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.
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