Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Believe in What You Sell” – (August ’12)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Believe in What You Sell” – August 2012

Hi everyone, we had a successful day of business training for school owners last week even though Hurricane Isaac was picking up speed here in the Dominican. This upcoming weekend I’ll be heading to Haiti for the first time. Please pray for safety and our work there with the savings groups. Also, as a reminder, I’m planning to stay here in the DR until October 11th to help out with a HOPE event here before returning to the States this fall. Do please continue to support me through the fall if you feel led.

It’s easy to sell something that you believe in.

If you’ve ever had an experience selling, whether it’s lemonade from your lemonade stand, magazine subscriptions door to door, or fundraising booths at a public event, you know you have had a lot more success when you truly believe the product you’re selling is good and people want it. On the other hand, when you have to peddle some sort of snake oil that you don’t believe in, sales are hard to come by. It’s just a simple rule of business and of life.

Riding around on a motorcycle taxi through La Romana and San Pedro inviting school directors to our business training workshop was probably one of the easier sales calls I had to make in my life. For example, I would show up with a letter of invitation, and explain to the administration that they were invited to a four hour training Aug-12-News-03session led by a CPA with 15 years of experience working with small, affordable, private Christian schools. Immediately their faces showed interest and they were expecting the huge price to come next, but I continued on, explaining that with his financial advice, he would walk us through how to prepare an operational budget for the upcoming school year. We’d have coffee, drinks, and sandwiches. Best of all, it would be free.

You can imagine the look of disbelief on their faces when I mentioned the word “free.” Even more, I went on to say that we are doing a series on business trainings this upcoming fall covering areas of financial sustainability in our  Biblical business training curriculum. Part of our program with doing microlending to small, Christian schools in economically poor areas includes doing Biblical business training and teacher training using the AMO program:

It was an easy sell. I was met with smiles and handshakes and a gracious disbelief of the free offer.  And then, on training day, we had 43 people attend from 26 schools.Aug-12-News-07


Maybe, if you’ve read my previous newsletters you think that this will be the point where I break in with the bad news. Well, don’t worry, there isn’t. Not even the rain of Tropical Storm Isaac stopped us. It was an amazing experience to see the good inputs turn into great results.

Katia from Centro Educativo Agape (God’s Love Education Center) said “I wish I had heard this information four years ago when I started my school.” Haidy from Colegio Paso a Paso (Step by Step School) expressed, “Now, this makes sense why my income has to stretch to cover the expenses at the end of the month, I should be charging 10-15% Aug-12-News-05more.” It was a simple recipe: quality material, easy to understand examples, relevant training for school leaders.

Economically, these are poor schools. They charge anywhere from $7 to $12 a month for students to attend and even to parents who struggle to afford this money, they pay it, because they know the alternative is unsatisfactory. Their children will be crammed into a room with 50 other students in the public school, and they won’t learn anything. No parent would want that for their child.

But for us, as an American organization, when we think about aiding this economic situation, to subsidize the education for these Dominican children would simply be ineffective and very expensive. It’s not feasible for us to fund the 6,600 public schools or the 4,200 private schools. We don’t have the money, but maybe more importantly, when we prevent local leaders like Katia or Haidy from being able to teach students from their own knowledge and skills, modeling good behavior and hard work, we prevent raising up local leaders, thereby limiting long term development and success. We do business training because we believe in local leaders to accomplish the role of education in the communities where they live.

Aug-12-News-04It really makes me think about a key point, through all of my mission work down here: It matters what we believe, it matters what we do, and what we dedicate ourselves to.

When we try to build up our own success, that’s a small victory. But when we turn and seek out these educators, leaders, and entrepreneurs, and partner with them, they win, their teachers win, their students win, the whole community wins and so do we. When we believe that there are 43 leaders who can educate their children well, it will change what we say and the confidence we feel when we ride around La Romana and San Pedro inviting schools to a business training. I believed, and they believed as well.

Aug-12-News-06For me, I gave up a lot to be here in the Dominican Republic to serve with HOPE International and Esperanza International. I don’t make a salary here. I have been supported by my church, friends, and family. They believed in what I was doing because I believed in it myself.

This is still what I believe in. I believe that those affected by economic poverty deserve an opportunity to climb up and out of the depths of financial despair, and I believe fundamentally that there are better ways of doing economic development. Here at HOPE, we believe that to ensure long-term success, we have to give a hand up, not a handout. When you give people the right tools, when you partner with them in the right way, when you believe in the right things, you will see success far beyond what you could have ever anticipated.

He replied, “. . . I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

I pray that you will believe what is good and true and that you will speak boldly from what you believe.

Blessings to you and your family,

Passport, A Renewal – Part 1

A small part of the American dream sits patiently in an enormous waiting room of  high ceilings, six foot fans, and factory-style fluorescent tube lights. Lines swirl around the inside, and the outside, seats for the lucky or elderly, but no matter who you are, or when you arrive, all must pass through security. No cell phones, please. A noticed presence of aspiration and perspiration hangs in the air.

For non-citizens in the waiting room of the US Embassy, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or at least, a once a year application maximum. Many people are dressed in their Sunday best, hoping for a positive first impression with the officer administering the visa interview. Forms stacked on forms, collated, stapled, and 2×2 photos done while you wait. It feels clinical. Like someone’s going to probe further into your inner ear, to listen in on your nervous chatter.

I wasn’t so nervous, no, this to me was not my last hope, nor my first step in making it to the New World; I was already a citizen. Along with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, one thing we extend to all foreign nationals interested in becoming citizens is the right to wait in line. In some ways, I missed the familiar bureaucracy, the silly red tape, and yes, the policies and procedures of controlling the masses.

As I stood in line for over 2 hours for an application drop-off of 5 min, I heard many conversations surrounding questions of history, questions of interview strategies, and plenty of answers to proposed destinations. It seemed to me, truly, that everyone had an American Dream. My dream amounted to hoping that the simple renewal of my passport would happen without a hitch as it’s set to expire one month from this week. Yikes. That simple crucial piece of  travel documents that you can’t leave home without. (As my uncle Lyle joked, “If you’ve got a credit card and a passport, you won’t have any problem getting anywhere.”)

I know, I should have gotten this passport thing done when I was home in the States this past year. Really, it’s just a simple “mail it and wait” process, but I wanted my new passport to come from the part of tremendous journey beginning more than two years ago where I set sail to learn Spanish, explore Latin America, and volunteer for a cause I believed in.

President Obama congratulating the new President Medina

In October, I’ll be saying goodbye to almost two years in the Dominican Republic. It’s been more than two years away from normal American life. In some ways I’m tired of living withing a paid job, tired of consistent cultural challenges, and tired of being “another gringo” walking around the commercial areas of Santo Domingo. It’s not that I want to unplug from expatriate life, it’s that I want to plug in to American life.

But as I look at the stamps  in my old passport, I’m filled with a sense of duty to carryout the mission I started. By no means do I want to call travel or serving overseas a closed chapter of my life, or a “I got it all out of my system” kind of thing. I don’t want it to be all said and done, because I don’t believe it is.

I left the embassy without a passport feeling confident that at least for my part of the process, I was finished. But I don’t want the feeling of adventure and exploration to end, and I know it won’t be.

I believe it’s just time for renewal.

Maybe then, that is what I hope for, and maybe it’s safe to stay, I still have an American dream.


“A Parachute for All” – (July ’12)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “A Parachute for All” – July 2012

Hi everyone, this newsletter is about the Esperanza-Edify family camp we had in a school called “Colegio Bethesda” in La Romana, Dominican Republic in July. As I mentioned earlier, I’m planning to stay here in the DR until October 11th to help out with a HOPE event here before returning to the States this fall. Do please continue to support me through the fall if you feel led.

My first experience with a parachute, thankfully, was not when I had to jump out of a plane. My mother had found an old Army parachute at a yard sale, and my siblings and neighbors and I played with it for hours during a summer in the early ‘90’s. I distinctly remember talking with our resident engineer, my brother, how much time (in milliseconds) I would have to deploy the old, tattered, white parachute if I were to jump off the roof of our house. Luckily, our mother caught wind of our plans, and disabled access to the roof and scolded us enough to dissuade us from taking such a leap.

What was your first experience with a parachute? My guess it was some form of summer camp when you and your friends stretched out around the edges of the colorful fabric and breathed life into the beast as you launched beach balls, water balloons, or maybe, just maybe, some young, lucky aspiring July-12-News-02astronauts that your youth leaders deemed rugged enough to survive a few test orbit missions from your summer camp launch pad.

Two weeks ago was yet another reminder to me that kids are kids, and that all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight.

In Microfinance, we don’t usually do summer camps for kids. We stress the importance in giving July-12-News-03people a hand up, not a hand out. We make loans to those who live in economic poverty to help them start sustainable businesses to help them improve their economic situation on their own.

In the partnership with Esperanza-Edify, we make loans to small, low-cost private schools to build more classrooms and computer labs; initiatives that increase a school’s income and improve the quality of teaching at an institution. We believe the best way to launch a child into success is with a solid education, but yes, for fun, on this particular occasion we did let the kids play with the parachute (but not physically launching them, don’t worry).

Colegio Bethesda is the economically poorest school of the 33 schools in our lending program in Esperanza-Edify. In the past 18 months we have lent over US $300,000 to projects relating to construction of new classrooms, infrastructure improvements, and computer labs. (Note: Microloans July-12-News-04are actively being paid back so that we can use this capital to lend to other schools. I love this aspect of how microfinance works!) We make loans with good interest rates and terms to projects that will help a school in providing a better education for the children of their community, and right now we have almost 7,000 children in our program of 33 schools.

Colegio Bethesda is a school that I’ve spoken about before in my newsletters and blogs; it’s a largely Haitian community, and this community is considered the economically poorest in La Romana, a large city in the east of the Dominican Republic. It’s a community where there is no regular access to water, July-12-News-08electricity, and just 2 months ago, they got their first paved road.

So to celebrate the progress over the past 12 months of Colegio Bethesda with Pastor Wisley Denis and his school administration team, and their three new classrooms they built from the loan we made last summer, we wanted to do something special. Something that we don’t normally do.

With the 90 students, their parents and their community, we brought a summer camp full of activities of arts & crafts, English classes, and games. Within HOPE, Esperanza, and Edify, when we find an appropriate project to assist a school in a manner that is more donation based, we try to do it in a July-12-News-04way that empowers the community, instead of just a group of Americans coming and giving away large gifts. Pastor Denis found workers from his congregation that wanted to make an impact in the school in the community. He was looking for parents and workers that were invested in the importance of education, so local Haitian workers from the community finished the three classrooms during the camp.

Pastor Wisley Denis said,

“We are all very excited about this summer camp. For these children, they know that other kids get to go to camp, but they know they could never go. They simply cannot afford it. By showing up, by being present here, we are showing them they deserve to be special.”

I was the leader of the older kids, “Los Campeones,” (The Champions), pictured in the yellow shirts in various pictures above. Like most older kids, they were reserved, and a bit timid, just waiting for an excuse to run off some of their energy. So we passed from English and then onto crafts and finally to recreation. The chance to run and play had finally arrived. They were desperate to blow off some steam.

July-12-News-07Sometimes I have a moment where it all clicks for me, and when I find myself in an economically poor community, with parents struggling to make ends meet, the temptation of drugs, prostitution and crime, the sickness, grief and the pain, the need and the desire of the innocent trying to just be children, and then comes something that just covers the entire situation with a new face, a new hope:

outstretched in the courtyard of the church was displayed the color-filled canvas pulled taut by the joyous hands of 30 screaming Haitian children.

How beautiful.

The photo I captured here to the right reminds me of the spirit of joy found in children, no matter where they are from, or what color their skin is. They all just want an opportunity to play.

I believe that children deserve access to good education, a teacher that encourages them and cares about their future, an administration that promotes values and discipline, adequate facilities that promote their development, and an opportunity for higher education. July-12-News-05

And there, under the parachute was a common ground, a place where we could all laugh at the majesty of the colors of our make-shift tent. We all fit, we all deserved to be there, we were all special in the way we were made.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight.

I think most of the time in America, we worry about how much resources we have to make sure that all children are covered in the schools, lamenting that we only have room for so many. We cut programs that engender the creative prowess of our youth to make way for standardized tests and programs. Many times the kids that need it the most, don’t fit under the parachute, and sit against the wall . . . and learn that their only place is by the wall while the rest of the world gets to be underneath the glowing tent of colors.

I’ve got an idea, let’s find a way to make a bigger parachute.

Let’s find ways to make solid education available for more children and youth in our communities locally and internationally. It doesn’t have to be in a public school classroom, or a private school for that matter, it can take form in a church, even the courtyard of a church that’s covered in dirt and rocks. It just matters that we show up, that we make ourselves present, and that we make our youth know they too deserve to be there.  By making the investment in youth, we will see our communities grow and flourish, just like Colegio Bethesda in Villa Hermosa of La Romana.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Blessings to you and your family,


Dance like Everyone’s Watching

This past Sunday night I went to an outdoor concert at the ruins of San Francisco in the Colonial Zone. From 6:00 – 10:00pm every Sunday, a group of Caribbean music professionals put on a free show for the local community. It’s a mix of Salsa, Merengue and once in a while, Bachata.

To the outsider, it’s cultural bliss. To the insider, just get there early, you don’t want to have to stand on the sidelines. So clearly, when my group of American friends and I showed up, there were no available chairs. No problem though, we found ourselves standing next to a wall. I couldn’t help but think we were the typical wallflowers, the foreigners who had not yet learned to dance like the locals. It felt a bit like 8th grade again.

I suppose one advantage to being on the outside is that you can see all that moves on the dance floor, and in one moment, we saw a beautiful young Dominican woman being spun around what appeared to be an older fella who didn’t seem to be moving all that much. My friend’s comment to my proposed criticism was that, “It’s not so much what you can see that’s important, it’s what’s you don’t see that makes the difference.”

On second inspection then, what appeared to be a grandpa who may have lost his way back to his seat, was instead a youthful, suave, Salsa dancing veteran decked out in red pants, red suspenders, a white shirt with accented red designs, and a red Kangol cap. If you know anything about dance, (or I suppose dating), it’s the man’s responsibility to make the lady look good. And did she!

The next song. Another woman. And one more after that. Now that we had better data, we realized that this guy was in high demand, and boy was he loving it. It was clear that he both danced like no one, and yet everyone was watching him.

He reminded me of Morrie, recounted in the book, “Tuesdays with Morrie” written by Mitch Albom

“He had always been a dancer, my old professor. The music didn’t matter. Rock and roll, big band, the blues. He loved them all. He would close his eyes and with a blissful smile begin to move to his own sense of rhythm. It wasn’t always pretty. But then, he didn’t worry about a partner. Morrie danced by himself.

He used to go to this church in Harvard Square every Wednesday night for something called “Dance Free.” They had flashing lights and booming speakers and Morrie would wander in among the mostly student crowd, wearing a white T-shirt and black sweatpants and a towel around his neck, and whatever music was playing, that’s the music to which he danced. He’d do the lindy to Jimi Hendrix. He twisted and twirled, he waved his arms like a conductor on amphetamines, until sweat was dripping down the middle of his back. No one there knew he was a prominent doctor of sociology, with years of experience as a college professor and several well-respected books. They just thought he was some old nut.

Once, he brought a tango tape and got them to play it over the speakers. Then he commandeered the floor, shooting back and forth like some hot Latin lover. When he finished, everyone applauded. He could have stayed in that moment forever.”

. . .

Well in our case, when our friend finally finished, he took off his red Kangol cap and bowed to the crowd. Hearty applause rang out. Applause to a guy who knows how to make the lady look good.

I need to take some dance lessons and get there earlier next Sunday. And if I’m gonna dance like everyone’s watching I know I need to make the lady look good.

Those Kinds of Burglars

Take a look at this picture. See anything? Anything missing?


It’s actually a picture of a ceiling inside the low-cost private school Colegio Paso a Paso (“Step by Step”) where someone stole the ceiling fan.

I was sweating, sitting in a chair in the office of director, Haidy Guerrero, when she lamented that she couldn’t turn the fan on for me. When I asked why, she pointed upwards and that’s when I took the photo.

A few weeks prior, some thieves broke into the school and removed the six ceiling fans inside the classrooms. At about $65 ( a weekly salary of an average worker),  that’s a $400 replacement fee that the school could not afford. I think about me, sitting there sweating, and then those kids next door, so disciplined, paying attention to their teachers, not minding the heat reverberating off the concrete block walls.

Come to think of it, most of the schools in the Esperanza-Edify programs don’t have ceiling fans in their rooms. The kids just deal with it. When students are paying less than US $10 a month to go to low-cost private school it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the administration to use their funds for things like air conditioning or even fans.

But if you think this is a violation of  national school policies, the public schools don’t have fans, and most of these kids will go back to a home that is built from concrete blocks, where one or two wall fans will cool of the five or eight members of their family.

It makes me wonder then, if these thieves broke into the school for the fans, did they install them in their own homes?

Probably not, they resold them for the cash. It’s hot in the Dominican Republic, and the demand for cool air is high.

“Save a Dollar” – (June ’12 Newsletter)

   Aaron Roth – HOPE International – “Save a Dollar” – June 2012

Hi everyone, this newsletter is about June and the HOPE International savings groups in Comas, Peru, and the July newsletter will be about the Esperanza-Edify family camp we had in Colegio Bethesda in La Romana, Dominican Republic. On another note, although my final date was to be August, I’m planning on staying to early October to help with an annual HOPE event here in the DR. Do please continue to support me if you feel led. More on my Fall departure will come in the next newsletters, and on my blog.

“I didn’t know how to save my money, but now I do.” is what Olga, 52 years old, member of the “Good Seed” savings group in Comas, Peru told me. Have you ever said that to someone? (Or do you know how to save?) Has your budget ever come up short during a month? Have you ever wanted to buy something but felt that it was just out of your reach? These are the questions that I use daily when talking with people about their money and their hopes and dreams for the future. In Olga’s case, she has been excited about putting away $2-3 a week, something she’s never done before in her life, and is amazed to see her stock pile grow which she will use to make inventory purchases in the future.

June-12-News-02 Last month, I had the opportunity to go work in Lima, Peru for six days during June 20-26 to help a volunteer from HOPE, Cindy Kalinoski,, do a series of interviews of the savings group members, the program team, and the local church that was implementing the project.

As a translator, it was my job to schedule the trips to the local market and facilitate the interviews while Cindy carried out the content of each meeting. Our work took us through three local markets of three districts of North Lima. Lima, Peru has a population of nearly 30 million people, and roughly nine million of those live in the capital in one of 36 districts. It was interesting and very enjoyable to be in another Latin American country that spoke Spanish, but instead of sea-level plains and Carribean plants, I was surrounded by mountains and the noise and hustle and bustle of the city.

In North Lima, our home base was a district called Comas where HOPE International has a partnership with the local church Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera de Comas ( to carry out a savings group program. Members of the group make weekly savings deposits when they meet in small groups of their local June-12-News-03congregation, and the groups save their funds together as a form of accountability and support. This similar savings model is what HOPE savings programs look like in Rwanda where we have more than 100,000 members with a partnership Urewego Bank (, and in the Philippines where we have more than 200,000 members with a partnership with CCT ( 

In speaking with Pastor Angel Barriento, senior pastor of the Comas church, he relayed to us the state of the local economy: “Most of the local commerce in the area can be classified as “informal” meaning that the people are out in the streets and in the markets selling goods, instead of office buildings and corporate parks like you all might be used to. For those at the bottom of the social class pyramid, there are relatively few or no options to have banking services or basic savings programs.”

The Comas church has been excited about this project because by offering this savings tool coupled with a financial ministry they are able to reach people they would never be able to meet by traditional methods. A basic strategy of finding new clients is to walk around through the markets (pictured June-12-News-04right) and ask them where they do their banking and where they go to church. A member of the leadership team can then invite them to church and to the savings groups they are promoting. Simple and effective.

In Comas, Peru, in South and Central America, and indeed here in the Dominican Republic, you’ll see in most economically poor areas that there is a basic lack of financial services: checking accounts, savings accounts, and reasonable rates for loans. In America, we don’t even think twice about not having access to these services. With advertisements on our local streets or arriving in the mail, we are inundated with offers.

June-12-News-05But in talking with the members of these seven savings groups in Peru, getting a savings account is pretty tough with the account requirements, distance to local banks, and the limited service hours. This is why HOPE promotes savings groups, and their specific strategy is managing these programs through an established community like a church.

I believe now more than ever that in order to have overseas development work well, we have to partner with local leaders. I was overjoyed to meet Pastor Roberto Peche and his family (pictured above wearing a tie with the leadership team). He’s in charge of the men’s ministry for the church and the financial ministry with the savings groups. He has such a passion for teaching and discipleship and this program allows him to go out into the communities to give them financial tools and training to prosper in their businesses.

Take for example the case of Milagros (pictured right.) She joined this savings group from the church about 10 months ago, when Pastor Roberto and his team came through the market where she was working. Through the savings group she learned how to manage her money, create her own budget, make plans for a future business, and was given a position of leadership and responsibility as the secretary of the group. What’s most exciting is that recently, when the group was mature and built up its savings funds, the group gave Milagros a loan for $75. With that $75 dollars she was able to buy more inventory for her store.

June-12-News-06I love this idea that this business that you see in the left picture did not exist 3 months ago, but with this loan from her savings group, a community of her friends, she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream – owning her own store. This store provides the necessary income for her and her three children, and since it is the only one in the local neighborhood she is helping her community have better access to needed goods.

For us, maybe the idea of saving a few dollars isn’t anything special, but if you were to put yourself in the shoes of someone like Milagros or Olga, people who have no easy access to financial services, saving money was hard. But now, even these few dollars can make a big difference in their lives. They began trusting in the promise of savings, the promise of the solidarity and community that they find in their group, and a new hope in the truth they are finding in the church community, as many of the women in the group were not active church goers in the past.

I think so often that for us, we put so much stock in what we make, or what we are able to earn and buy. It can represent the value we have for ourselves and what we show our friends and family. We can get lost in what the role and the utility of money should be, and make it something more important than it is. By talking with these members of the savings groups, I see the value in appreciating money in the right way and by trusting in the promise of the Bible.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 NIV)

I pray that you would see the value in saving your money to save for the good purchases in life, and that stockpiling or making money would not distract you from what is really important.

Blessings to you and your family,