Project Esperanza

Project Esperanza is a non-profit organization that began as and remains a Virginia Tech student organization. Project Esperanza serves to connect the Blacksburg, Virginia community and the Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic community through service. Our programs are designed to work toward breaking the cycle of poverty present among the lower social classes in these two communities, as well toward breaking the cycle of apathy present among the upper classes.
Aug 15, 2011

A Calm After the Storm

We still have not had the opportunity or the funding to return to Port-au-Prince. As a reminder, we live in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and Project Esperanza has been primarily serving the Haitian immigrant community here since 2006 in the areas of education, social work, and community development. Because we have not been able to return and execute the plan of setting up cafeteria self-sustaining businesses in a tent city in Port-au-Prince, I have kept in contact with some people in the area, including a humanitarian worker from the U.S. and my husband's aunt who we stay with when we go. My husband's aunt has been able to provide the most insight, perhaps because she is Haitian.

The biggest issue I am concerned about as our last efforts were disrupted by violence, is the level of such incidents in the city and the overall security of things. When we were last there, one of my husband's distant family members was robbed at gunpoint after withdrawaling money from the bank. When he came home and reported that this had just happened, my husband's aunt replied, "Oh no, are we starting up with that stuff again?" She said "we" in reference to the city of Port-au-Prince. The whole conversation that followed was interesting and I thought, "Only in Haiti..."

I often say that Haiti is like a large group of abused children. Anyone who works with abused children knows that they do things that don't exactly make sense. If you look at Haiti's history, you will find that it is full of abuse and the abuse has, not surprisingly, continued throughout the country's existence. But with the abuse being initiated mostly by foreign parties, while abuse remains amongst Haitians, there remains a large amount of solidarity amongst Haitians as they have endured so much together. People are in close contact with ridiculous things such as kidnappings on an all too regular basis. There is not enough energy or freedom to get highly upset by such incidents and getting highly upset does not give one any more control. People who work with emotionally disturbed children can probably relate to that statement. So conversations surrounding such things often appear humorously, and sometimes disturbingly, nonchalant.

I was getting my hair braided when the man reported being robbed so I couldn't turn my head to observe the conversation but simply listened to the voices. One of the women asked him if he did not fight back and he replied with, "You all don't know how much of a wimp I am." Everyone cracked up at this comment and repeated it several times.

When I spoke to my husband's aunt the other day, she said that she had not heard of any kidnappings or violent robbery incidents in quite a while and she felt as though the overall security in the city was good. Granted, this is not statistical information but it is a valuable testimony. She also said that they had gone to court over the incident I previously explained but nothing had come of it. I didn't realize that the man who was robbed was able to recognize the robber but he apparently was. She said that the recovery of the city after the 2010 earthquake was moving along but that the tent city situation was the same. To me, the thousands and thousands of people living in tents is the most pressing problem and no progress there to me means no progress at all, but at the same time, I know that a lot of effort and resources are required just to maintain aid to the tent cities, including the maintenance of porta-potties, the delivery of water which residents then purchase, and I believe the delivery of food as well. I didn't ask yet about the removal of rubble but will the next time I speak to her or another contact. I did ask about the presence of the American soldiers. She said that they are still there.

At this point, I plan on doing more research and communication with other organizations on the ground as well as with people living in the tent city we reached out to before in order to try to assess if the original plan is still a good one and if it seems plausible to carry out within the next year, should the necessary funds and collaboration from people on the ground be found. This effort is not one of our main priorities as an organization and cannot, by any means, subtract from our programs in Puerto Plata, but it is an extremely important effort for the country of Haiti, whose unfortunate state is what has caused so many to come to Puerto Plata and other cities in the Dominican Republic in the first place. So having our hand int his effort is definitely not off-focus, but separate funding and a separate team is truly needed in order to carry it out.

Thank you very much for your collaboration.  


May 2, 2011

Building Finished, Now we have to fill it...

The alternative spring break group from Dartmouth College came in
March for their annual trip and finished preparing the building for
the internet center (1st floor) and volunteer apartment (2nd floor).
The leader of the community development organization for which this
internet center was built has been having to travel quite a bit for
work reasons but is creating business opportunities at home and is
preparing to settle down and work more from Saman. His constant
presence will create more security and oversight in the community
which will be a better situation for introducing the necessary
expensive equipment. So now what is left is the installation of
internet and a telephone line, purchase and installation of computers,
telephones, an inverter and batteries to give electricity when the
power goes out, a UPS box for each computer to protect them for safe
shutdown when the inverter loses charge and the power is still out,
and an internet center control program. There are community members
who could run the internet center, but it would be ideal to start up
the center in a way that an expat volunteer or intern with excellent
language skills and computer skills were to stay in the volunteer
apartment and oversee things, also serving to teach community members
computer skills at the same time. This way the internet center can be
launched successfully in a protected manner and members of the
community development organization can see its success and then learn
the exact practices that should be followed in order to maintain the
success. The end goal is to train the community members and pass the
responsibility over to them. If the expat volunteer/intern does not
run and oversee the center and community members launch it themselves,
it is not likely to be as organized and successful and efforts would
therefore be less efficient. So we are keeping an eye out for someone
who fits this role. If you or someone you know speaks excellent
Spanish (Haitian Creole also is a huge plus but not required) and is
knowledgeable with computers, as well as is interested in volunteering
here for perhaps three months, please e-mail

Thanks for reading and supporting!


May 2, 2011

Not much has changed, presidential elections...

I have not personally visited Port-au-Prince lately and have only been updated from others who are there or who have come here to the Dominican Republic from there. It sounds as though little has really changed in terms of removing rubble and creating housing for the tent communities. Around the time of the first round of the presidential elections in November 2010, I wrote an article that is linked below after speaking to Haitians here in the Dominican Republic, without doing any research and forming an opinion from any other sources. My opinion is not included in this article and it just simply captures the views of the several Haitians I spoke with here.

Between the first round and second round of the elections, there was much talk as Jean Claude Duvalier returned to the country after being exiled for 25 years I believe, returned to the country.
This caused quite a bit of talk and commotion. Shortly after, there
was quite a bit of talk that other former president in exile Aristide
had returned. There was some talk that Duvalier, at least, would try to enter into the elections but it was secure that it wouldn't be allowed as his time out of the country would put him out of the running, not to mention the first round had already been completed.

I realize that it is not interesting or encouraging to hear that we
have been unable to make any headway toward setting up simple,
sustainable, and work providing cafeterias in the tent cities or at
least the one in Plas Mozole right in downtown Port-au-Prince because
we have had absolutely no funds to work with, but that is the truth.
Still, it would be a wonderful service and I truly believe that we
have a design that would practically work and put the responsibility
in the hands of the people. But nothing can be done without funds.


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