THE FUTURE BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS
In his New York Times bestseller Mountains Beyond Mountains, author Tracy Kidder tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer’s indefatigable and maniacally obsessive commitment to deliver world-class health care to some of our planet’s poorest peoples living in Haiti, Peru and Mexico.
Reading page after page of situations where people face impossible odds and succeed, Project Esperanza came to my mind.
Ten years ago, Project Esperanza was established as a Virginia Tech student organization by Caitlin McHale, then a junior studying Interdisciplinary Studies, and English major Kristin Preve, a sophomore at the time. The previous fall, the two had visited the community of Esperanza in the Dominican Republic and upon their return they set about inspiring support for an orphanage they visited as well as for the people who lived in nearby “bateys,” areas where the poorest of the poor lived under metal roofs, on dirt floors, and without regular access to electricity or water.
Today, Project Esperanza is a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization celebrating its tenth anniversary of helping youths who have emigrated from Haiti to secure a better life in the Dominican Republic. Its grassroots schools educate nearly 200 students, ages five to 18, some without family, some living in the bateys, and others who live in a group home operated by Project Esperanza. Formally, its Mission is “to form a global community focused on creating positive change and a sustainable future for Haitian immigrant youths in the Dominican Republic through education and empowerment,” and to do so in ways that respect local culture, promote socialization and are sustainable as well as scalable. In reality, the organization routinely provides support services beyond the focus of its core programs, based on need, not creed. Its day-to-day programs are carried out by approximately two dozen employees and a host of volunteers. McHale serves as its director, and she and a Board of Directors (which includes two Virginia Tech alumnae) lead the organization with support from Faculty Advisor Reed Kennedy, Director of International Programs, Pamplin College of Business.
In 2016 alone, Project Esperanza successfully completed two crowdsourcing campaigns, revitalized its connections with the Virginia Tech community (including uniting with the student organization Hokies for Haiti), and secured a loan to facilitate the purchase of a 4,367 square-foot building that will become a permanent school. In addition, its education program is on a path to become the first within the Dominican Republic to be accredited with a bilingual Haitian Creole-Spanish curriculum.
Kidder’s title, Mountains Beyond Mountains, echoes a Haitian proverb that acknowledges how problems in life often reveal themselves only after a first challenge is conquered, and at that same time a new perspective into what’s possible is revealed.
It’s apt for Project Esperanza.
Its work will never end, the challenges faced by staff, volunteers, donors and the children they serve will never cease, and the opportunities to make life better will forever expand.
Working side-by-side and hand-to-hand, with abiding faith, Project Esperanza is creating a brighter future “beyond the mountains.”
Project Esperanza - www.projectesperanzameanshope.org - delivers essential life services and support to children and young adults who live in the streets and poor communities of the northern Dominican Republic, with sister support operations in Blacksburgh, Virginia, U.S. They have Non-Government Organization status and are registered as a 501 c3 within the U.S., with a truly grassroots business model that’s built upon volunteers and in-country leadership who ensure every cent donated goes directly to programs and support. The organization began as a student-motivated effort at Virginia Tech (go Hokies!) and continues - day by day, month-to-month, year-by-year - providing education, life skills and basic cottage-industry vocational training to poor Haitians and Dominicans (mostly children but up through teens) living in and around the city of Puerto Plata. PE epitomizes what supporters led by the heart as well as by the brain wish to encounter: a mission-driven, real, caring and 100% honestly-run and nonprofit making a difference each and every day of neighbors in need. I’m proud to the first to provide a review ... hope more will follow ... and invite you to check out their official site (or my, not-so-official site supporting PE -- where you can learn more about how I came to know PE - @ www.teamhandtohand.org).
I helped co-chaperone a group of Middle School students from Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, this past July for a week of working in the Project Esperanza "Cambia Mis Estrellas" summer camp. A dear friend of mine has been actively volunteering and working with Project Esperanza for years, and I was lucky enough to join her as she organized a group of students to work in the summer camp. To say that she has poured her heart and soul into the organization, would be an understatement, and I finally understand why. Along with the founder, Caitlin McHale, these inspiring women have helped turn around a lot of kids' lives. I was very glad to finally meet Caitlin and see firsthand, all the love and hard work that she has put into Project Esperanza. Caitlin has helped turn a sad situation for the kids at Project Esperanza into a story that truly has hope. The kids who come through the school are given a safe, happy and loving place to learn, and Caitlin is indeed changing their stars. Although our time at the camp lasted only a week, I was deeply moved by the kids I met - they all love to learn and love Caitlin and Project Esperanza! I also met other volunteers who have given months of their time to work with the school and the camp, because they believe so strongly in giving these kids a valuable education. I hope to continue my involvement with Project Esperanza by sponsoring a student for the duration of their schooling, by returning to volunteer in the summer and by continuing to help advocate for this charity.
For the past three years Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA has had a successful partnered with Project Esperanza. Our Bonner Scholars Program has their junior students participate in a international service trip with Project Esperanza in Puerto Plate, Dominican Republic. We utilize the service of Peacework, Inc for making the travel, accommodations and service projects appropriate for our group. Approximately 15 African- American males each year completed several service project which include renovations at the school and the group home. We also participated in a cultural exchange program that involved sports activities. This year our students sent backpacks, pens, pencils and other school supplies.
Although our program was only one week each year we have been able to see the impact on the school and the youth at Project Esperanza, but also the impact on our students, since many of them have never been outside of the United States. The program has motivated our student to continue their international service and several student have changes their major and now work in the foreign service office.
We are in the process of planning our fourth year service trip with Project Esperanza for December 2017. Several other Bonner program are also planning their service trips. Working with Project Esperanza and Caitlin has been a wonderful, valuable and rewarding experience for our students. We hope to continue working with Project Esperanza and letting pother program know that if you want a great program to support that is making the difference in the lives of others- this is the program!!
Dr. Wilbur (Monty) Whitney
Director, Bonner Program
Atlanta, GA 30314
I teach in the business school at Virginia Tech, and took students to the Dominican Republic for a second time this past May. We repeated the program because it had such a postive impact on my students the first time. We work with Project Esperanza to help Haitians start or improve their businesses. We plan for students to go eveery year, as Project Esperanza and its director, Caitlin McCoy, are such an inspiration to my students. In fact, my church as now gotten involved with Project Esperanza, and will be doing a youth mission trip there next summer to teach in PE's English camp and do sports clinics.
I took 19 students from Virginia Tech to Puerto Plata over spring break 2016 for 9 days. Project Esperanza set up our lodging and meals and 4 project for my students to work on. As a business professor, my 4 student teams each had a local Haitian entrepreneur "client" to help with a business plan to get their business started.
My students had a tremendous experience. They got to know a number of Haitians and Dominicans, and learned first hand about severe poverty. They felt they had significant impact and had a lot of fun at the same time.
Caitlin is a saint, the " Mother Teresa" of Puerto Plata!!
I co-lead a group of university students to volunteer and conduct research with Project Esperanza. We were provided great support and wonderful opportunities to serve and learn. Project Esperanza is doing very meaningful work in the community, and I am grateful to have been able to contribute to its mission. I would highly recommend collaborating and working with this organization!
I went there for their summer camp teaching English emergence. It was such a good learning experience for me as well as them I will try to get down there again. Loved the group and the kids.
Amazing Organizacion! Really special community! Very motivated and eager to learn! Project Esperanza is doing something incredible for an extremely vulnerable population! They have a lot of merit for that!
I have known Caitlin and Project Esperanza for many years now. Her dedication to the project is immeasurable and the difference she makes on the children and community is obvious. If you are considering donating or helping this cause in any way you can be guaranteed that your dollar will go as far as possible and that you've put your trust in the right place.
Project Esperanza had bever wavered from their mission. Caitlin and her team serve the Haitian children with humility and love. It is an honor to be associated with this group.
I volunteered here last Spring Break and had such a great experience. The people were all so amazing and the leaders of Project Esperanza really go out into the community to see what people need.
I worked with Project Esperanza and college students in spring 2016. Project Esperanza is doing amazing work with local immigrant groups. They are very caring and professional. They arranged everything for our group and everyone had a wonderful experience. I look forward to working with Project Esperanza in the future.
I went on a trip to help small businesses involved with Project Esperanza last Spring, and I had one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. The local people know those involved with Project Esperanza by name it is so personal and changing. I have kept in contact with people I met during my trip!
I co-Led a high school group last March and worked with Project Esperanza in three different venues. It was tremendously rewarding to be a very small part of the excellent work that Caitlin and her organization and school are doing. Can't wait to go back!!
We took a school trip to the Dominican Republic to work with Project Esperanza. It was an amazing experience! Caitlin and Katy were great leaders, the kids were wonderfully sweet, and we all learned so much! We are definitely coming back!
A group of college students and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to work with Project Esperanza for our Spring Break and returned to the US changed and inspired. Caitlin and Kati were wonderful hosts as well as the entire town of Muñoz. I would return to Project Esperanza in a heartbeat as the work they are doing is really making a difference in both the volunteers' lives as well as the students and community members' lives. If you have time to take a week (or longer) out of your hectic life to go help an organization, Project Esperanza should be at the top of your list!!!
An amazing organization lead by amazing people. They do great work for the community and are truly invested in helping support the lives of those living in it. Would definitely volunteer for this organization again. Great experience.
A great organization that's incredibly integrated with the community it serves! Caitlin is warm and intelligent, and clearly dedicated to her work.