The school year is coming to an end and it has truly been a successful one despite many challenges. In January we moved into a new building that is much bigger and has ceiling fans but is also much more expensive... We painted a large white square on one of the walls and began running a movie theater on the weekends in order to attempt to generate funds and pay for the increased rent. The materials needed for the movie theater were all purchased at pawn shops in the US and include a DVD player, a projector, and computer speakers. This small business is yet to truly generate a profit as there has been one setback after another: first we needed more advertisement, then we needed to find more proactive and punctual staff to run it, then the electricity in the community was cut off for a number of weeks. Community members are not used to the concept of a movie theater also but we do believe the idea will catch on as there are few activities one can participate in so you would think that they would jump at the new opportunity for just 10 pesos. We held one BINGO night when a group of volunteers were here and this truly drew out a crowd of first time BINGO players. We then concluded that a BINGO night once a week would also be a good fundraiser... however, we have not yet held one for a fee.
A volunteer group from Virginia Tech that visited in March led students in making paper mache globes, taught geography, and performed a mosquito skit which taught about proper trash removal in order to avoid the attraction of mosquitos which can carry the sickness dengue. It was a joy to be a part of this interaction as the group was truly organized and had a great attitude and the students, teachers, and school in general showed great progress compared to times when past volunteer groups visited in reference to the overall discipline and maintenance of the school environment, which causes the school to appear respectful.
Finances continue to be a problem. We are currently in debt of $2,300 for just this school. However, we are making several efforts to change this situation, but everything takes time and many efforts also require funds...but we are at a point where we need to invest funds in things that will create more funds rather than just rushing to pay teachers when funds come in. Paying teachers is completely necessary for the school to be able to function but it is a dead end street with not enough sources flowing into it. Here are the efforts we are taking to generate more funds and support:
1. Monthly Restaurant Nights - We are setting up monthly restaurant nights in a few different US cities where we have a group of supporters. This has already begun in Winchester and Blacksburg, Virginia and supporters have committed to also setting these up in the Metropolitan Northern Virginia area, New Orleans, and Boulder, Colorado. In each community, a restaurant night is set up with a different restaurant each month for the first Tuesday of each month. Supporters go out and eat at the restaurants and the restaurants in turn donate between 10 and 20 percent of the night's sales to Project Esperanza. This effort has large potential to increase our monthly income and engage more supporters in a very simple method of support. There are no real costs to start these up just a volunteer to coordinate the events is needed and then some printing and copies are needed to communicate with restaurant owners and managers as well as to advertise.
2. Art Shop & Internet Center - The building we have prepared for an art shop to sell art made by local artists to passing tourists in the community of Munoz is ready to launch, we are just waiting for an expat to come and work the shop during the day. We have put a posting on idealist.org and have gotten several applications...some who could come later in the year and some who could come within the month. Hopefully someone will be coming within the month so that this can begin functioning, generating profit, and raising awareness among passing tourists. We have invested in the preparation of this building, have to pay about $67 a month for rent on the building, and once it contains the artwork, will have to pay a night watchman to sleep in the building and other costs to maintain it. The person working in the shop will make money only from commission on sales so we have no investment there. This building was originally prepared to be an internet center but resources ran low and security was an issue so we are opening it as an art shop and then will incorporate in the internet center aspect when resources are available. With several groups of tourist excursions passing through daily and the successful sales of this artwork whenever we have volunteer groups visit, we have security that this business will generate a profit.
3. Volunteer/Visitor Hostel in Munoz - With volunteer groups coming and going frequently and a volunteer program we are working on executing for this summer, it makes sense that we rent a building to serve as a volunteer/visitor hostel. The bottom floor of the school is open for rent and has space for at least 12 beds, has a bathroom, and a kitchen. The other place that volunteers can stay in Munoz is wonderful but is also quite removed from the community and is more expensive. Opening this hostel would cause volunteers to stay close by the community while still staying in a secure fenced in area and would also employ members of the community to cook and clean. We believe that having volunteers stay closer to the community will generate more relationships which will cause people to want to support more upon returning home. If enough volunteers and visitors stay throughout the year, it could also generate a profit for Project Esperanza. If we have a full house during the summer months then enough funds will be generated to pay the rent on the building for the entire year! However, the start up costs to pay the deposit, purchase beds (we have some bunk beds we can move over but will need to purchase more beds and mattresses), fans, and the necessary kitchen equipment is about $2,500. With volunteers beginning to come consistently throughout the summer in June, we need these funds very soon if we are to begin this project this year. And with things being the way they are financially, I think we need to be as aggressive as possible in getting some things going. I really don't want this opportunity to pass by. If anyone wants to donate or loan for this purpose, please e-mail.
4. English Immersion Camp & English Immersion Pre-School - It has been our experience and observation that volunteers find it easier to connect and feel productive right away when working with the Dominican community. In short, this is a safer ground to get started with and someone who has taken Spanish courses can usually jump right in and begin teaching their specialty, English, to a group of Dominican children who are in school and live healthily with their families. Although our programs serve the Haitian immigrant community, it is apparent that the average North American volunteer has a harder time connecting with the Haitian community right off the bat due to the larger language, cultural, and economic gap. Some experiences can be frustrating or overwhelming and more time is needed to get assimilated, etc. It is important that we bring more expats into the community...this will inevitably increase our support and improve quality of service we are able to provide here, so creating a program that volunteers are able to jump into more easily is a wise idea.
Additionally, since Project Esperaza began working in Puerto Plata in 2006, we have heard numerous complaints of jealousy from the Dominican community and pleas for service, especially in the area of English. English schools are quite an industry here and native speaking English teachers are a commodity. So this is also a profitable strategy where a program that will at least sustain itself and perhaps generate some profit is very possible. We have volunteers ready to come and execute an English immersion camp throughout the summer and others who have experience teaching ESL in Latin American countries ready to come as pre-school teachers in the fall, working for a stipend. We just need a building in the center of town as the schools we already have are in barriors or bateys outside of town and are already used for their specific purposes. To pay the deposit on one available building in town that would be perfect for this purpose and to purchase necessary materials such as chalkboards, tables, and chairs, we would need $2,500. If we do not find this amount we can find a building that will cost less but not much less. And the costs to run these programs can easily be covered by camper and student fees that are still less than other options in the area. We need supporters to back up this project as it is another that has great potential and is in conjunction with the volunteer hostel.
5. Student Sponsorships - We have been hesitant to facilitate individual student sponsorships in the past for several reasons. Basically, it is easy to feel as though you are exploiting children by doing this..taking their pictures, providing some basic data, and then putting the picture on a website in search of funds. You feel as though you are selling a poor child for sometimes an unrealistically low price and no mother would likely want their child portrayed in that way. However, it has also been made aparent that many supporters enjoy supporting individuals rather than entire programs and they would rather know that their funds are going toward tangible things such as uniforms and books rather than rent on buildings and teacher salaries. So this year we will try something new and will take photos and create profiles on students who have been involved with the school this past year and years previously. These will be family photos and profiles rather than individual in order to respect the entire family. We will then search for a supporter for each student to give $100 (one time or once a year) to cover the student's uniform, books, and school registration. This will not cover rent on the building and teacher salaries which are the biggest cost but will engage more supporters in the school. We will be able to facilitate some contact between supporters and students but not too extensively. Over time this will likely grow. We should begin creating these profiles within the next few weeks if anyone should hope to support a student.
This is our strategy for getting things on track. Again, we need people to back us up on these efforts in many ways. Thank you so much for your support.
Things have been going well with the United Brothers School of Muñoz since the last update where I wrote about the unfortunate division that occurred. Things have been going well thanks to the hard work of the school's director and teachers as well as the generosity of those of you who donated in response to the request. We were able to purchase uniforms for students, durable benches with desk tops, and some books. Thank you again!
The school has over 75 students, some that come in the morning, some that come in the afternoon, and then a small group of adults who come in the evening to receive basic education. Our largest group is the pre-schoolers and kindergardeners. The class sizes are very large and there isn't adequate space for them. They do pretty well since they are used to living in small quarters and pretty unstimulating environments, but we hope to be able to provide a more nurturing and stimulating environment in the near future. There is a nearby building we hope to rent which will be much better. However, we currently lack the funds to pay for the deposit and higher rent. We do, though, have a plan to begin a movie theater in the evenings of the new building to generate funds to pay for its higher rent and other school costs. We also have almost all the equipment to do so. Moving into this new building will free up the current building being used for its original purpose of an internet center and gift shop selling art done by local artisans which will attract tourists passing by on tourist excursions and inform them about our project as well as generate funds. So we are on our way toward sustainability but still face a few road blocks along the way.
Two interns from the U.S. did a great job teaching physical education and english in the school during the months of September and October. One also helped with the jewelry group that teachers mothers of students to make marketable jewelry. There is potential that more volunteers will come and serve in similar ways in the near future.
However, it is even more important at this point that we have proper support for teachers as well as adequate facilities and materials. Teachers have had to endure receiving late pay during the past three months due to lack of funds. Recent donations just received in response to the Matching Day in October was used to pay teachers for months past but they still wait for their November and December pay. They also face persecution from Immigration officers and feel fearful of that. All have passports with visas but some have visas that have expired and need to renew but the financial situation is making it difficult to do so. One teacher has faced great difficulty in paying transportation to come to work as his personal responsibility is especially high, caring for siblings and a nephew at a young age due to the death of family members. This causes us to have to pay his substitution as well as himself because we cannot punish him for his inability to come to work when he is not receiving his pay as he should be. However, one of the first things he hopes to do when he receives his pay is to purchase a bicycle.
Thank you so much for your continued support.
Continued from the last update:
I am in constant communication with the school’s staff and the staff of all of our programs here. There is no way I could submit to this man’s leadership in hopes of receiving funds. The afternoon school director and co-founder felt the same way about his involvement. Therefore, I remained in polite communication but maintained a position of authority which the five staff members encouraged me in.
During a visit in July, this man made the decision to work with the morning director by paying rent for one year on the building we had abandoned to avoid conflict and to pay teacher salaries throughout the school year as well as to provide meals for the students. The teachers and I were a bit stunned by this blatant attack. Obviously this decision revealed this supporter’s shared intentions with the morning director of selfishness, power hunger, and anything but focus on the healthy education of the students.
We began meeting with parents and registering kids for school right away. Teachers have been present in the community daily since this decision was made, staying in communication with parents to provide them honest stability and support. However, the morning director who has seceded from the union has also been going after children and parents and has been making more offers that our staff has been forced to up the anty on. The biggest change from the way we have done things in the past is that it appears that we have to take on the responsibility of providing uniforms for students this year whereas parents have been responsible for that in the past. The other school was gaining students by offering uniforms at a very low price. After several pleas from our staff to up the anty and resistence from my end due to lack of funds, I told the director that I realized that in order to save the school we had to do something. How much would uniforms cost? He replied thankfully and asked me to come to the school that afternoon. When I arrived, he had already announced that we would be providing free uniforms and he and the other teachers had notebooks marking down measurements as two tailors measured students. They did what they had to do to save the school and I am responsible for backing them up.
It is undoubtable that our school, which maintains the name United Brothers School of Muñoz will provide a higher quality education than the other school as the morning director and teachers he is working with are much weaker than the staff that remain with Project Esperanza. We also will provide a healthier environment for the children as our end goal is to empower them with knowledge and wisdom as opposed to the other school’s goal which is to keep children in ignorance, temporarily happy with material items and full stomachs but ignorant as to the exploitation they are receiving in order to benefit the school’s leadership. Nonetheless, when families struggle to provide food for their children and to clothe them, it is difficult for parents to consider such factors. This community has true need and I am happy for Project Esperanza to provide uniforms and would love to be able to provide a hearty meal as well but we truly lack funds. Also, we have been unable to retrieve some tables, chairs, and chalkboards through this conflict as well and need to purchase them again. The budget included above includes these items as well as items needed in other facilities.
In Solidarity with Haitian Motherhood
Again, this is an example of an attack on one of our programs but there have regretfully been more. We are obviously growing, are learning from experiences, and will be less vulnerable to such attacks in the future, but right now, we need financial help in overcoming this one.
Financial instability leaves many Haitian mothers at risk of losing their children. When you are unable to provide certain things for your children, there are others who will use their more fortunate situation to lure your children to them with various intentions. Monthly sponsors have recently been receiving updates explaining such situations we have dealt with here often. Rather than using their more fortunate situation to empower these struggling mothers, they use their situations to rob them and break their homes and hearts. Perhaps bystanders pass judgment on the struggling mothers, trying to assume that she is responsible for her difficult situation, but this is highly unjust. Her difficult situation is normally due to the absent father. And his absence is normally due to selfishness similar to that displayed by the morning director and Canadian supporter in this case, hardships, or death. Yes, there are mothers who are irresponsible as well but I am referring to the millions of Haitian mothers, grandmothers, and aunts who are fighting to provide for children – children who need food, clothes, shoes, and education, and additionally would like to drink a cold drink occasionally or to own items such as a bike.
This is something I have been sympathetic to since we began working here and hope to do the opposite – to empower and restore families rather than rip them apart. But in reality, Project Esperanza is a struggling mother as well, providing rich care for her programs which can be referred to as her children but constantly facing financial instability. We have many moral supporters, people that are interested in the work we are doing and will wish us well. We have had roughly 150 volunteers come and participate and experience our work here and I don’t think that anyone has left with the opinion that our work is anything but 100% authentic. Some may be more inclined to desire more immediate and tangible results such as is possible in large construction projects or medical outreach. While these two fields are incorporated into our programs when necessary, our focus on empowerment through education and social support provides results that are less immediate but much deeper and should yield several times the effects on society over time. However, with all of the moral support and volunteers that have come and seen, we have a very small, loyal, highly appreciated group of actual financial supporters. PLEASE consider joining this group. We are, as described above, in a time of battle. Those wishing to use the most vulnerable members of society for personal gain appear to have more ammunition than Project Esperanza, those truly putting our sweat and blood into educating the most vulnerable.
Our Request to You
At this time, we need a surge of one time monetary donations to meet the demands outlined in the budget above before the school year begins on September 6th. We also need more monthly sponsors in order to consistently cover our most basic expenses each month. Again, sponsors receive insightful updates on a weekly basis (similar to Etyenn’s story and Ti Ronal’s Journey to the Dominican Republic). A new series for monthly sponsors is about to begin so now is a great time to join the group. E-mail Sponsor@EsperanzaMeansHope.org to receive the forms. Those of you that have shown interest in forming fundraising groups and taking on fundraising efforts, please don’t give up!
Here is an update that I sent over our list serv on August 18th. Since then, we have received the necessary funds I requested and purchased benches and tables, books, student uniforms, teacher uniforms, and some other necessary materials. However, we have the large need of funds in order to keep up with teacher salary payments and to rent a separate facility to hold school. The main facility where we now hold school is a building we were preparing for an internet center, which funds did not allow us to put into full function, but we hope to open it up for passing tourists to buy jewelry and other work made by local artisans until we have the needed funds to start the internet center. The jewelry group that was begun by a group of volunteers from Virginia Tech in March continues to meet weekly. They have a wealth of products they have made and just need the space to begin selling their items! There is a great building nearby we would love to rent for the school in order to free up the current building to use it for its original purpose: gift shop/internet center. I have a few pictures of the jewelry group meeting and working but not any of the new school materials yet unfortunately. Below is the list serv update from August 18th:
We have learned that when you have a good thing going, others may try to steal it from you... especially in unprotected environments as we are in here. This is what has happened with our grassroots schools lately and we are under serious attack. However, we know that with your help we can overcome this challenge as we have overcome all others. More details as to the attack are explained below if you are interested. I hope you can take the time to thoroughly read the explanation as I think it provides great insight into our situation here and into non-profit work in the developing world in general. As we prepare for the new school year, we have some immediate needs that we are unable to meet and we, therefore, have to send out a desparate plea!
Help Save Our Grassroots Schools
Expense Quantity Indiv. Cost USD Total Cost
Student Uniform 60 15 900
Chair 38 6 228
Table 5 10 50
Chalkboard 4 20 80
Fan 2 55 110
Set of Books 80 15 1,200
Total 189 $121.00 $2,568.00
We need these funds before school begins on September 6th.
A few of our different programs have been under attack lately and all in similar ways. Others are trying to piggy back off of the programs we have already set up rather than reaching out to unserved populations or even take over ownership. When Project Esperanza began working in Puerto Plata in 2006 we specifically sought out the groups in the most need who were not receiving any assistance. We have remained highly committed to those we began working with since then. I will explain what has recently happened with the United Brothers School of Muñoz so that you can further understand what I am referring to.
As explained in the attached “grassroots schools” document, two men founded the United Brothers School of Muñoz in April 2007. After learning of our support of the first grassroots school in Padre Granero, they persistently sought aid from Project Esperanza to begin the school and after resisting for months, we included the school into our organization. Since then, six teachers received monthly pay and other assistance was provided as well. This past school year an adult literacy evening class was added bringing the total teaching staff to seven (two teaching directors and five regular teachers).
During the past year, regretfully, division has been created in the United Brothers School. One of the co-founders and the director of the morning school began soliciting financial assistance from tourists and other groups in the area, lying about Project Esperanza’s support of the school. When the other co-founder and director of the afternoon school saw that this was getting out of hand, he informed me and gave me contact information of a supporter the morning director had gained. After contacting this supporter, I learned that he had begun sending funds from Canada to pay teacher salaries of the school in the morning as well as to provide food for students and had been soliciting funds from his church members in Canada. Food was being provided but no account was given as to the teacher salary money as no teachers had received that. This man was surprised at receiving the information from me. We remained in communication and he stopped sending funds for teacher salaries (he had only just begun sending funds) but continued sending money for food, although not through Project Esperanza.
At a meeting with both directors and all teachers present, it was obvious who the guilty party was. The morning director displayed destructive, selfish, and counteractive behavior for the remaining of the school year, often locking classrooms with locks which only he had the key to so that other teachers and students could not get in to hold class. He did this simply to display his declared authority. We also continued to hear accounts of him untruthfully soliciting to foreigners that passed through the area. The rest of the teaching staff attempted to finish out the school year strong despite this division but on the last day of school, the morning director boarded up the entrance to the building, causing the afternoon school staff to break off the boards in order to enter and hold final exams. Halfway through the exams, the morning director came in and ordered all of the students to leave. It has been sad to see that this man completely lost interest in what is best for the students and the community and is letting his hunger for power and money get the best of him. It is a lesson for the community to see.
The morning director seemed far from repentance so five of the now seven staff members and I decided to attempt to ignore him and abandon the building of conflict, renting a different facility nearby to continue school during the 2010-2011 school year. This is often what has to be done in such situations where one does not want to counteract attacks of brutality as there is no hope that the police or any other authority figure will intervene to bring about necessary justice. One teacher, the morning director’s girlfriend, is sticking with him although she stated that she would’ve continued with Project Esperanza if we had invited her. During meetings after the conflict began, she already proved to be supporting the morning teacher’s dishonesty as she was likely benefiting from it as well which is why we didn’t invite her to continue with us.
I continually updated the Canadian supporter to let him know the mayhem that was occurring. I was confused by this man’s reactions. He was reluctant to back out of the situation or become a supporter through Project Esperanza as would have been the two appropriate responses after learning that his involvement had come about in such a dishonest manner that was obviously empowering negative and destructive behavior. I kept reiterating the fact that the morning director was abusing his power and should not be receiving funds anymore and that we needed to collaborate in any efforts because division did not need to be created in the already marginalized community by the splitting of schools, causing parents to have to choose where to send their students and making a statement that two foreign aid “institutions” needed to fight over one community rather than doing the most logical thing and spreading out to areas of more need. I reiterated several times as well that if we could not work together then he should allow me to put him in contact with one of the several schools that were attempting to function in other areas of Puerto Plata that were without any aid. This is also outlined on the attached “grassroots schools” document. Project Esperanza could not abandon this community after having worked here since 2007. The teachers already have relationships formed with parents and students and we did not intend to abandon that.
I saw that this man and Project Esperanza would likely not be able to work together because it appeared through conversation as though this man was only comfortable being in the position of authority and in making decisions and I was not willing to submit to his leadership. It is clear that he is completely ignorant to Haitian culture, the education systems in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, lacks the language skills to communicate effectively with the staff, students, and parents, and is not present in the country except for at most a few weeks out of the year. Additionally, he is an individual who was solicited to while simply passing through the area on vacation. Project Esperanza is a non-profit organization registered in both the United States and the Dominican Republic whose sole purpose is this line of work. I have been living here full time for almost three years now and have been working in the Puerto Plata community with Project Esperanza for five years now. I have been 100% dedicated to Haitian education in the Dominican Republic and have been teaching in Haitian Creole along with Haitian teachers since I’ve been here, continually attempting to create the best practices for the specific population we serve. I have been immersed in Haitian culture and am married to and have a child with a Haitian man. I am in constant communication ...To Be Continued in another update.
Final exams ended last week and now the children of Muñoz are on summer vacation. To prepare for the upcoming school year, we will attempt to hold some teacher training sessions. The reason I say "attempt" is because we are pioneers in this specific type of school and we're working to develop a somewhat new, integrated curriculum so training teachers in a developing curriculum is not easy. We are attempting to move more and more toward teaching in Creole. This is met with resistance from some teachers, especially older teachers, because they were forced to do school in French growing up in Haiti. Now they are an immigrant in the Dominican Republic. Creole is spoken in the home and Spanish is spoken in society. What good does French do? Some are offended when told this directly but it is a truth that must be considered when considering the best way to prepare students for their future. Therefore, when teacher trainings are held, this discussion often rises and lots of focus has to be on changing the mindset of teachers. Hopefully this summer we will be able to move past that and have some more productive teacher training sessions. A member of our board of directors, a Haitian professor in the department of international outreach and research at Virginia Tech, tentatively plans to take a trip down to hold some teacher training sessions. We hope he can make it!
Also, regretfully, the morning director and one of the school's co-founders, Evantz Lafontant, will not be continuing with the school this upcoming school year. He abused the trust given to him by fellow co-founder and afternoon director Garry Jacques, Project Esperanza leadership, and the teaching staff. He solicited aid from a visiting Canadian man, telling him that the school was unsupported and teachers worked simply out of the goodness of their hearts. This man then began sending Lafontant funds to support the school which Lafontant pocketed. He then began acting disruptively and strangely attacking the afternoon school and director by putting foreign locks on classroom doors so that teachers would arrive at school unable to enter and teach. On the last day of school he boarded up the building so that the afternoon school could not hold their final exams. The director removed the boards and held class as normal. Lafontant showed up at the school halfway through, asked Garry how he had entered, and ordered the students to leave. Half of the students had not yet finished their exams. This building is not rented by Project Esperanza but by a separate source connected to the church that also uses the building. This is the reason that Lafontant had a disruptive sense of authority. Therefore, it is necessary that we find a separate building for the upcoming year. Also, we are now able to provide more oversight and accountability as well as solutions to problems from lessons learned so that similar situations do not continue to occur in the future.
Thank you for your interest and support!
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