include the inconsistent presence of the foreign community and the rat race that it creates among them.

However, we maintain a vision of a better future. It would be ideal that the three original schools collaborate, purchase land conveniently located in the center of all three bateyes, and execute one school specifically for the Haitian immigrant children. This school could also serve as a community center and place where collaborated volunteer efforts could be executed to educate and empower the community in things such as sustainable gardening, sanitary living, etc.  Having one school to serve these bateyes would create a family environment among everyone rather than a rat race. When people already have so many stressors in their lives, why should we as people who come to bring aid, actually add more by failing to work together?

This year we have been quite threatened to leave the community. We have been threatened by others who must have ulterior motives… who must want to say that they “have a school” but don´t really want to do what is best for the development of those the school is meant to serve and don't want to work together with others who do want what is best for the human development. Financially, we have been losing a battle. But we haven´t given up and we won´t give up! We continue to see great improvements in the batey that we serve, specifically among the mindsets of the residents and their willingness to work together for common goals rather than in competition for individual gain. This is the only way that people in such extreme poverty can change their situation. We may have to downsize the school next year by perhaps only teaching kids under a certain age and then moving on from there, but we can't pull out of educating the community. And we will continue to move forward with the small business efforts we have begun in the area - the internet center, movie theater, and fair trade art shop. 

A volunteer group that came in March executed a general demographics and public health census. A community member accompanied each of the three groups until all 170 some houses were reached. Other volunteers worked on creating a map, which was no easy task! Soon the map and census information will be available online for you to view. One obvious piece of information from the census is that the community needs sanitary toilets. Most houses have no toilets and almost everyone goes to the bathroom on the ground. This summer we plan to have volunteer groups construct human compost toilets throughout the batey and teach residents to use them, which will, if executed correctly, nourish the land rather than pollute it. We need more volunteers to properly execute these activities this summer. Please e-mail CaitlinMcHale@EsperanzaMeansHope.org if you are interested in joining us.

In an attempt to generate more consistent funding for our schools to pay the never ending teacher salaries and building rent and maintenance, we have been advocating two efforts. The first is the Adopt a School effort and the second is the Sponsor a Teacher effort. You can read about both here on our website.

Lastly, June 13th is a Global Giving matching day! All donations will be matched by corporate donors at 40% with extra prizes for groups who bring in the most donors and the most funds. Please help us take advantage of this opportunity. If you can put out a change collection jar now and donate it on matching day, then that is great! If you can hold a simple raffle now and donate the income on matching day, then that is brilliant! Two successful fundraisers our supporters have executed recently are very easy to replicate. In March, an owner of an inn and restaurant raffled off tickets to a weekend stay for $25 donations to Project Esperanza. He raised $1,100! In May, a zumba instructor donated her time by holding a zumba class free of charge to her. The entrance fee was a $10 donation to Project Esperanza. This raised $1,470!! Both of these require little sacrifice and effort on everyone´s part, but make a HUGE difference to the United Brothers School of Muñoz. Now is the time to execute something so simple and donate the funds on matching day.

Thank you for your support and your collaboration in carrying out the vision for the community of Muñoz. Together we can help turn what can often be miserable and defeated lives into a beautiful, bustling, clean, and innovative community. Let´s see it through together!

Links:

May 3, 2012

Preparing for This Summer!

Things have been going well with the Change My Stars program. We are preparing for camp this summer by visiting private schools and handing out flyers as well as handing them out in front of the camp building. We don't hand out flyers at public schools because there is a fee to attend camp and the average public school student wouldn't likely be able to pay. This is why we have our camper sponsorship program as well. We have two of our desired 11 campers sponsored. We have had many people e-mail to inquire about volunteering as camp counselors , a few which have already sent in their trip fees. Our goal is to register 50 campers and have 10 counselors per week. Our volunteer response has been so well that w may open a second camp at our school in the community of Muñoz with a goal of having five more volunteers per week. 

 

Our two students attending private school on scholarship are both continuing to do well. WE are raising funds to award another scholarship that wuld send a bright young man to college. We are a little less of a quarter of the way to raising funds for his first year, which is needed before he cna register for classes in September. 

 

We are working on speaking to the correct government department (being sent from one department to another) about opening our English immersion pre-school in the fall and we already have parents hoping to register their children. We are accepting applications for three pre-school teachers if anyone is interested. Teachers should be native English speakers, have experience working with young children, be patient, and culturally sensitive, and hav at least a little teaching experience as well.

 

Thank you for your support! Please help us spread our blog in order to get all 11 campers sponsored and to have 10 volunteers sign up per week (6 weeks long) of camp.  

Links:

Apr 13, 2012

Waiting on the Leadership

We have 6 desktop computers in our possession in the US, donated by a global computer company called CSC. We had hoped to use perhaps 3 of them to start the Saman Internet Center, but we still have absent leadership that will cause us to have to use these computers for other purposes, then solicit more in the future when the leadership is prepared.

Again, Peralta, who leads the community development organization that this internet center will be a part of is chronically absent from the community working in a garden hours away in order to support his large family. He has plans to transition to a business at home but is still trying to save up in order to make the transition. He was set back by his mother passing away in August and the funeral costs there. We have not met in more than a month and I, therefore, have no update as to how things are coming along on that end. But in addition to his necessary presence, the community development organization as a whole needs to regroup before taking on such a project as the launching of the internet center. So the launching has been set back due to these reasons. We are setting the tentative launch date for sometime next fall.

Another issue is that we hope to have a computer savvy, Spanish speaking expat there to at least oversee the first few months of the Internet center, train locals in proper computer use, and work with a trained local in order to enhance their likely sub par computer repair skills in order to be able to handle things after this person leaves. We have solicited for a Peace Corps volunteer for this purpose. The next round of volunteers come in May, but we were told these are likely already designated to projects and we may have to wait until September unless someone does a project change. If we get a volunteer before the center will launch, we have plenty of work in other areas of our organization for him or her.

Thank you, always, for your interest and support!

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