Davis Mathis (center) and Abigail Lund (right) build robots with Project Esperanza students. Photo: Abigail Lund

This past summer, seniors Abigail Lund and Davis Mathis chose to take their knowledge from Pace classes to a summer camp in the Dominican Republic, bringing along a STEM program. Along with middle school French teacher Edna-May Hermosillo, they made a lasting mark on the campers when they travelled to Muñoz to help out at one of Project Esperanza’s schools. Apart from the usual arts and crafts, songs, games, and vocabulary, Lund and Mathis brought new activities to the kids there, specifically, robots.

“We were interested in introducing something new as we had been teaching the same vocab in the past and we weren’t able to cater to such a wide variety of groups,” said Lund. “It was suggested to me by one of my mentors… to bring my love of robotics and computers to Project Esperanza.”

Pace students have volunteered at Project Esperanza’s summer camp, Cambia Mis Estrellas, for the past four years, three of them as part of the middle school’s ICGL program. Mme. Hermosillo, who has volunteered with this organization for the past seven years, was the founding force of the program at Pace, and serves as a member of the program’s volunteer staff in the United States.

In order to cater to a larger group of students, Lund and Mathis created a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay for robots and other expenses needed to bring this technology to the Dominican Republic. With Lund’s technology background and Mathis’ knowledge of Spanish, the two worked together to provide a new challenge using these materials for the older students on the last day. 

Project Esperanza began in the fall of 2005 when two Virginia Tech students set out to address the complicated divide between Haitians and Dominicans. Caitlin McHale, one of the founding members of Project Esperanza, said that “[Project Esperanza] attempts to assist the Dominican Republic in responsibly receiving Haitian immigrants and equipping them to give back to Haiti and the island as a whole,” and that, “It’s not an attempt to make life better for some folks, but an attempt to create deep change and transformation through education, empowerment, teamwork and continuous investment in people as leaders of change.” According to Mme. Hermosillo, “Part of why it’s so special is that it started grassroots; some Haitian teachers came to Caitlin to ask for outside help, which is how it was able to grow.”

Although flying down and spending a week with these children is an extremely rewarding experience, it is not a viable option for many people, especially at this time in the school year. However, the Pace community can still get involved, specifically through Project Esperanza’s student sponsorship program. “Sponsorship helps with the operating costs, salaries to teachers, only two of whom are Haitian, as well as meals and transportation,” said Mme. Hermosillo. This program also helps to pay for student’s books, uniforms and tuition. Sponsoring a student costs $150.

So far this year, about 76 students are sponsored, while between 100 and 150 students are not. “Sometimes we think that a problem is big and it’s too big to tackle, or we don’t know where to start, but the little things are so very appreciated,” said Ms. McHale.

Also, the Project Esperanza Art Shop, located in Muñoz, sells art, jewelry and accessories made by the Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. To raise more money and awareness for this cause, you can access the shop on Project Esperanza’s website, http://esperanzameanshope.org/.