domingo, 9 de septiembre de 2012

Sick With Worry... Please Help

Here is an e-mail that I wrote to one of our supporters, John, on Wed. night/Thurs. morning. After writing it,  slept perhaps five minutes and was absolutely sick with worry. I'm feeling better now after talking to some people, although nothing has really been resolved yet. Read on and you'll find out why I was struggling. 

I have to tell you some pressing struggles I have here. I will say that I am very upset as I write this and honestly don't know what to do. I hope you don't mind me sharing this with you. It has turned into a bit of a journal and thank you for "listening". You see, I had hopes that PE would be granted a sum of money and the winners were announced today. We were not chosen. If we had been chosen, this would've changed so many things. But we were not and I am so very, very upset and unsure of what to do. (I had hope because this was the second year and they notified the nominator early on the first year that we were not chosen, but this year just asked us to wait until Sept. 5th when winners would be announced.) I did not sit back and depend on this, but worked before the summer doing everything possible to get volunteers down, as volunteers are what drive sponsorships and other movement that we need throughout the year, as well as they strengthen me and everything here as they come from the developed world with their education, discipline, etc. I spent what felt like every waking moment with volunteers this summer, then as soon as that has ended have oriented two long term volunteers and been working to get schools started. I made some decisions to "go for it" not knowing what else to do, as sitting idly doesn't seem to work, and now am stuck in a situation.

Lots of times you see half finished houses here in the Dominican Republic with people living in them. This is because people invest what they can and then their resources run out.. so they live this way until they have a little more to invest. Well, I have had to learn to do this as well. We began trying and planning to set up the internet center, for example, in March 2010. We prepared a building for it but the person who was going to come with the computers and computer knowledge had personal problems and had to back out. We could not, after all, get consistent electricity in the building either, which is why we are now in the building that we are in which will be more secure and, after being in it for a year and a half, we have finally bugged the landlord to death to the point that we have run a line from up the street and have consistent electricity. I thought that we could take the computer cubbies from the old building and transfer them into the new building and that would be one less new expense, but when we did this, we saw that they were not in good enough shape to be used for this, and have used them in pieces, therefore, to make three tables for the art shop, a little door to go to a yard area, and an A-frame/sandwich board sign to put in front of the art shop. So the predicament is that we have moved into this new building and I tried to time it with the time that I thought we could get computers here and also the time that our new art shop volunteer, Nicole, would be here, which did align for the most part but of course nothing goes as planned completely. The art shop is pretty much ready to open and will hopefully start generating income soon, but we have steps to take and need money to invest for the internet center to get up and going. The bad news is that rent is due tomorrow, meaning we've been in the building for a month, and with the preparations for the new school year and just a low monthly income in general which doesn't leave extra funds, there is nothing to pay rent or to invest in the finishing touches of the internet center. We'll need to put in new cubbies, I think it may make sense to purchase a few CPUs and monitors here since we can't yet get the ones there here, need to purchase the internet center control system that allows the master computer to open and close access to the other computers, and need to be prepared to pay workers at the end of the first month, as well as pay the internet bills. I imagine that we could have 10 computers being used at all times in this internet center, as it is in an area with so many people and so little access to internet, so I think it does make sense to purchase a few computers to get started and still bring over the donated computers when the opportunity arises. I have no doubt this business will take off and many in the area comment that they are sure of the same... but we just have nothing left to invest at the moment and the more time we spend not investing, the more we will pay in rent.

The art shop has come such a long way and there has been lots of trial and area and relationship building done. I also feel that we will now find success with the shop being in the new location that it is in. Several guides had said that they would stop at the shop if it were on the main street, which it now is.

Lastly, the building that we met at when you came last year... it was a struggle to pay the rent throughout the year as we didn't have as many people stay and groups as we would have liked and also did not get the English education component going well throughout the year, but just did the camp the first summer 2011 and then again this summer. We had some art sales there but not enough to really help out with rent. However, it got a lot of exposure last year and we already have several groups interested in staying this year. We also launched the English immersion pre-school this year and have had lots of interest there, as well as interest in a youth English club and adult classes, which are all for a fee and are all sustainable activity. All of these are great ways to engage volunteers as well and without this program, I feel without a base to really meet with volunteers and to plug into the general Dominican community, which is key for our sustainability in the long run. Well, the lease is up Sept. 21st and I want us to stay in the building.. I feel it is important that we do... changing the building would lose us potential English students and volunteer groups stay. But we cannot pay the rent!!  

I really was just waiting for today until they announced the winners of that grant and have been in complete turmoil since finding out that we were not winners. I feel absolutely sick and don't know what to do as I know we are just inches away from not just investing, investing, learning, trial and error, adjusting a plan, but that we are really close to the point where things click and there are lots of people from the general community getting plugged in and learning English at the building in town, there is a healthy and steady group of long term volunteers with short term groups throughout the year staying at the hostel and in Muñoz where, in the back of the building where we have the art shop and internet center, there is space for volunteers to stay, steady tourist flow at the art shop with people making purchases, learning about the organization, signing up for e-mail updates, etc., and then a functioning internet center that the Muñoz community will love, the people finding work through it will be thankful for, and it will really generate a profit. I'm not saying that there won't still be a few glitches to overcome, but I know that after all we have gone through, we really are now inches away and it is time to finish the blow.. but we are threatened with all of these things because of the current inability to pay rent both in town and in Muñoz and the lack of funds to finish investing in the necessary steps to finish launching the internet center...not to mention the thought that Sept. will end and there is no hope for enough funds to pay the teachers. It is definitely only by the grace of God and the generosity that he randomly moves in the hearts of people at the right times that we have made it month after month, being that our only reliable monthly income from monthly sponsors is significantly lower than our most basic monthly expenses. But I'll be honest and say that my faith is exhausted and I can't go on this way any longer. I long for some financial security for the organization. I'm sure that many people may view the plan of action that has been taken and ask why funds are invested in x,y,z and not in just paying teachers if that is the biggest need, etc. To that I can only say that this is my life's work...I have lived, eaten, and breathed it for 7 years now, and I haven't made any decisions that I haven't thought to be the best decisions considering the fact that funds coming from the US are unreliable, people who continually receive without taking part in the generation of funds I believe have a disadvantage, lack of control, and are not empowered, and I know that it is important that we have roots in the general Puerto Plata community and not just the marginalized community in order for the efforts to be complete and sustainable. I could go on and on about this but I would ask anyone who questions my decisions and thinks that I should have done x,y,z to first respect my insight and also think that many routes taken can be successful if worked at enough and that is the only choice right now. (I'm not assuming that you think that but sometimes people are nay sayers in that way and I find it counterproductive being that a path has already been well moved along and it is too late to go back anyway and any other path taken would be starting at ground zero to learn something new, more trial and error, etc.).. No business activity or volunteer engaging/community engaging activity has gone against the service focuses of the organization which is the home and program for kids from the streets and grassroots schools...but has only been done to strengthen them. Someone recently told me that I keep raising standards for Project Esperanza and never let it catch up. I am not sure what this person was referring to. We did spend time in school without books. This is ridiculous. Yes, we once functioned at ridiculously low standards and there is only a certain amount of time that I can hear people complain and can myself view and participate in such activity without raising the standards to the point where a school has books and to the point where kids in a home eat at least a little something other than carbs. Teachers do receive a 200 peso raise every year which I didn't implement for the first few years as we were never financially secure, but I believe that they do need this encouragement and distinction between those who are new and those who have been teaching for years. I'll just add because I think it's important that one know what is being done with what resources - that I am finishing up with organizing income and expenses for the tax season that ran Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2011 (trying to, at least) and our total income after taking out expenses that do not go toward the organization's operations such as paying artists and volunteer trip expenses was $41,831.96.  

I don't know what to do... today I did meet with and take around to different sites a team of four members of an organization called Education First that is planning on bringing groups of students over the course of six weeks in the spring. They were a joy to talk to and hang out with. This could be a great partnership and after hearing the news about not being awarded this grant, I wrote to them asking if they would like to take over one or both of the grassroots schools in some sort of a partnership. I wrote to someone else I met this summer who has a non-profit and may be interested as well. We're still looking for people or groups to adopt the grassroots schools or sponsor teachers, but haven't had much time to put into that since summer volunteer preparations began. Another problem is that I have to do the majority of this administrative stuff because it seems like no one can dedicate the time to do such things unless they are paid. I now do see that this whole organization was started a bit backwards but it's too late to redo and I always hope that someone with capacity will realize the value of the work and step in... and people have.. just not enough yet. And I am so very very thankful for those who have, such as yourself. There was a company who was going to pay someone to work for us as an effort to support non-profits but the date that they said they would do that has come and passed and I haven't heard back. So many times such things happen and it is indeed disappointing, but something must have come up or not gone as planned.

Thank you for listening. I'm nervous to send this e-mail but will go ahead and send... 

John wrote back with encouragement: 

You need not fear sharing from your heart because yours is a sincere heart and the words will be what the words will be. I just read a FB post today that said when the weight of the world is something you feel you cannot stand ... kneel. I believe in the power of prayer, in good times to give thanks and in times of challenge to deliver strength and support.
 
If you think of a short list of specific needs -- say stuff ranging from 50 to 5,000 bucks and what each level can bring to PE -- consider sending it along with a prayer. You are strong and always will remain so ... every armor has its dents ... and every night, through God's grace, is followed by day.
 
I will listen to John's advice.  

Lord, thank you for this mission that is Project Esperanza. I have loved it since you planted it in my mind and heart and it is a joy to follow you in bringing the visions you give me and others to fruition. It has not been easy but you have never abandoned me, or the teachers who sacrifice and endure, or the boys in the program who are challenged and pressured but stay the course, and I am so thankful to have been sent on this journey. I know that you won't abandon me now, but I, with my less informed eyes, cannot see how you will come through on this one... and the pressure is on, and time is running short. Please move in the hearts of people to help. Please bring in more than enough. Please bring in more than enough. Please provide. And give me and all of us some wisdom and love to manage what you bring in. Amen. 
 
List of Most Pressing Needs
2 months rent for house in town - $1,282 US
1 month rent for downstairs of building in Muñoz - $282 US
6 months rent for boys' home school - $385 US
Teachers backed up payments, ranging 1 to 5 months - $5,550 US
Cubbies for Internet center - $359 US
2 fans for boys' home school - $69 US
TOTAL - $7,927
 
There are more internet center needs in order to get it going but I don't want to list them in the most pressing needs...although they kind of are because it is important that that gets up and going ASAP, I just don't want to overdo it. 
 
** On top of the backed up pay, this is what is needed for grassroots schools teacher pay to last the year - Sept. 2012 to Aug. 2013 with vacation months included - $15,138 US **
 
I am traveling to the US in November. I will be speaking at a TEDx talk on November 10th at Virginia Tech. I would love to speak at as many churches, groups, organizations as possible. I would like to speak in order to raise financial support, seek out partnerships, and recruit volunteers.  
 
Lastly, on a personal note, I did not begin online law school this month because of frustrating administrative things. I will likely start in January and am looking forward to it, although I know it will be a challenge, especially time wise. I want to ask again that people consider supporting me by signing up for this normal VISA credit card, by purchasing this gift option for friends and family on various occasions, or by utilizing this site in any way you see possible. Some of these are such simple ways to support that, if enough people participate in, will create a growing monthly check, and I long for some more financial security and freedom for myself and my family. 
 
Thank you Lord that my security lies in you. You have always protected me and provided for me. I just want for my family to be able to live a healthier lifestyle with a bit more privacy and conveniences. I want to be able to live here legally, as I still don't have residency. I want the freedom for my family to travel to visit other family more frequently, without having to rely on others, etc. And I want us to be able to invest in educating ourselves and to grow small business opportunities to support our family, etc. Thank you for your provision. I trust you.  
 
Here are some pictures of the buildings I mentioned owing rent on: 

Muñoz building where we pay 11,000 RD ($292 US) per month plus 500 for electricity, which may raise.
This is the Muñoz building as we were working (week of Aug. 6th, 2012) to separate it into three parts: art shop (front left), internet center (front right), and volunteer housing (back).
 
This is the front of the building. Each section now has its own door. The volunteer housing door is around back.

Building in town which houses the Change My Stars program and also has a hostel section. A front room is also used to sell artwork, the backyard has been used for community events, and the space has served as a great place for volunteers, visitors, and people involved in various ways to meet and work together. We pay 25,000 RD ($641 US) per month, 200 RD (about $5 US) for trash pick up, Wifi Internet is 1,718 per month ($44), and electricity can be between 1,000 ($25.64 US) and 4,500 RD ($115.38)!!! 
 
Building from across the street.

Alicia, our first art shop worker, receiving inventory from artists in the front art room.

Bathroom which students and residents use. There is a second bathroom in a back room where an employee stays.

  
Kitchen space which residents use and cooks prepare meals for groups. There is a second kitchen space that has been and will likely again be used for someone to rent for a cafeteria to sell food to residents and students.
 

Large front room which we use for English education and sometimes as an eating area for part of the day.
Classroom used for English education.


Backyard space.

Bedroom - of which there are two to sleep a total of 9.

Boys' home school which just has two classrooms and is a short walk from their house. Rent is 2,500 RD ($64 US) a month and since the landlord is the only one who hasn't put on pressure, this rent has gotten quite backed up, but he is now pressuring. 
 
Supesta soccer team pizza party, Dec. 2010.
 





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