This project report is a submission to GlobalGiving’s 2017 Fail Forward Contest, where organizations are asked to share a story of when they tried something new that didn’t go as planned and how they learned from it. Enjoy!
Four years ago, we began following a dream to ensure that all children in our program receive an education. In the Dominican Republic, public schools are free, but once the classes are full, they are full. And with only one small public school in the community of Bienvenido, many of the children in our program were being left outside the education system. Education is one of the biggest factors in determining one’s ability to climb out of poverty, and it had been our dream to offer this to all of our children for years.
In 2014, our scholarship program began with 26 children. We partnered with a local private school, and were offered a lowered tuition, paying only $125 for each child for a whole year of schooling. This is very little by American standards, but unimaginable for a family living in extreme poverty. So, we took it upon ourselves to raise the funds to send these children to school without any expense for the families. We had no idea that in doing this we were making a huge mistake.
As the year went on, the scholarship recipients began missing more and more school. We’d see the children out playing in the streets while they should be in class, and the parents always had an excuse: “Their uniform is dirty” or “They didn’t have a pencil to bring.” The excuses were never reasonable though, and we soon realized where we went wrong. By the parents having no stake in their child’s education they felt no responsibility for ensuring their child attended. In wanting to care well for these children, we had actually failed.
Thankfully, the story didn’t end here though. We recognized our mistake, and began implementing changes. We held a meeting and made it clear to the parents that in order for their children to remain a part of The Bienvenido Project, they must ensure their child attends school. We helped the families understand that others were making sacrifices for the benefit of their children, so the least they could do was sacrifice their own time to wash their child’s shirt or purchase a pencil. I wish I could tell you that in this moment every parent understood, but that’s not what happened. We had to make the hard decision to remove some of the children from our program. But not only did we learn from our mistakes, the parents learned from their mistakes as well. The following year they returned asking for us to give them another chance as they had come to see the value in their child being offered an education. Therefore, not only as a program, but also as a community, were we able to “fail forward”.
Thank you for believing in us and the community of Bienvenido even in the midst of learning from our mistakes. And thank you for giving the gift of an education to the children most in need. We’re in this together!