Monthly Archives: May 2011

Are They Really Going to Use It? (May Newsletter)



Aaron Roth – HOPE International – May 2011



Back in December, I stopped by a friend’s house before going into the office of Esperanza (HOPE International’s partner organization here in the DR). I looked over to the corner and spotted something that was strangely familiar to me. There stood a 5-year old Konica Bizhub c250 commercial printing machine. But “why” was it doing here?

I asked my friend and he said that a church had donated it to his church about two years ago. I could tell he sensed that I knew something about the complicated machinery covered with dust next to the window. He asked me, “Do you know how to fix it? It doesn’t work.” I laughed and kind of groaned. When I worked in a marketing department back in Richmond, VA, I spent hundreds of hours with our lovely 4-color, 30 pages per minute, automatic duplexing and collating wonder of modern technology. (I remember celebrating the 500,000th copy that we made.) I also knew that even the smallest bump or mishap could mean a call to the specialists and 3-5 hour downtime. There are about eight  replaceable parts that need maintenance every six months, and the four toner drums for color last about 2-3 months. In short, running a Bizhub c250 is expensive and requires a trained specialist.

I apologize if it was your church that sent that copier down here, and now I’m using it as an example of overseas charity and development. I will say that it was a nice gift made with the best of intentions, but donating a commercial grade printing machine that needs constant upkeep can be troublesome, not to mention thinking about what might have befallen the temperamental and delicate printing princess during shipment. Again, I’m not really sure what the Dominican Churches needs were over two years ago, and maybe someone did ask the question stateside, “But are they really going to use a Bizhub c250?”

What Do Poor Communities Really Need?

May-News-02“But are they really going to use the water?” Maybe that’s what went through his head when an American thought about donating a cistern to a poor Haitian community on the outskirts of La Romana, Dominican Republic three years ago. No, wait. He probably didn’t. I think he had the same feeling that I did when he walked past the barbed wire fence and entered through the sheet metal door to the Bethel Church and Primary School: “There is a real need here and we can help.”

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the nature of overseas aid, development and missions work. I’ve seen so many examples of compassion and charity at work here that make me happy. And, I’ve seen a lot of examples where compassion and charity almost worked. As you spend more time in poor communities around here in the Dominican Republic, you see a lot of “projects” that either almost made it to completion or almost made it past their first year of use. Sometimes these projects failed because of lack of knowledge, lack of interest, or often just a mismatch of an understanding of the real needs in an area. I think a lot of gifts were given with good intention, but the real question is always: “Are they really going to use . . .”

On a tour of the small campus of the Bethel Primary School, Reuben shows me the water spigots and the bathrooms that he recently built. The cistern supplies the water to the bathrooms and to the water access points on their school campus. He said that people come to the church and send their kids to school here because they know they have water. People come daily to get water, bringing buckets, bottles or whatever container they can find to transport water. I look around and think that just three years ago, this community did not even have a basic necessity we take for granted: WATER. Reuben shows me the bathrooms they built a few months ago. They have running water and are the only sanitary restrooms in the area.

This makes me think about that original question of usefulness, “But will kids really need to use the bathroom during a school day?” And of course, I laugh because I think we all know the answer to that.May-News-05

So, as I was talking to Pastor Reuben of the Bethel Church and Primary School about the cistern he said, “This was a gift from the Good Lord, from a man like you.” “A man like me?” I questioned. “Yes,” he said, “An American gave us this water.” Previously, this community did not have running water. So when that American asked three years ago, “Would you use a cistern?” I’m sure Reuben responded with an emphatic “Absolutely we will!”

When They Own It, They Use it

We came to visit Reuben and his daughter Claire because they are applying to be a part of our school program. Schools in these programs get access to a low interest rate loan to build more classrooms, science labs, or computer labs. Most of these schools in the areas we work in have concrete floors, usually an old, broken blackboard, barely anything else on the walls, and student desks that are falling apart. When we talk about science labs or computer labs, were talking about four of five pieces of equipment for about a hundred kids. The Edify program is a new initiative with HOPE International and Esperanza that seeks to reach over 50,000 Dominican children with high-quality, low-cost education in the next five years. I’ve already had the opportunity to visit about 25 schools in our branch areas and have met passionate school directors with visions of impacting their local community. When we ask them, “What do you really need?” They usually answer, “More classrooms.”

Reuben knows that to build more classrooms he has to find a way to finance the project. Money does not come easily so he is careful about what financial arrangements he gets involved in. He knows that he will have to own the responsibility of this loan, and whatever he builds, he has to use it. We met Reuben in his office, which doubles as the kindergarten classroom, and we were open and honest with him. When we talk to someone about what we do at HOPE, we start with our vision to carry out May-News-04God’s work in the places He has told us to go. We describe our passion for being involved in the community, to connect with the local churches, and our desire to help people accomplish their goals and satisfy their most pressing needs.

Reuben takes this financial loan meeting seriously, but smiles and interjects to let us know that, “God helped us build this church and helped us build this school. I trust him with these finances. We have 103 students right now, and I have parents asking me to teach their kids, but I have nowhere to put the students. With this money I will build three more classrooms, and I can add 60 more children.”

Lending money for income-generating activities is what HOPE International does around the world, and in this case, Reuben will be able to recoup the money for the loan with the tuition that the parents pay him per month. It’s only a $5 monthly payment to send a kid to school (which is a lot of money here), but it’s the only good school in the area, and it’s got running water and a sanitary bathroom, and it soon will have almost 170 students.

Again, that original question of “Will they use it?” surfaces in my mind, “But do you really think the local parents want to send their kids to a good school?”

I think we know the answer. We all try to make the best decisions based on what is available to us, and in this community where Bethel Primary School operates, this school is the number one choice.

Thank you for reading and staying in touch. I hope you and your families are doing well.


-Aaron Roth

Skype: aprothwm05

Retracing my First Steps with

Sometimes it takes a long way to get where you intended on going. Today, I arrived to work in the San Pedro de Macoris office. It’s about an hour from Santo Domingo, but the journey took a lot longer for me to get here. San Pedro is where Microfinance began for this organization. It was the first office of Esperanza and it’s still the biggest. The city is baseball crazy (like most in the DR) and for that, I wore my green polo to pretend like I fit into the fan base. (Still, no one has picked up this “coincidence” nor commented on my cultural assimilation skills.)

As I made my rounds getting to know the office, I sat down next to Norberto, the person in charge of the Kiva program for Esperanza. He’s been with Esperanza for quite some time and that’s probably why they let him run such an important program. is a web site that collects donations for microfinance programs world-wide. They have raised over $100+ million for 300,000+ entrepreneurs in 50+ countries and they’ve helped to fund a significant portion for Esperanza to lend out to their clients. is where I found out about Microfinance. It was actually from a blog post from Seth Godin back in 2006, and from that link I signed up to make my first loan with Kiva. That loan went to Elodia Ruiz Gonzalez in Monterrey, Mexico. My initial four loans have since been recycled 10 times as the amounts have been paid back so my loan count is up to about 40. It’s amazing to see the investment of time in a project.

Elodia Ruiz Gonzalez in Monterrey, MexicoSo as I sit here in the first office of Esperanza, and Norberto and I are talking about how the program works, I can’t help but think that this moment, strangely, has been almost 5 years in the making. It was one of things that when I first heard about I thought to myself, “Wow, it’d be cool to travel to see what this is really like.”

Of course, I don’t think I could have predicted my journey of the past five years in Richmond, the 10 months away from an actual stable and routine living environment, nor the travel through five different Spanish speaking countries, countless flights, plenty of strange nights in hostels, buses, taxis, motorcycles, boats, walking miles on foot, not to mention the paperwork and logistics it took to be a volunteer to work here.

Sometimes people ask, “If you really knew what it took to get there, would you still want to start out on the journey?”

Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t know that full journey, or all the steps it takes to get there, because we might not actually make the first step.

When it comes down to it, sometimes to get to where you intended on going, you can just catch a bus in Parque Enriquillo, ride for an hour, and when the bus stops, walk two blocks to the office.

(Join the DR and Haiti Lending Team!)

Sign Your Name (April Newsletter)


Aaron Roth – HOPE International – April 2011


April-News-01“I used to think sugar came from a box in the supermarket.” I’ve gotten a lot of laughs with that kind of small talk around the topic of sugar, and in particular with that statement. Usually, the Haitians who have emigrated here for employment and work with the sugar cane everyday laugh when they hear it, and ask what else Americans really think. Here in the Dominican Republic, sugar production is still a major export, and if you explore a little bit beyond the major cities you’ll find enormous sugar cane fields, and the sugar cane communities (“bateys”) of people who work in those fields.

The sky is big and the air is clean. Life is quiet, and a soft breeze sweeps through the fields. There isn’t usually electricity in the communities, and consequently there aren’t any TV’s or radios to create noise. My first experience entering the rural area (campo) was on the back of a motorcycle of a loan officer with HOPE. I felt like I had returned back to Iowa where I was a kid. Next to our house in Iowa there was a dirt road where my brother and I used to ride our bikes. We usually stopped at the cemetery because our mother didn’t want us to go riding off into the sunset. So I never traveled beyond the cemetery to explore the dirt road that kept going on in the distance.

With Francisco, the loan officer of our La Romana office, I felt like I got the chance to see what lay beyond the cemetery. Now I know, and I can tell you, there’s a grove of mangoes (almost ripe for picking), corridors of sugarcane fields separated by tiny dirt roads where men lead their oxen and carts to carry the cut sugar cane to be weighed, and a community of pleasant and amiable Haitians. I thought of the famous quote from Field of Dreams: “Is this Heaven, no it’s Iowa” and I’ll say that the beauty of the sugar cane fields felt a lot like Heaven, and yes, Iowa as well because the 12ft high sugar cane looked a lot like corn to me.

What Does “Tuah Cuah” Mean?

April-News-02Back in February, I know I made the joke that if the “Lord wants me to learn Creole then I’ll do it.” Now it’s looking like I might actually head down that path. The women of the Bank of Esperanza “Fe y Amor” (Faith and Love) of Batey Community #62 graciously accepted the task of teaching a “gringo” his first few words and phrases in Creole.

I’m thinking I may continue the education more seriously, as the feeling of joy I get increases with each smile I see on the faces of our clients. When you know someone’s native language, you can connect with them on a deeper, more personal level and I want to continue that. For now, the conversations are in Spanish, and when someone said the phrase “Tuah Cuah,” I had to ask, “What does that Spanish phrase mean?”

“It’s actually Creole, and it’s, ‘tres cruces’ in Spanish,” Franklin explained to me, “because the client writes three crosses on the loan application form when they don’t know how to write.”

“They don’t know how to write?” I asked. “Yes, we find that a lot here in these batey communities. The women don’t know how to write, yet.” I then watched as three different women signed their loan application forms with their signature: “tuah cuah.”

None of the women make jokes about illiteracy, but add that when someone will be able to write, they can write notes to their children like “Where did you put the dishes when I wasn’t here . . .” I love that. I love the sense of comradery and solidarity between these women. They are accepting and edifying to each other in the process of development of their small businesses, their community, and their families. Still, it’s shocking to me to meet these women who are 30 or 40 years old and don’t know how to write, and their kids do. It’s usually because they missed the education opportunities when they were children that are now available to the young generation. Generally, it’s a little more common to meet an older woman that doesn’t know how to write, and very often it’s difficult to know just how old these women are.

“. . . and How Old Are You?”

April-News-04That afternoon Franklin and I went to visit a group of associates’ homes to verify their places of residence and their businesses. We stopped by the house of one woman in the community, Rosemena, to do the survey of poverty. We usually ask for the national identification card or their passport. Rosemena had neither.

We asked Rosemena, “When were you born?”

She answered, “I don’t know.”

“Do you know how old you are?”

“I think I’m 30.”

“When did you celebrate your birthday?”

“I wanted it to be in early March so I chose, March 6th.”

“Ok, we’ll put your birthday as 3/06/80. Can you sign this form?”

“I don’t know how to write.”

“That’s ok, you can just write ‘tuah cuah’ here.” (Rosemena smiles and signs the form with three crosses.)

Rosemena has three children and she will be using her six-month loan of $75 of HOPE to buy food and drinks to sell in the community. We told her that now since she is a HOPE client, she can come to the literacy classes for free – “You can learn to write your name.” (HOPE, in addition to being a microfinance organization, offers free business, educational, medical and dental services to their clients.) “Yes, that sounds good to me. I want to do that.” she politely smiled as she responded.

Do You Know How to Write Your Name?

April-News-03On our way back to the office, we made a quick stop to visit a group of clients. Francisco likes to check in with his HOPE clients to see how their family and business are doing. We pulled up to a house and a young woman came out, holding her child. “Hi Franklin, how are you!” – she yells. Franklin greeted her and introduces me, “This is my American friend who wants to learn Creole.”

“Oh he does?” (She’s smiling now.)

“Yes, I’d like to learn some Creole.” I say.

“Sit down, I will teach you some.” She goes inside and brings out a wooden chair for me to sit on, and then one for her as well.

“What is your name?” I ask.

“It’s Francisca.” She responds.

April-News-05(I pull out my pad of paper to write her name down so I can remember.)

“Oh, you know how to write!!!” She exclaims.

“Yes, I can write in English, and a little bit in Spanish.”

“Oh, I can speak Spanish well, because with my business I sell in these 3 communities, and I am very good at selling, and making money for my family, but I want to learn to write. I am going to take the writing and reading class that HOPE has.”

I stop for a minute and think that I am going to write about this conversation with Francisca, and that this ability, the ability to convey my thoughts, ideas, and hopes with pen and paper is a rarity and a gift for many people in developing countries like this one. Whenever I want, I can communicate to my friends and family – and she cannot, yet, and marvels at the possibility of this coming soon.

How blessed are we, that we can write our own names. That we can write letters or emails to the people we care about. I never thought that reading and writing were a privilege, but they are. To be able to write to you is a privilege. To receive emails from my family and friends in Broadway, my friends in Richmond, my fellow members at WEPC, and well, anybody from the States, is truly a joy and a blessing. The ability to write is something that Rosemena and Francisca are looking forward to learning, much like the arrival of a birthday and the gifts and celebration it will bring.

Remember when you used to write messages to your parents, and they would put them up on the refrigerator? Or when you’re parents would write you notes in your lunchbox? Imagine the day when these women will be able to write notes to their children, and be able to read what their children write back to them, and you know what – you can smile, because:

that day is coming soon . . .

Blessings to you and your family, in His name,

-Aaron Roth

Skype: aprothwm05


While I’m volunteering down here in the Dominican Republic, I am still finishing the final part of my fundraising through the remainder of the year. Do pray for the work of HOPE and if you feel led to support me financially, you can find that information here.

Online Contributions:

  • Go to and select the “Donate Now” green tab on the right-hand side of the screen (or click this link: “HOPE International – Donate Now”)
  • Under “Allocate your Gift,” find the “Contribution Preference Amount” drop down box
  • Select “Other (please specify below)”
  • *In the box beside “Other Gift Designation”, write “Fellow: Aaron Roth”

Contributions by Mail (send a check):

HOPE International

Joan Bauman, Donor Care Administrator

227 Granite Run Dr. – Suite 250

Lancaster, PA 17601

Please make all checks payable to:

HOPE International and put “Fellow – Donation: Aaron Roth” in the memo line.

According to IRS regulations, all contributions are treated as donations and are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.