First of all, I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to my lovely lady boss, the owner of The It Crowd, Lindsey Harrison, for having such a big heart and sending her employees on a trip like this every year. The It Crowd gives our employees an additional 5 consecutive days of PTO in order to GO and DO GOOD in the world. This started a couple of years ago when Lindsey went on the same trip I just came back from. The company also covers half of the trip or will match what you raise in donations for the non-profit or affiliated organization.
Next, I want to say WOW and thank you to my sweet friend, Ashley Howard. Ashley has become such a dear friend. I have loved every second of growing to know her more and getting to see first hand her heart for both poverty and for truly making a lasting impact on the world. Ashley works for Esperanza International and was the true encourager behind me going on this trip.
So, what is Esperanza?
As far as what Esperanza is or how they work as an organization, I will let you find that here: https://esperanza.org/
Instead, I want to focus on what they are doing for the communities I visited and why I am 100% sold on what they do. Esperanza has taken an entirely different approach to poverty and how to solve it.
Esperanza does not give hand outs.
That might sound harsh or uncompassionate to some, but it is the exact opposite. While I have been a fan of charities and donating clothes or food, I can see how there isn’t as much of a long-lasting impact.
While in the Dominican, I was told countless stories of how TOMS ruined local economies or how a woman who was given the opportunity to get her Ph.D. here in the States, ended up going back home to her community because THAT is where she knew she was needed. While donations or giving to the impoverished can be nice, it’s not sustainable. Instead, Esperanza gives business owners an opportunity to start or grow their business through micro-financing. These loans can range anywhere from $20 – $10,000 and sometimes even more. They offer business loans, home improvement loans and in some cases will give loans to schools and water projects (all of which I had the chance to see firsthand).
Esperanza focuses on the WHOLE person.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of death for women in the Dominican Republic. Esperanza offers multiple non-financial services such as women exams, health benefits, access to dental care, etc. They have identified a need for healthcare within these small communities and this is a benefit that is included when anyone takes out a loan.
The most mentally challenging pill for me to swallow on this trip was this- these men and women do not need me. They are not less fortunate than me. They are proud of who they are and what they have done in their communities. The focus points of conversations I had with these business owners were never “what can I do for you?” or any sob stories… it was filled with them being excited to share their accomplishments or innovations; the opening of a new restaurant, a larger area for their clothing store or even more hangers, new tools for their cheese business. It was simple, yet so powerful!
Just like me, these people love to feel recognized and celebrated. They felt honored that we wanted to learn about their business, their families, their dreams for their children and their financial goals. The team at Esperanza has made it their intention to build relationships with these people- through worship and prayer, fun conversations and empowering each other.
Trust the Process – Go in Faith
Up until this trip, I had never been out of the country for something like this. I have always had a heart for serving or giving of my time, whether that was a couple of trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or serving the homeless and under-fed in Dallas. But I had always been around it with family members going across the world or seeing churches and groups go on these amazing life-changing trips. I don’t really have a reason for why I never went… regardless, I knew what I was getting into.
The Saturday before I was supposed to fly out, just about everything went wrong. My sweet pup Troupe got extremely sick and we spent a couple of hours at the vet, I was having car issues and my original flight got canceled due to the 737 Max issues. Things were not looking up. I cried, I was stressed and I started to doubt if I was even supposed to go. Through all of it though, I heard a voice the entire time saying things like “go in faith”. So I made up that I was going to go regardless of what seemed to stand in my way.
God is constantly teaching me to just trust Him. If you know me, you know I am a complete control freak. I always have a plan, always have a solution. And if I don’t, I usually just completely lose it and freak out on anyone that stands in my way… I know, I’m working on it. So I flew standby on oversold flights to Miami and then the Dominican and got on seamlessly… laughing at how much worry and stress I had just put myself through when the whole time God knew. He never for a second doubted if I was supposed to be on this trip and He made a way for me- and He made it so easy.
Humility in its truest form
It sounds so simple and trivial but if I had to choose one “AHA” moment from the trip, it was this. After visiting several women that live here in the Dominican and thinking I wasn’t doing enough, after speaking with the Esperanza team and wondering, why aren’t we doing more? Why aren’t we rebuilding their homes? Giving them money for internet and electricity? They have no clean water to drink or even cook with, hardly any plumbing systems or electricity… NO AIR CONDITIONING… it’s really hard to not feel guilty. It’s hard to come here and see the living conditions these communities live in, but then you realize that they ARE happy, they are successful, their businesses are growing, their children are eating, and they are grateful to be alive. They don’t want to escape to the US or live in a typical home with electricity, water, cable, internet, etc. They want what they have to sustain them. They WANT what they NEED.
If I am brutally honest with myself (if we all are), I think we’d have to admit that we view people who live like this as “less than”. They are less of a person because they live in a state like this and they don’t have “huge aspirations and goals”. Or they’re unsanitary or simple-minded or waiting for a hand out thinking life is unfair… when they are actually quite the opposite. They are EXPERTS at what they do. They are brilliant and resourceful and focused on what matters in life. They are grateful for every breath and they aren’t looking for someone to hand them $100 or donate them a new car. They’re looking for someone to ask “What do YOU want, Ana Maria? What are your dreams and goals, Ynersa? How can we be praying for you, Carmine?” … and I had the audacity to think that they somehow need me or people like me to feel sorry for them… and to cry for them. When they just need to feel valued and honored and appreciated.
Poverty is so much more than what it looks like on the outside. These people are rebuilding their homes, growing their businesses and sustaining an ENTIRE community. They need the local businesses to support their economy. They need the infrastructure the way it is. I have been so challenged by this trip wondering “how do I get my hands dirty?”, “What can I do to help?” And the answer is, to treat humans as equal. When I see someone living differently than I do, I try to not assume anything. And to especially not assume that they are any less of a person or any less valuable than I am. They are seen and loved by God as much as anyone else in this world. And it’s so powerful that they are content. It’s not always complacency – it is slowing down enough to be truly grateful for the lasting things in life and to be able to do much with whatever you have. I hope this translates well and that others can relate to this, but I want to be so unassuming and so loving with my views on others that when I see a woman in the Dominican who has no shoes and a concrete floor with some sticks for a home, I see her no differently than I see the businesswoman with red bottom heels rushing to a meeting in Downtown Dallas. Both are human, both have hopes and dreams, both need to feel loved and celebrated.
I am planning to start Spanish classes with Ashley in the near future so that when I go back, the conversations are much easier and I don’t need a translator quite as much. (Thanks Enrique!)
I am working to figure out my next steps in supporting Esperanza, whether that be financially or by planning a trip. I’d also like to figure out creative ways to teach classes in the Dominican on business, marketing, finances, etc. !
Lastly, I’ll be at the Esperanza Luncheon on May 23rd and I’d love for you to join me! If you’d like more information about the event, feel free to reach out to me for more details!
If you’ve made it all the way through this, then thank you! I really appreciate that people would take the time to hear about little ole Taylor’s first experience with true, raw poverty. Regardless of your background or beliefs, I encourage everyone to take time to just go! Whether that is a homeless shelter, Hunger Busters here in Dallas or taking a trip to another country to learn about their culture, their issues, their passions – it is so important to get out of our own little worlds for a little bit. There is a lot of life to be lived. Don’t miss it.
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Microfinance is a banking service which exists to serve the material poor in emerging economies. Through this lending process, loans are distributed to entrepreneurs for investment in their business.learn more