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.
Wednesday, June 15th is a Bonus Day with Global Giving, which means any donations will be matched 30%...so if you donate $99, your donation will really turn into $99 + $33 totaling $132. This is a great opportunity! And we hope to make the most of it. Additionally, we have started a new sponsorship program for this next school year. Volunteers and staff have been meeting with families of students from this past year and previous years and creating profiles on each student as well as taking family fotos. We then plan on seeking one sponsor for each student. We are not seeking monthly sponsors but annual sponsors to give $100 before school begins to support the purchase of a uniform, books, and school registration. A little may also go to a school snack if we can get everyone sponsored. Once sponsors send in their payment, they will receive the student's info. and are free to ask about him or her at any time. We will answer your questions as time allows.
So if you would like to take advantage of this Bonus Day opportunity and make your donation to sponsor a student for this next year, I will contact you by e-mail right away afterwards. Thank you for your support!
Lastly, if anyone would like to volunteer with us here this summer with an english camp in the mornings and different activities in different communities, Muñoz being one of the main ones, in the afternoons, please e-mail me and / or follow the attached link for more information. Spread the word! We would love to have you!
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!
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