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Esperanza-International-BigThe Dominican Republic is the second largest economy in the Caribbean and remains one of the fastest growing in the region, yet, despite the country’s remarkable recovery after the global recession, 42.4% of their population still live in poverty. It is similar in Haiti where 55% of the population live in extreme poverty (below the international poverty line of $1.25/day) and almost 600,000 people are still in displacement camps following the January 2010 earthquake.

Esperanza International, an international NGO, with projects in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is battling to effect change. Fundacion Esperanza (FE) has worked in the Dominican Repubulic as a microfinance institution for the past 17 years and in October 2006, Esperanza opened its microfinance programme in the Republic of Haiti. The mission of FE is to free children and their families from poverty through initiatives that generate income, education and health.

Through ten offices in the Dominican Republic and two in Haiti, Fundacion Esperanza serves 13,718 clients, 87% of them women. FE has a strong commitment to working with those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged, particularly those in isolated communities.

FE uses what they call an Integral Development Model (IDM) which consists of five components designed to sustainably improve the economic situations of impoverished families: microfinance, group-lending, business training, savings and insurance. According to Kayla Villnowa, a Fundacion Esperanza representative, what makes Esperanza unique is that we are a ‘microfinance plus organization’, meaning that their mission is an holistic one: it includes a focus on structural factors such as the health, educational, and vocational issues that keep individuals and communities in poverty. In communities where borrowers are illiterate, sick, or lack basic skill sets, they are offered literacy courses, discounted health care and free preventative care opportunities (everyone has access to a free PAP smear, HIV/AIDS testing and PSA testing in addition to discounted basic health care). They are also offered access to a variety of vocational training and educational courses (furniture making, flower arrangements, computer training).

The organisation currently provides five different loan products targeted at different segments of communities and individuals. Products include group lending – typically for the poorer segments of the population – those living on $2/day or less, which is based on Grameen Bank and Mohammed Yunus’ group lending model; individual loans for people who have some sort of collateral to back their loan with, and who have been with Esperanza for at least two years; home improvement loans for individuals who have collateral and who wish to improve their living situation; school loans for women to start a private school for orphans and those children not allowed to attend public schools; water loans generally awarded to churches, to install water purification plants.

Particularly in Haiti, the microfinance market is still underdeveloped, mainly due to the difficulties of starting and running operations in the country, making FE one of the few organizations providing microfinance services in the country. When asked about what motivated FE to start operations in Haiti, Kayla Villnowa explained ‘we decided to start providing our microfinance services in Haiti for several reasons. Firstly, that the need in Haiti was so great that we simply felt a strong call as an organization to start serving these people. Secondly, roughly 40% of our borrower portfolio in the Dominican Republic (DR) is comprised of Haitian refugees or immigrants living in the DR. That large percentage gave us confidence that we would understand Haitian culture well enough to translate our services both technically and culturally so that they would be of value and benefit to the Haitian people.”

Despite their years of experience FE still faces several challenges, including having access to enough capital or funding to cover all the loans that are requested. ‘Every day new communities come to us wanting loans, and then every day, groups that have taken out loans with us before come back and ask for loans of larger amounts’, say Kayla. ‘We are trying to raise more money in the United States to fund all these loans.’ Other challenges also include hiring the right people to help deliver their mission and, in particular, the constant threat and accurrence of natural disasters.

Learn more Esperanza International at http://esperanza.org

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