Esperanza: Creating good jobs for the families of Las Malvinas, Dominican Republic.

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Esperanza is a Christian social business with the mission of creating jobs for the families of Las Malvinas II, a very poor urban slum in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We've been working with the families of this neighborhood for over 10 years, when we arrived in 2008 as a part of TECHO (which means 'roof' in Spanish) -- a Chilean non-profit that works with extremely poor families in Latin America. Through the years and with the help of many partner organizations, we've built houses, parks, additions to the school, and a giant water cistern in the community. We've had successes and monumental failures with our projects, and in all this work we bonded with many families to the point where their poverty has became ours and it pains us terribly to watch them continue under the grind of poverty.

In general, our most common reaction to poverty is to build what we think is missing: a house, a school, a water well. Yet half of our projects would fail because families had no means to sustain them -- houses need to be maintained, pumps need servicing. We were 'schooled' on this by the women of the community. After a meeting, some women approached us and politely said they liked the stuff we build in Las Malvinas but if we just gave them jobs they could fend for themselves, thank you very much. But no one hires semi-illiterate women without a trade and that have kids and grandkids to look after all day. 

This became a challenge:

Could we create a company that would hire people deemed 'unemployable' and still be profitable?


Esperanza therefore was built from the ground up to serve the women of Las Malvinas and goes the extra mile (or two) to give them meaningful employment. We started making soap because the process is similar to cooking (something the women do very well--believe us!) Then we provided free training to dozens of women. We placed our workshop inside the community so they can be close to home and not have to commute (actually, we commute to them). Our flexible work hours accommodate their family responsibilities, and the women earn a variable salary that better reflects their spending needs.

The company works - today the 3 women we've hired create high quality, all-natural soaps and scrubs with the island's best ingredients (coconuts, cocoa butter, sugar cane, coffee beans...) that are sold in hotels, tourist gift shops, and many other locations. We make soap under private labels for other brands and will soon offer a wider variety of products to expand our client base. The more customers we serve, the more women we can hire. 

We are blessed to have an Executive Director/Missionary - Krista Webb, who manages the company locally and works with families of the community on other initiatives outside of employment: visiting mothers, providing meals and school supplies, and promoting health and good hygiene through hand washing with our soap. Our desire is to use the resources of our company (our people and the income we generate) to care for the spiritual and physical needs of as many people as possible in Las Malvinas, as well as our employees, suppliers, and customers.

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We believe that every person was made in God's image; is of infinite worth; and is intended to flourish. Poverty, therefore, is wrong because it robs a person of her basic dignity and of opportunities to live out her full potential. As Christians, we have taken entrepreneurship to low income communities following the footsteps of Christ and His passion for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the invisible, hoping to be an instrument in freeing our world of extreme poverty. We use entrepreneurship and business because work is part of God's design for us; through work we serve others and contribute to society through our labor. 

'If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday' 
Isaiah 58:9-10


Esperanza Soaps is a project of Upward Ventures, a US-based organization dedicated to empowering families to rise from poverty through employment.
Visit Upward Ventures' site here.

Meet the Women of Esperanza



MARTHA - Martha Evangelista Cordero

Martha was born in Cristo Rey, a crowded neighborhood of Santo Domingo. She lives with her husband Enrique and two of her kids, José and Crystal. She came to Las Malvinas looking for her own space and settled in the lower part of the community where the Esperanza Factory is located.

Martha used to work at a clothing factory, but now she’s a stay-at-home mom. When Esperanza Soaps came to the neighborhood, Martha eagerly learned how to make soap and became part of the Esperanza team.  “Making soap is not just a job; it also helps me clear my head and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.”

Martha wants to finish building her house and send her kids to college. “Working at Esperanza Soaps I can invest in what my kids need so they can be good people and get an education.”


JOCY - Joceline Ramirez

Joceline, or “Jocy”, grew up in northern Santo Domingo and came to Las Malvinas II in 2007 with her husband Ismael. They have 4 kids, two boys and two girls, ages 8, 6, 3, and 1. Jocy heard of Esperanza Soaps through Martha and attended all our workshops, quickly learning all the details of soapmaking.

Jocy is a natural soapmaker and is our Production Supervisor at Esperanza Soaps. She loves her job because “I work with people from my own community and I get along with them well.”

Esperanza is Jocy’s first job. She started a family at 17, which kept her from completing school or ever working. But Jocy dreams of becoming a nurse. During 2016-2017 she’ll finish high school and then go to college. 

MINDRY - Josefina Luciano

Mindry grew up in different neighborhoods of Santo Domingo and moved to Las Malvinas when she was 15. Her parents moved to the community before there were services or roads, seeking their own piece of land to build a house. The 4th child of 6, Mindry is bright and hardworking, and finished high school at 17. She then started studying Initial Education at the University of Santo Domingo, the biggest public university in the country. She has worked at schools and in other jobs to pay for college.

Today Mindry is 24 and lives with her husband Daniel and baby Dariel in a small rented apartment. Soapmaking comes as a great alternative for her, as she can work and take care of her baby at the same time. Mindry is eager to graduate and work. “I want to help my mom finish her house and help send my younger siblings to college. I also want to move out of where I rent and be able to have my own place.”

LAS MALVINAS II

THE HEART OF
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

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Las Malvinas II is a typical “barrio” of the Dominican Republic. Its streets are always full of children playing; bachata is blasting from radios; and motorcycles roar up and down the neighborhood. Every few houses you find a “colmado” (general store). People sit outside their houses in the afternoon to beat the heat, catch up with neighbors, and play dominoes.

The community started in 2001, when a group of families moved on to the abandoned lots and started building makeshift houses. For many years there were no services or roads, but many low-income families are willing to live without them for some time to escape paying rent and have their own house.

Las Malvinas II struggles with the same issues we see in most low income communities. High school drop out rates and unemployment, pervasive teenage pregnancy, and a lack of critical services like sewerage and medical attention. The elementary school in the neighborhood is way above capacity, and there is no high school near by. The lack of opportunities to study and work make it challenging for families to get ahead.

Despite the difficulties, the community pushes forward. In its short existence, it has brought in critical services like electricity and roads, and has developed a strong community leadership group.

Most of the families we’ve met here want more than just “to get by.” They want to build a a house made out of bricks, send their kids to school, and then hopefully to college. And most of them want an opportunity to work for these dreams! This is why we started Esperanza Soaps: to bring training, jobs, and revenue into Las Malvinas II. Through our nonprofit arm, Upward Ventures, we are currently studying new business opportunities to kickstart in the community.

 

 

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