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!
Things are going well with the United Brothers School of Muñoz. The school is separated into morning and afternoon. We now have done a little bit of reorganization so that there are separate directors in the morning and afternoon. Each director also teaches a class and works along with two teachers so three classes are held in the morning and three in the afternoon. Discipline is a bit of a problem and the directors and teachers are trying out a detention system. They haven't had a very consistent method of discipline where all teachers participate in the same method but we just decided to do that after a recent meeting so I think the consistency will help as long as the punishment of detention is carried out well.
There is also a class for adults who are learning to read in the evening. We have the option of adding a sewing class also in the evening but I think we will wait to do that because I don't want the directors to have too much responsibility in overseeing everything. We'll possibly add that in the fall but we're trying to do things little by little to avoid mistakes that come from taking on too much.
The Virginia Tech student organization just came and volunteered for a week. It was a very productive trip! We began forming a women's group, meeting with women in the community of Muñoz. We conducted interviews in order to gain insight into their lives. We asked about their families, children, child raising practicies, time in the Dominican Republic, and work situations. Students taught the women how to make bracelets out of embroidery string. Some women really caught on. We bought the bracelets that were without mistakes at 50 pesos each and the students will sell them in Blacksburg, Virginia. This gave the women instant gratification for their work but also the skill to continue while the student organization is not present as well. After suggesting it, the woman also began collecting church seeds, stringing them, and making beautiful necklaces, which we bought many of as well.
Another large focus of the trip was to set up an internet center in the community of Muñoz where there isn't one yet. The center will serve as a small business to support Project Esperanza's efforts in the Muñoz community - primarily the United Brothers School of Muñoz. It will also be an education center for tourists who pass through the Muñoz community often fairly ignorantly on tourist excursions such as horseback riding, horse drawn carriage, go-carting, or four wheeling. They will be able to learn about Project Esperanza's developmental work in the community and use the internet or purchase art, food, and other items made by community members, giving them a pathway to directly support the community they are visiting. Volunteers painted the building and paid a local artist to paint a beautiful mural of a sugarcane scene on one of the walls. A local man built iron doors and another local man is still in the process of building the computer tables and cubicles. After that, internet will be installed, computers will be purchased and installed, and things will get up and running. I will oversee things closely at first but there are a few local Haitians who have been involved in Project Esperanza for quite some time that have strong language skills in English and Spanish as well as their own language Creole, as well as computer knowledge, and are in need of a job. So they will eventually take over and this will be a great job for them as well as a fundraiser for the school!
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