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!
We have been blessed with a new building! All summer we searched for a new school building as we knew that the one we were in last year was a little expensive for the amount of space it provided. It also was in an area of the community where the water pressure is so low that it doesn't even rise from ground level up into the taps. We found an apartment for a bit less rent money and a bit more space with better access to water, but the downside was that it had no yard area, whereas the one from last year had at least a little. Plus, it was not a house, but an apartment connected to other apartments and on the second floor. Nonetheless, we were going to go for it. As time neared to pay the deposit and move, Willy, our first grade teacher, told me of a great house he found in a neighboring community that is a little.. actually quite a bit wealthier, which means better access to water, electricity, cleanliness, and peace in general, not to down talk the barrio by any means. One day during summer camp we left the group to go check it out. While on the way, we passed a yard and building with a playground that used to be a restaurant. I had noticed it before. It had a large "For Rent" sign and a phone number. I pointed it out to Willy. We immediately stared at it and commented at how perfect it would be for the school. I quickly called the number and spoke to the landlord who told us the rent - about $40 more per month than our current building.
The landlord's wife was next door and would come to open it. Once I got off the phone, we celebrated and expressed our disbelief that a building with a yard so big and beautiful with a playground could cost just $40 more than the building we were previously in. Willy, who had just been talking about the persecution he was facing and health problems he continued to experience, which he believed to be a result of his involvement with the school and effort to advance it despite of jealousy and competition among other community members, something that has unfortunately come up a bit among our teachers and I believe falls under the category of spiritual warfare, said, "I think.... I think it's God that is giving us this building." I (Caitlin) agreed. He didn't mean literally giving it to us to own, but led us to it to use for the school.
After checking out the building, we saw that it didn't have enough space inside to house all of the classrooms, but it had adequate porch space in the front, side, and back, and with the Caribbean climate, this is perfectly fine. I ran back to camp and after it ended and local campers were dismissed, led volunteers, teachers, and the campers who travel to camp with us to check it out. Everyone was pleased with it. The landlord said that someone else was looking at it and deciding about it. After missing out on great houses in such situations before, I shared this with the volunteers and let them know that the deposit money was not yet available from organization funds. Three volunteers generously fronted the money so that we could move in that weekend! So English camp had a new home for the last week! We quickly discovered that a big lesson kids would have to learn was playground etiquette. It was heart warming yet also heart breaking to watch teenagers pile up on see saws, swings, and a slide, as though they had never been on a playground in their lives, and maybe some of them had not been. So we did demonstrations of waiting in a line behind the slide, having just one camper on a swing at a time, and taking turns. The first day before we sat them down and talked about this, we were lucky that the most serious injury was a busted lip! One last announcement is that we have a new morning director and new afternoon director. Wanbert, school co-founder and director since 2010 has stepped down as director and will be working as a teacher in the
morning and afternoon. Pastor Milien has proposed a man named Vladimir Romulus as morning director and one of our teachers Met Prosper will be serving as afternoon director. Spreading out the responsibility in this way will undoubtedly cause the staff to work more in a team fashion and will make the overall effort more productive. We had a meeting this morning that ended up lasting 3 hours! After spending the summer with volunteers, teachers have learned a lot about the life of a volunteer and therefore a little more about the base of the organization. We hope to bring in more volunteers this year to use their skills to support our teachers and staff. Don't forget - we are starting a new school year and need sponsors for each of our students. We have had around 100 register so far and have 11 sponsored for this school year. School started September 9th so we need more sponsors! It's $100 for the year. E-mail Sponsor@EsperanzaMeansHope.org for more info.
Also, Global Giving will have a Matching Day on October 23rd where all funds will be matched at 30%. Bonus prizes will be giving to groups bringing in the most unique donors and the most funds. Let's brainstorm about how we can win one of these prizes and make the most of this opportunity!
Thank you for your support!
Things have been going well! We just finished our second trimester. The exam week ended with a group of volunteers from Eckerd College doing English activities each day from 10 - 11:30. Exams ended at 10am each morning so the kids spent the rest of their mornings learning English, and the volunteers enjoyed themselves as well.
There has been some sort of phenomenon going on and it is being taken into account as we plan ahead for the next school year. It has been our observations that Haitians who start education initiatives without receiving any consistent financial support show much more voluntary motivation than those who do receive consistent support. Those who receive consistent support tend to begin to hold back on their efforts, believing that the supporting group is making millions off of them and they should be reluctant to work without squeezing more money out of the group. I have seen many initiatives break up or die down because of this attitude. But after working in the community of Padre Granero since 2006, the various educators who have been working with various different supporting groups seem to now see reality. I think they are ready to collaborate and give a 100% effort for their community, utilizing to the best of their ability, the limited resources they receive. Leaders have stepped up who are putting their personal interests and needs aside and thinking about the needs of the community. The talk we are hearing is definitely encouraging, as we have heard lots of self-interested and discouraging talk in the past, which has hindered the work of educating those who need it most. We know that if the educators will truly unite themselves and put aside interests and politics, any visitors coming to observe or volunteer will see an extraordinary work and have a hard time keeping themselves out of it.There is also talk about contacts with the Education Department in the Haitian government being willing to provide financial support in the next year, if they see a serious effort being carried out.
We thank you for your support. There is still so much more we can do with more resources and we ask you to please continue your generosity, as we are limited by financial resources.Thank you.
We have many more students this year than we have in the past and more students who have shown interest in coming to the school, or their parents have any way. The problem is that only 19 students are currently sponsored. Our kindergarten class is our largest class with 25 students enrolled! We have had a problem with providing chairs for all of the students and recently sent to have some woven chairs made. The artist who makes these chairs can make them at as low of a price as the plastic chairs we have purchased in the past, but these plastic chairs have broken at a rapid rate. However, as we are waiting for these chairs to be made, some kids have no seats! Everyone now has uniforms but we need to send someone to Haiti ASAP to get books and the money we have obtained from student sponsorships is not yet enough. All of these things are things that the $100 annual student sponsorship goes to support. Teacher payment is separate and thankfully so far we have been able to pay teachers on time, which we haven't been able to say for a number of years. However, we have not been very successful yet in recruiting churches or groups to sponsor teachers monthly, who are paid between $150 and $300 a year. We are still working on this since our organization lacks the monthly income to sufficiently pay teachers each month.
I have been traveling in the US and Canada speaking about Project Esperanza and meeting with contacts. I have thoroughly enjoyed this time, especially talking to certain groups who have shown special interest. Hopefully many partnerships will come from this and more fundraising success as well. This school and program has so much potential With more collaboration, we can provide truly holistic education to this population that will empower them and truly change their futures and their entire communities. Thank you, sincerely, for you support!
The previous report was not actually for this school but for the United Brothers School of Muñoz so please ignore that.
The school year ended fairly smoothly with the Institute of the Improvement of Life Through Education. 48 students finished the year by completing their final exams and we are currently preparing to hand out report cards. A few students moved away or stopped attending school throughout the year, unfortunately. The reason why we have not yet set a date for this meeting is that there is lots of discussion taking place regarding plans for next year. Our summer volunteers have been leading educational activities for students in the school in the afternoons and at the end of some of these activities, we visit the houses and parents of children. Parents have been reporting information about the past school year that we had not heard before, and they have been reporting it consistently. So we will have to make changes accordingly, and it seems as though these changes should be made before a report card meeting occurs so that everyone can be informed at that time. We're trying to work things out as quickly as possible.
One point of discussion is how student sponsorship funds should be allocated. For the 2011-2012 school year, 21 students were sponsored. Sponsors donated $100 for the year to sponsor their student and received a student profile complete with a family photo in return. The funds went toward a uniform and set of books for each student, with some left over to go toward the monthly costs of running the school including paying rent on the building, cleaning supplies, and paying teachers. Somehow we purchased books and uniforms for much more than just the 21 sponsored students, not wanting to make the opportunity available only to those 21, but to be fair among all students. This year we are trying to get started earlier and have these students re-spondered, as well as find sponsors for those who were never sponsored. Last year we were purchasing books and uniforms throughout the entire year. This year we hope to have all of this done before the year begins, or within the first month of school. If you make a donation of $100, we will contact you with your student sponsorship information and keep you updated throughout the year.
It is our desire that the sponsorship funds go toward uniforms, books, and some sort of food at the school. Parents have expressed that their most pressing need is proper documentation for children and for themselves, as all of the students in the schools we serve are living in the country illegally. In January, I believe, Immigration officers broke into houses in the community of Padre Granero at 4am and hauled people into a truck, then took them to Haiti. One of the families in our school was separated as the mother and some children were taken, but other children were left behind. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it is very unorganized and inhumane in this way. Of course, the situation of illegal immigration would be almost completely under control if Immigration guards at the border were not corrupt and did not accept bribes. I have never heard of a guard not accepting a few hundred pesos to let someone pass. Nonetheless, you are only safe when you have your proper documentation. This is the request that parents have been making. I have let them know that this would cost more than $100 per student per year and that our best bet is to develop strong relationships with sponsors of the students and share this situation with them. Maybe one day we can collaboratively help these families to obtain legitimate documentation so that they can live legitimate lives in the Dominican Republic.
One last bit of drama in the community is that there is a rumor that a new school is opening that will offer all that we have been able to provide and more. This rumor sprouts from a young woman in Montreal who once pretended to be interested in financially supporting the school. In the end, she wound up meddling in the school and community, attempting to create division. It is all very strange and out of the ordinary but true nonetheless. Now she takes pictures of students from the Institution of the Improvement of Life Through Education and claims on her blog that they will attend her school next year. However, I think she is playing a game more than anything as she used to collect funds to support a school in Africa but apparently mishandled the money on several occasions, leaving many untrusting.
It is sad that there are people who like to toy with the most vulnerable communities, but it is true. At a parent, teacher meeting last Friday, I told parents to not pay attention to such rumors about a different and better school opening. I let them know that I have more insight into the source of the rumors (as they are highly disconnected from the Internet and non-profit world), and that these were games that were being played. You should believe something when you see it. Our school has finished its sixth year, about to begin its seventh, and things improve every year. And we aren't going anywhere!
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