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.
Feb 10, 2014

Maranatha School Begins a New Chapter

Maranatha School began the 2014 semester with some new energy.  With a passionate new Director (who is from Ouanaminthe, Haïti, but had been teaching in the Dominican Republic) in place to manage funds raised and better support the teachers, there have been several parent meetings and teacher meetings in January to reorganize and plan for the future.  We were also able to purchase 20 locally made chairs (we thought that this would help the community more than purchasing the fairly common plastic chairs for sale) for the smallest students, as they had been brining their chairs from home every day!  The Director reports that they were all excited about the new furniture and that everyone was studying hard!  We were also able to purchase a few supplies, like chalk, to get the year off on the right foot.  We have been discussing the importance of uniforms with the parents as well. Haitians are used to school children wearing unifroms to school and most see this as a priority for their school and students. In February and March, though, we hope to focus on providing some textbooks for the school along with some more chairs and desks for the older students.

The pictures of the chairs and kids attached here a fuzzy, because they have been taken with a cell phone. Hopefully, we will find a used camera soon to improve the quality of our reports. 

Jan 29, 2014

Update on Scholarships, Preparing for Summer Camp

Aniverca and her mother at an evaluation.
Aniverca and her mother at an evaluation.

It is great to see the constant growth of confidence in our scholarship recipients. Sending these students to schools where they can receive more individual attention than the public schools, where classes often have 45 students, and where discipline is often held at a much higher standard, makes such a world of difference. In simply observing their demeanor, you can see a huge difference and even in those who have been on scholarship for a few years now, this improvement just seems to continue.

 

Our student who is on scholarship studying Modern Languages at the university of OyM, Freddy Jean Piet, has had troubles maintaining his funding. He has to spend close to $200 US each quarter just on transportation, books, and meals on days where he has to be at school all day long. Tuition just rose a bit this quarter as well. His funding ran out as it came time to register for this quarter that just began in January, however more is scheduled to come at the end of the month, but this will only last through the end of this quarter. I was just contacted by another non-profit looking for a teacher in an area two hours away. The pay is good and they say Freddy is a good candidate, considering his documentation, language skills, and education. He plans on applying, and this would be a way that he could earn to pay his college education, rather than having to rely solely on donations, but he would have to move and transfer to a different university as well. So we'll see what happens and if he is given the job or not.

 

Aniverca Bien-aime was registered in August at Colegio Sueno de Los Ninos, where her brother Eriverto is on scholarship. She has cerebral palsy and at age 11, has never been to school before, but only attended our summer English camp during the summer of 2012. This school has another student with cerebral palsy and they are able to integrate him into the classroom setting, as they have no separate special education class or teacher. They thought that they would be able to do the same with Aniverca but it turned out otherwise. The first grade teacher was sad to report that she could not handle her in the classroom. She demands too much individual attention and is too undisciplined, having never been in school before. They then reflected that the other boy with cerebral palsy spent three years in a school specific for special education children before he was integrated into Sueno de los Ninos. They explained the location of the school and I visited. It is a wonderful facility, but it turns out that students are referred from a rehabilitation center. We were directed to take Aniverca there. So we did, and were sent to do evaluation after evaluation. Finally she got the okay to register. We have been given different dates to come back for the registration, but should be finishing up with that this week and getting her into this school!

 

We hope to have enough volunteers to execute two summer English immersion camps this year - one at each of our schools. We have a new Peace Corps volunteer and a new assistant who each are doing weekly lessons in the schools at this time, and by the time summer rolls around, should each be able to direct/coordinate a camp, along with one local teacher. We have plenty of volunteers spots open, so we hope you will consider joining us!

 

Thank you for your support! You are helping us make a real difference in the lives of these youth!

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Jan 23, 2014

More Students!

The first trimester ended on December 18, 2013. Over Christmas break we had a parent teacher meeting to give out report cards, a youth/teenager meeting where a psychologist talked about important choices they face, and a visit from our friend Martine, who brought gifts! Although the soccer team was on hold, about 10 boys still came to the school each Saturday and eagerly waited for the bus. 

At the youth/teenager meeting, one of our current students pulled a girl over to me by the arm. She said that this girl wanted to go to school here. We talked and it ended up that she had never gone to school before, but at age 16, was hoping to enroll. I told her to come on January 7, when school would start back up, and the director would gladly enroll her. She did show up and enroll and has been attending regularly. However, she does not yet have a uniform but comes in regular clothes. 

Just this morning I spoke on the phone to Vladimir, the morning director, and he asked for me to excuse him, as he knows that funds are tight, but new kids have been registering daily at school since it reopened and we don't have enough benches to seat them all. The plastic chairs we purchase for the pre-school and kindergarten children are not very durable. About half of them have broken. We need to invest in wooden chairs with metal legs, but that is another matter of funding. At the beginning of the school year, 100 students had registered. It is true that all do not attend regularly, and I have not gotten an exact count of how many more have registered, but the number is somewhere now around 120. The first grade classroom has moved from a small room to under a tree in the yard, as there was no longer enough space in the room. Only 36 of these students are sponsored so far for this year. We hope that supporters will help us in recruiting more sponsors, as there are so many students seeking an education and we would hate for them to be discouraged in that effort because they have nowhere to sit!

You may have heard of a law that was passed this year that removed citizenship from people of Haitian decent. This has caused quite a bit of negative backlash from the international community. Most of our students have immigrated here illegally from Haiti. Some were born here and have never known Haiti. We have held two meetings with a group called MUDHA which advocates for documentation rights and aids people in getting their birth certificates and passports at times. Several parents have attended in hopes of receiving aid, but no one has received anything tangible yet. However, I was recently contacted by someone with the Delta Theta Sigma Sorority near Chicago. They are visiting in early February and contacted us in hopes to learn more about our organization and especially about the struggle of the Haitian immigrant population and the issue of documentation. 

After dialoguing, it turns out that they will be visiting the school on their trip and we will hold a meeting with a representative of the Haitian consulate and MUDHA, as well as some select students and parents. They will have a chance to ask questions, get some answers, and will providing, I believe 8 students and parents with passports! We plan on sending 5 6th grade students to the national exam in Haiti this June. Some students have received extra support for their sponsors to help out with this, but others have not, so it is wonderful that this group is stepping in to help, and also to aid some parents who have been attending the meetings. 

Other than that, this first semester held a lot of drama among teachers which led us to further investigate the law in running such an institution and create an ideal game plan for the future to assure that the Dominican government is supportive of the institution. We have always tried to do this, but it has not always been within our financial capacity to do everything as required by law, and quite honestly, it is not always straight forward in figuring out what the true law is! However, this has been a time of education and enlightenment for sure!

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned!

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