School began September 3rd and we are definitely in full swing! With the help of the donations of some food items, we have begun serving school meals three times a week, which has been the community's request for years. We served a few meals last spring, but we are finally able to now serve meals consistently. We have items to serve oatmeal, a corn meal porridge called mazorca which is really quite good, spaghetti, and rice and beans. We are doing this two times a day (for morning and afternoon school) three days a week. The cooks are mothers of students in the school who have volunteered for one of the six shifts for a month. The six volunteers will then rotate each month.
I am also happy to share that our fair trade art shop which sells artwork done by community members and is set up to fundraise for the school as well as create income for community members, has moved to a new and improved location. We have a long term volunteer who has been working hard to prepare the shop and contact tourist excursion guides who pass by daily to bring their groups by the shop. We just opened last Thursday and have only had one sale so far, but hopefully it will be rolling soon! We also now sell our t-shirts online. Check them out!
16 students have been sponsored so far this year, which leaves 45+ left to be sponsored. If you are interested in sponsoring, please e-mail Sponsor@EsperanzaMeansHope.org. If you donate $100 or more, we will contact you asking if you would like for your donation to go toward a student sponsorship, which is a $100 annual donation and you receive your student's profile complete with a family picture. Don't forget that Oct. 17th is a Global Giving matching day where donations are matched at 30%! So that's a great day to donate!
Thanks always for your support!
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!
Things are going fairly well. We recently had a meeting to hand out report cards for the first trimester. I introduced the meeting and asked students what they learned during the trimester. We went class by class and reviewed some things so it was a bit of a time for them to show off in front of parents and for the teachers to show off as well. A visiting family had brought over 60 pairs of tennis shoes so as we gave out report cards, each child accompanied by a parent chose a pair of tennis shoes. There were still not enough, however. Distributions like that are always tough. But overall, everyone was very grateful for their tennis shoes. Here is a video of the meeting for the morning school.
We have an ongoing discussion with the landlord about using the yard next to the building for recess. Until now he hasn't wanted us to use the space because there is no barrier between our yard and the neighbor's yard and he thinks that students will go into the neighboring yard too much. He had said he would build a cinderblock wall to separate the two yards previously, but has not followed through. When he doesn't let us use the yard, there is no place for students to have recess. Having it in the school has caused a broken window. The glass is cracked but stays in place and we have not been able to repair it yet, although it happened months ago. We are always managing a pool of funds that are too small for the overall needs, prioritizing, etc.
One demand that continues strong is food for the school. This year we have tried to always provide at least something small like juice and crackers, but with a lull in student sponsorships coming in, this is hard to continue. But we really should not only continue but add onto it because despite the action we take and continuously take to provide jobs and job training for parents, kids are hungry. Things are so tough. And we all know that it is hard to sit and learn when you are hungry. There are many cases of malnutrition that the teaching staff and I truly wish we could help with by providing a healthy meal each day.
Thank you so much for your continued support.
Things have been going pretty well with the United Brothers School of Muñoz. October was a wonderful month fundraising wise through GlobalGiving! Thank you to everyone who donated on the Bonus Day and also those who donated in memory of my grandmother who recently passed away. Funds raised in October will be sent to us in the end of November so that will help with paying teachers for the month of November as well as the months they are owed for last school year which we have not yet been able to pay due to a drop in income we have faced since 2009. Teachers were just paid their salaries for the month of September and are now owed for the months of May, June, July, August, and October. You see, in order for the school to function properly, we need just short of $1,000 a month to pay teachers (which still only supports a very minimalist lifestyle for them), pay rent on the building, and pay for a daily snack we have found it necessary to provide for students. We can only depend on about $700 each month from monthly sponsors and this is to cover all of our organization's expenses, not just this school's. Therefore, if we don't have random donations or fundraisers bringing in funds each month, we fall back. For right now we are trying to keep those four months from last school year the only thing owed and the goal is to keep up with payments on time this school year and little by little, pay back for the four months last year. As you can see, we have already gotten behind as October has come and gone and we have no funds to pay for that month. However, with October fundraising being so successful, we will be able to pay for November and October out of those funds! Thank you!
If you donated $100 or more in October then we will be contacting you asking if you would like your donation to serve as a student sponsorship. If you say yes, we will send you your student's profile along with a family picture. We still have many students in need of sponsorship, but have been encouraged with the sponsorships we have received this far as well. However, many students are still without books and uniform.
You may know that we have been working on beginning several small businesses. These small businesses serve to do the following:
-to generate income here in the Dominican Republic to support the school and other Project Esperanza programs
-to create work for locals
-to empower (as well as discipline and sharpen) locals mentally by leading them from a dependent life living off of donations from afar to a life where they can be in a position of power and control over their own lives and the education of their children
The business that we have been able to grow the most so far is an art shop. We now have an online shop as well which we hope people will consider for some unique Christmas gifts. We have a Spanish speaking IT volunteer coming for several months at the end of the month who would be wonderful to oversee the launch of an internet center should we have the funds available to purchase the remaining equipment. And you can read about the movie theater efforts here on our website.
We have two women here working with the art shop which allows them to be in the community where the students and their families live day after day. They have been able to observe and interact quite a lot and have been quite helpful in some situations by reporting some concerning cases of abuse, which I am then able to communicate with the teachers and director of the school about and we are able to keep an eye on. I always say that Haiti is a country that was founded on abuse. It was founded on slavery that was much more abusive than even the United States, England, and other countries that were involved in the slave trade and this seemed to instill abuse into the way of life in some respects. Therefore, while working with Haitians, we find people using abuse as common practices without so much ever having received correction or a consistent example of another way of living and have to address such issues often. We are happy to report that our teachers don't use any sort of physical abuse as punishments, such as slapping kids with belts or having them kneel on rocks, although they did in the beginning.
Quite honestly, we didn't have to do much to address these issues other than treat the teachers themselves well and provide better facilities and materials to reduce the stress of the overcrowded classroom situation. In some situations we have had dialogue over proper punishments and inproper punishments but the behaviors really did fade themselves out mainly due to the change in environment and proper treatment of teachers themselves, to the best of our abilities. Now with these two women present daily we have more opportunities to address such situations in the students' living environments, whether addressing them verbally or through trying to relieve the stress the parents face. One of the women, Alicia, has been trying to get mothers interested in yoga as a stress reliever they definitely are not used to. As always when introducing something new, there is little response, but we plan to continue promoting it until it becomes a fun weekly activity!
Thank you, always, for your support! With the holiday season coming up, we hope you will consider sponsoring a student as a gift to a loved one or purchasing items from our online store. Lastly, if you are interested in visiting, we now have a hostel for volunteers and visitors. We would love to show you around in person! Thanks!
As we prepare for the 2011-2012 school year, some things are falling into place nicely and that gives us hope that this year will be different than the past few years where it was a struggle to pay teachers on time and we’ve had to go without meeting some basic needs due to lack of funds.
First, the Project Esperanza Art Shop of Muñoz is up and running. Artwork made by local artists is sold in a fair trade fashion, after paying out artists, the shop worker, and the person who leads tourists to the shop, leftover profit goes toward Project Esperanza. This also draws people into the community and introduces them to our efforts, as well as the charm of the little community itself. The attitude of the community in general has changed. You can feel a sense of hope and excitement as artists receive their weekly pay, tourists come through with the offer to gain valuable items rather than just to gawk at the extreme poverty, giving residents a sense of pride rather than humiliation. Other vendors have been able to share their specialties too such as delicious natural juices, homemade bread and peanut butter, and fried dough filled with egg and vegetables, called a pate, (pronounced pah-tay). However, things are slow moving as far as getting the excursion guides to bring their tours through on a regular basis. We continue to talk to guides as they pass by, to visit the companies and speak directly with owners and managers, and believe that with persistence we can establish routines, but this is still an effort that needs attention to bring the shop to its full potential. We are encouraged though by the idea of 10, 20, and possibly 40 or 50 people learning about Project Esperanza through the shop each day! It is also exciting that the shop is creating an income for so many who truly face extreme poverty and lack of opportunity! We are eagerly waiting for a recent volunteer to post a video she is editing on YouTube which interviews several women who have been involved in the jewelry group about their lives.
The movie theater effort to create income to pay for the rent of the school building continues to meet challenges as the electricity has been so very inconsistent. To read about the inconsistent electricity in the Dominican Republic, you may want to check out this blog post:http://lavidaidealist.org/2010/07/30/inconsistent-electricity-trained-laziness/. The problem we face is that the building has been included in a circuit that includes all of the houses of the batey. A batey is a word used to describe a housing complex usually bordering fields of sugar cane, inhabited by sugar cane workers, and government owned, at least at one point. The sugar cane industry has been non-functioning all along the north coast of the Dominican Republic for 6 years now which has left sugar cane workers in even worse situations than before, as well as sugar cane fields overgrown and unkempt. The entire batey of at least 100 houses have one contract with the electric company and one man goes around and collects a fixed fee from each household each month. During these past few months, this system has gone wrong a few times as the fee to the electric company was not paid and the electricity to the entire batey was cut off, affecting the school and the movie theater as well. On top of this, the electric company, Edenorte, does not seem to be in agreement that the school building is included in this circuit as it is actually outside of the batey, and I think they have good reason to feel this way. However, the reason that the landlord attaches the building to the batey circuit is because he was left with a debt from a previous tenant that he has not yet paid. So we have been going through a bit of a war with me paying partial monthly payments and then holding out, asking him to fix the situation with the electric company as it is ultimately his responsibility. Today he threatened to kick us out so I paid the other half of the rent but then talked to him about the lights and he gave in and genuinely said he would pay the debt in order to have a functioning and individual relationship with the electric company. Another plus of this is that this should cause the school building to be on a circuit that makes electricity available almost 24/7, whereas houses in the batey receive electricity only in the evenings and throughout the night, but it is cut off in the early morning and throughout the day. So hopefully we are nearing the end of this battle and will have consistent electricity throughout the school year, which will also allow the movie theater to function.
Volunteers have successfully created over 50 profiles for returning students whose parents attended parent-teacher meetings. We are still seeking sponsors to support each student. The sponsorship is an annual donation of $100 which covers the purchase of the student’s uniform, books, and school registration. There is no tuition throughout the year as parents would not be able to pay, but this sure does make it hard to maintain the teacher salary payments! With school beginning the first week of September, we just have two students sponsored this far. You can help by sponsoring one yourself and by sharing the opportunity with others around you who may be interested. Sponsors receive a profile with information on the student they are sponsoring as well as a family picture. Here is more information and an example of one family in a different community where we have a school on our website: http://www.esperanzameanshope.org/student-sponsorships-2011. We have chosen to include family pictures rather than individual pictures in order to respect and recognize the students’ caregivers.
We thank you for your support. Please consider this request of sponsoring a student. The week long teacher workshop we plan to run before school begins actually depends on our ability to collect school registration fees, so your sponsorship here will truly have a direct impact on the quality of education given this school year. Thank you!
**The best way to look at updated photos is through our facebook group: Project Esperanza.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.