Caitlin McHale Project Esperanza Haitian Shoeshining Boys in Dominican Republic Shin Fujiyama Podcast

Project Esperanza, Dominican Republic

Social entrepreneur Caitlin McHale is the Co-Founder and Director of Project Esperanza, an NGO dedicated to serving the Haitian immigrant population of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic in the areas of education, social aid, and community development.

They run a group home for street children and two school projects, mainly for children from the “Batey” slum communities near the sugarcane fields. In the D.R., it is said that nearly half a million Haitians live in 400 Batey slums. Many children from the Bateys face trafficking, indentured servitude, prostitution, a sense of “statelessness,” and illiteracy.

Caitlin began volunteering in Dominican Republic while an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. Upon graduation, she left everything behind to pursue her calling to grow the nonprofit organization. She continues to live on the Caribbean island, now married and with children.

Show Notes & Summary, Project Esperanza

  • Caitlin went to the Dominican Republic for the first time as a freshman volunteer
  • Haitian children born in the bateys of Dominican Republic are oftentimes denied citizenship rights
  • These “stateless” children get stuck in the middle of two cultures/nations
  • There are about 400 bateys in the Dominican Republic
  • Some schools deny admittance to these children who lack “proper” documents and birth certificates
  • Project Esperanza works in the Muñoz Batey near a resort area
  • More than 550 residents live in a space about the size of a football field
  • 78% of the families had no toilets according to their census
  • Esperanza began building compost toilets in the Bateys
  • Where Caitlin lives, they get running water one day a week!
  • Many sugar cane fields have stopped functioning, leaving the workers in the bateys to find jobs elsewhere
  • It all started as a student organization at the Virginia Tech campus
  • A street census in Puerto Plata revealed that none of the Haitian children in the area were attending school
  • A restavek (or restavec) is a child in Haiti who is sent by his or her parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant to make a living. It is considered a modern form of slavery, although not in every case.
  • Some Haitian children are tricked and then trafficked into the Dominican Republic to become restaveks
  • Caitlin talks about her group home for boys where they house up to ten street kids and how they try to foster self-sufficiency
  • The young adults aging out of the group home face a set of difficult challenges
  • The sense of entitlement becomes a problem for the young adults, who oftentimes become jealous of the extra attention that the younger children in the program receive
  • One young adult in particular became rebellious and they had to call the police to have him leave the premise–and how that made Caitlin feel
  • How the day care program for street kids turned into a residential program (group home)
  • Esperanza purchased a plot of land in 2013 to relocate the group home because the neighbors in their old location didn’t want street kids around
  • They have no running water in the new location so they have to get water trucks to fill up their tanks
  • A nearby church was giving classes to disadvantaged kids who were not admitted to the local public schools due to documentation problems and discrimination
  • Esperanza partnered with this one-room church school, helping pay teacher stipends
  • After moving the school through five rental properties, they finally purchased a permanent building for the school through a private loan
  • Deportation is a threat for these Haitian kids, even if they’ve lived in the DR their whole lives
  • The budget to sustain the school started at $400 per month and is now around $3,000 per month, including the mortgage on the loan
  • This year the school added a 7th grade, free lunch program, and extended hours (8am-1pm)
  • Shortly after, they began working in a place called Muñoz with a community school there
  • Public school teachers in the DR make about $300/month. Private school teachers make about $100-$200/month
  • The minimum wage in the DR is around $180/month
  • The children now have a support network and sponsors helping them
  • Prostitution and the sex trade are major challenges in the area
  • The children begin attending the school at age 3
  • Creating trust and teamwork were the two biggest challenges Caitlin has faced
  • They were taken to court by a corrupt staff member who brought up labor laws that they were not aware of to extract money from Esperanza
  • They started an internet center but the project failed due to the lack of electricity in the area
  • They used the space to start an art shop instead
  • The well-digging on their property has been delayed repeatedly
  • They can start selling water from the well for about a dollar per tank