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.”
By John Misselwitz
Former Project Esperanza Board member, current student sponsor and PE fan.
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