Recycling trash into…a new school!

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If you have ever visited Puerto Plata, you have seen the beautiful blue beaches set against a backdrop of gorgeous green mountains speckled with tropical flowers and fruits of all kinds.  If you have been out of the tourist all-inclusive resorts, you have probably experienced all of this while also noticing piles of trash along side roads, in gutters, in people’s back yards, and marring those lovely beaches that nobody is paid to clean up daily. Because people often have to rely on bottled (or bagged) water to drink, because the negative aspects of littering are not emphasized, and because there is little infrastructure to deal with many things such as sanitation in the local community (and this could be a discussion for several blog posts  but is not the point of this one), the trash problem quickly gets out of hand!

Project Esperanza has found an exciting new way for the students we serve to help clean up their community and at the same time contribute toward the fundraising for the new, permanent school building they desperately need!

Students have been going out to collect bottles and cans, and when they have collected enough to fill a truck, they load up their recyclables and take them to a recycling center, a Recicladora, in Santiago where they are paid for their efforts!

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While the ability to fundraise in the Dominican Republic is limited, this is one way that the local community can be part of the work as we come together to raise the needed funds to purchase a place where our students can be educated and play safely!

This is also a potential project for short-term volunteers who could lead a group of volunteers and/or students in a day or several days of clean-up and recycling.

Along these same lines, if your state or province has a deposit on cans and bottles, a weekend bottle drive is a quick way to help us fundraise in solidarity with our students!  Sometimes Redemption Centers even add 1 cent for each can/bottle brought back when the money is being donated. Send us your photos to post on the blog and on Facebook!

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Some people have also started programs in schools to recycle a variety of objects…from trash to old electronics…in an effort to help PE fundraise! If that is something you think you can do, check out


They, and other organizations like them, give money to charities like Project Esperanza for those enrolled in their recycling programs.

Look for updates about our recycling project on our recycling for Padre Granero Facebook page.

You can donate to our fundraising efforts for a new, permanent school!




Volunteer Debriefing

When volunteers come to work with us, we usually ask them to reflect on their experience by asking them a few questions about their time with us. Morganne was a remarkable 16-year old who came to volunteer for 6 weeks during the summer of 2014. Among other projects, she did a wonderful job leading the “songs” station at Cambia Mis Estrellas Summer Camp.  She expertly changed the lyrics of many common American children’s songs to incorporate the theme of the week and the kids had a great time singing and dancing in her station.  The following are her thoughtful and mature answers to some of our questions. Perhaps they will inspire you to come and spend some time with us if you haven’t already!

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PE: What was your favorite part of your trip?

Morganne: I really enjoyed knowing and working with my housemates. They had a really cool diversity of experience and I feel like I learned a lot. I also thought that camp was a really fun and engaging experience.

PE: What was your least favorite part of your trip?

Morganne: Personally, I missed both wifi and the comforts of home. But I hardly think these even qualify as woes because they were just a part of the adventure. I had a great trip in general.

PE: Had you seen poverty/lack of opportunity to this extent before?

I had not experienced it so personally or for such an extended period of time. I traveled to India a little more than 4 years ago, and briefly saw similar conditions, but it was a glance at best.

PE: How do you feel about returning to the US?

To be perfectly honest, I felt relieved. It took some doing to get here (I had some money troubles trying to navigate Dominican customs), but it was nice to come home. 6 weeks was a long time for me, and while I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, I was happy to see my family.

PE: Do you feel like anything in your mindset/world view will change? What will really stick with you? My mom has worked extensively in the international development field, and I like to think that her values and ideals are a part of my own outlook. So there weren’t any dramatic worldview alterations, but I still feel that I learned a lot. We had some excellent in-house discussions on the ethics of voluntourism and development that helped me to clarify my own views on what we accomplished this summer and also future projects.

PE: Do you feel like those of us from developed countries that have received good education, have job opportunities, etc. have a certain amount of responsibility to the developing world?

Morganne: I heard an excellent anecdote recently that I think is apropos to the work that NGOs do in the developing world (and by extension what we did this summer). There was once a little boy who was drawing a bath, and in doing so he accidentally let the tub overflow. Water soon flooded the bathroom and his father came in. The dad asked his son what on earth had he been thinking, to which the child replied, “There isn’t time to look at the bigger picture, dad! We have to get buckets and bail!” Similarly, the problems that non-profit organizations battle are immediate and pressing. We have a responsibility to help with these needs. There is an issue that is eminently solvable, but equally needs attention in the long term. The educations that we have been fortunate enough to receive in the United States give us the tools we need to help with this, and I think that it’s admirable and necessary to address it. However, these problems stem from a socioeconomic and political system that is fundamentally broken, for whatever reason. There isn’t anything we can do, as foreigners, to foment the change that is necessary. The instigation needs to come from a grassroots level and sweep it’s way through the government. These larger changes have a tendency to go horribly awry when large and powerful countries inflict them upon the developing world. Iraq is the example that springs to mind, though it is extreme. As individuals, it is both satisfying and frustrating to work on the local level with underprivileged communities. On one hand, there is a tangible difference that you can make if your project succeeds. On the other, it feels as though you are bailing with a thimble, to reference the allegory above.

Food for thought on this last question:

-We (from the developed world in general) have a responsibility to our own country built in with taxes but what about responsibility to the developing world?

-In our generation we are not directly responsibility for the development of our home countries. We did not take part in setting it up but we do reap the benefits.

Help us build a new school! Buy a raffle ticket! Win a vacation!

We are fundraising to purchase a school building! On January 24, 2015, we will be forced to move out of our current school building, where 130 kids in 9 classes grades pre-K through 6th receive an education. One of our supporters has generously donated 22 time share points through RCI Time Shares. This translates into a week long stay at your choice of resorts located in the USA and around the world. All costs related to the time share are covered. The only cost not covered is transportation to and from the resort of your choice.
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Tickets are just $10 each. Purchasers of 10 or more tickets (or any $100+ donation to this cause) receive a t-shirt designed by one of our students, indicating that you have helped to support the new school building!

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To confirm that the names you want put in the drawing are entered, in addition to sending in the funds, please e-mail with the name, e-mail, and phone number of each ticket recipient.

Funds for ticket purchase can also be sent via paypal or check made out to Project Esperanza, sent to 1291 Valley Mill Rd. Winchester, VA 2202.



The winner of the raffle must use the vacation by April 2015. Our students will do the drawing at 11am on December 18th. A video of the drawing will be posted within two days of the drawing.

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**NOTE: If you donate $10 through our Global Giving project on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 2nd, your name will automatically be entered into the raffle and you can help us win an extra $5,000! If you donate right at 9am EST or 3pm EST your donation will likely be matched, and if we get enough unique donors throughout the day, we win an extra $5,000 toward the cause!**

Introducing… Good Fruit Designs!


Introducing… a t-shirt contest for a cause! This is an idea that has brewed for years and is finally coming into existence! Good Fruit Designs features designs that portray positive themes and hold periodic competitions for new designs that portray given themes. Winning designs are featured and designers are awarded a percentage of the profit.

The purpose of Good Fruit Designs is:

– To get people thinking positively as they ponder about how to portray positive themes.

– To create apparel that depict positive theme and get wearers and the people around them thinking positively.

– To engage artists in a fun quarterly competition and give them the chance to get their designs on marketable t-shirts, &

– To raise money for Project Esperanza!

The deadline for the first design contest is July 1, 2014, 12pm noon. The design theme is “hope”. To enter, your design must be in one of the following formats: jpeg, gif, ai, or png. Two colors maximum are allowed but unlimited shades of each color are acceptable. Depending on the amount and type of submissions received, we may break the contest into a 17+ age category and 16 & under.

Contest entry fee is $1 per submission. Artists can submit as many designs as they want, provided $1 is paid for each entry. Designs can be sent as an e-mail attachment to Payments should be made via PayPal to

Winners will be announced within 30 days after the July 1st deadline. The winner of the 17+ category will receive 50% of all profit from t-shirt sales up to $300. Payments will be made via PayPal. The winner of the 16 & under category will receive 50% of all profit from t-shirt sales up to $200.

T-shirts are for sale at T-shirts are from Alternative Apparel, printed for free by Ink Wear Screenprinting in Atlanta, Georgia. Ink Wear Screenprinting has generously donated many services to Project Esperanza in the past!

Please help us to spread the word of the design contest and t-shirt sales!

Investigating Cien Fuegos, Santiago

On March 15th, I had the opportunity to travel to Cien Fuegos in Santiago with Project Esperanza to investigate an area with a high Haitian population not in school. Wanbert Elie-Tireus, co-founder and teacher at the school in Padre Granero, requested this visit to assess the extent of the lack of schooling for the youth. Another teacher, Francois Oreste and a parent to four students, Damus, were also quite excited about the thought of bringing education to Cien Fuegos. They requested funds to travel from Puerto Plata to Santiago to do an initial investigation on March 8th with the intention of presenting their findings to Project Esperanza.

After this trip, they reported great need with many children either not in school or walking long distances to attend. They organized a meeting with Project Esperanza through their organization Association of the Improvement of the Conditions of Life of Haitians (ACoVHa). At this meeting, there were many misunderstandings about expectations. While Caitlin and I were invited to visit Cien Fuegos, some group members believed that we were definitely going to start a school there. We had to reiterate that Caitlin and I visiting Cien Fuegos was solely a research trip. There were also some power issues with the elected president allowing Wanbert to travel with us and represent the entire group. I also felt a lot of individual pressure because ACoVHa saw me as someone who could personally support a school and not as part of Project Esperanza. Before Caitlin and I agreed to travel with them, we shared our thoughts about different ways in which they should approach proposing their ideas that do not involve pressure.

When we were visiting Santiago, we collaborated with Wanbert in conducting more research assessing the need in Cien Fuegos. Several mothers there reported that their children were not attending any school. While we did determine that there was a public school nearby, we did not visit this school due to many issues registering Haitian immigrant children in public schools. Some of the students in Cien Fuegos did report going to a Haitian school at a 7th Day Adventist Church. This school is an estimated 15-30 minute walk from the area and charges students 200 pesos a month. It became apparent to us that preschool and kindergarten aged children would have an extremely hard time traveling to this school without a parent accompanying them.

This is a street in Cien Fuegos, Santiago.

This is a street in Cien Fuegos, Santiago.

After hearing of this other Haitian school, we decided to visit in order to collaborate over what to do about the large amounts of children not in school. The 7th Day Adventist school is funded by student fees and the efforts of a Haitian pastor in the US. It has been functioning for 5 years and employs 4 teachers. We talked to some teachers who were asked objectively where the most need is for schooling with a high population of Haitians and they said both Cien Fuegos and another area.

We identified many potential approaches to bring more education to the Haitian children in the area. These approaches include:
1. A sponsorship program to pay the school fees for the children in Cien Fuegos who are old enough to walk the long distance to school.
2. A small school in Cien Fuegos for preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade.
3. Conducting an investigation of the other area mentioned that is not within walking distance of the existing school.

If this investigatory trip is acted on, it would be something where an already existing Project Esperanza employee, possibly Wanbert, would move to the area and maintain a fixed salary to run things. However, any additional funding would be disbursed to ACoVHa. Teachers in the possible new school would work with the understanding that they would be paid on a random basis and students in the 7th Day Adventist School would only be supported when they are sponsored.

A Typical Volunteer Week here at Project Esperanza!

IMG_1481Hi, my name is Michelle and I’m Caitlin’s new Assistant until this August! We just had an amazing volunteer group of six people stay with us for the past week. The group consisted of a mother, her three teenage children, and a family friend. I had a great time showing them around, helping them with activities, and translating for them. They stayed in our cozy home in Muñoz and we participated in activities during the day and played plenty of cards at night. I’ll walk you through the weekly schedule to give you a better idea of what a
typical week is like as a Project Esperanza volunteer.

Monday: The volunteers arrived dazed after an early morning flight from the United States. There was free time to get settled in and Nannie, our friendly housemother who cooks and cleans for the volunteers, prepared a delicious Dominican dinner.

Tuesday: During the morning, Caitlin and I did an orientation for the volunteers. We explained everything from Haitian/Dominican history to tips for living in Muñoz. Then we did an art project with some of the children in one of our grassroots schools. The volunteer house is located only a few minutes from Project Esperanza’s school in Muñoz. The kids are always really excited to do art projects since the schools often don’t have the most art supplies available. We made caterpillars and butterflies with the kids (PUT LINK IN). We also took some pictures so the kids could make picture frames later that week.

Wednesday: On Wednesday we started our eco-construction projects for the week! We decided to make solar ovens with the kids at our school in Padre Granero to teach them about alternative energy and different cooking methods. Caitlin gave a presentation to the kids to explain energy sources, recycling, and solar power to the kids. The kids were excited to see how we could make an oven out of only a box, foil, plastic, and black paint!

We started by giving each kid a box and having him or her cut a window in the top of it. We then covered the holes with plastic and started covering the inside of the boxes with aluminum foil. It was fun to see the volunteers and the kids interact so well without being able to communicate using the same language. During Wednesday night, we had a community BINGO night in Muñoz where community members played to win bags of donations. The winners loved picking out shoes, toys, and baby clothing as prizes. Some of the volunteers helped call BINGO while the others played with the children. Despite the chaos and noise, everyone seemed to have a good experience.

Thursday: Thursday was a day filled with art projects! In the morning we made caterpillars and butterflies with the kids in Padre Granero. The project went better the second time around with a little more organization. In the afternoon we made picture frames with the kids in Muñoz, The kids enjoyed seeing their pictures inside a frame and most tried to wear their new art creations as necklaces!

Friday: On Friday morning we continued to build our eco-construction projects in Padre Granero. We continued to help the kids with insulation and painting their ovens black. After reviewing what we’ve learned during the week, we also built solar hot dog ovens with Pringles cans. The kids were so proud of their ovens and were all involved in the construction process. Later that day, we watched a movie with community members in Muñoz. We watched Journey 2 and people seemed to have fun despite the constant noise! Community members certainly like to actively participate in movie watching.

Saturday: We tested the solar ovens on Saturday! The kids in Padre Granero came to school with their parents to watch the demonstration. We cooked cookies in the ovens and hotdogs in the Pringles cans. The cooking wasn’t entirely successful with little sunlight available, but the kids still loved the process and ate the mostly cooked cookies. I think they learned a fair amount during the week about the importance of recycling and alternative energy!

Sunday: Sunday was an entirely free day! This allows volunteers to enjoy local activities such as 27 Waterfalls, Playa Dorada, Sosua, etc. One of my favorite things about helping the volunteers is telling them about all the amazing things the Dominican Republic has to offer! I’ve lived here for 6 weeks so far and still can’t get over how beautiful this country is.

Monday: After a full week of volunteers and a reflection session, the volunteers left for Las Terrenas to continue their extended visit to the Dominican Republic.

I hope that gave you a glimpse into a typical week with us at Project Esperanza!

Volunteer Report by Virginia Burton

Virginia (blonde) leading the Songs Station at English camp.

Virginia (blonde) leading the Songs Station at English camp.

I’m a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and heard about Project Esperanza through a school email. Of all the emails that come through my school email, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I opened this one. I only had basic knowledge of the Dominican Republic and I didn’t know anyone there, so I had no idea what to expect. But I went, with an open mind and open heart.

I’ve been on many mission trips and I’ve done numerous volunteer activities but this was by far one of my most significant experiences, perhaps because I had never seen poverty to this extent before. I was informed on developing countries, I had seen pictures, read books, heard stories, etc. but living in it was eye opening on a new level. However, even the not grand parts, like the plumbing, the humidity, the mosquitos, and the inconsistent water, were hardly a big deal for me and if anything gave me a better perspective.

From the moment I met Caitlin, I knew she had a huge heart. She’s very detailed and intentional about what she does and she does it well. She spoke truth, answered any of our questions, and never sugar coated anything. There were so many stories to hear and discover.

Working with the kids was a challenge, but they all taught me so much. At the end of the day I think they just needed to be smothered in love. Many of them don’t get to be kids and have to grow up fast. There is dissonance between the Haitian and the Dominican children, which was sad because from what I saw, they both need guidance and love.

I didn’t want to be just another volunteer or “gringo” passing through. Knowing Spanish definitely helped me connect but I knew I really needed to understand the culture and that’s what I wanted, to be fully immersed and understanding. Having free time in the afternoon also really helped me take in the culture and experience some of the fun things to do. Being a religious person, my beliefs are from the Bible and follow Christ’s teaching. I do good deeds not just because they’re good to do, but also because that’s what Christians are called to do, in different unique ways. I believe those of us from developed countries have a certain responsibility to developing countries. One of the reasons I love PE is because they are grounded in Christ but don’t enforce their beliefs on anyone, they show their faith through their actions.

I’m still not sure what I want to do when I finish school, but I’m all the more thankful for my opportunity to be in school. I want to use my knowledge to make a difference, even if it’s just a small difference, but with great love. I’m learning to step outside of my comfort zone more and I do hope to return to the DR this summer!