It is safe to say that Santo Domingo is an incredibly vibrant city. The people, the landscape, the bustle and weather only begin to paint a picture of why so many travel to this incredible city. However, when you travel with Oikocredit, it is a requirement that you step out of your comfort zone and experience more than hotel pools and incredible food.
In a city of over 2 million people, space is at a premium. Beautiful homes in affluent neighborhoods are surrounded by views of densely populated slums and polluted rivers. As our group drove around the city to meet various microfinance clients, we often sat silently, focused on what passed by our windows. However, when we stopped and exited our bus we experienced the real Santo Domingo through the words of micro-entrepreneurs who have received loans from Oikocredit Partner COASPIRE.
COASPIRE has made over 15,000 loans through 10 offices located throughout the center of the Dominican Republic (Their main branch is located in Santo Domingo). They emphasize their strong Christian ideals, which resonates with a large population of Dominicans who value Christianity tremendously. For many people reading this you may have reservations concerning religion being involved when lending to poor entrepreneurs. I too, had my own apprehension. However, throughout the day, client after client expressed how they worked hard for the glory of God. It was clear that they chose COASPIRE as their lender not only because COASPIRE had favorable interest rates but because COASPIRE was unafraid of mixing religion with their lending practices. Say what you will about religion being intertwined with microfinance but the proof is in the pudding. COASPIRE’s portfolio is one of the strongest I have seen in my 9 years in the industry.
Later in the day we visited a K-6 elementary school located in the heart of Santo Domingo. The name of the school was Colegio Evangelical Nacional and it is part of a growing sector of evangelical private schools. The school was attached to a church founded and was founded in 1996. The school has received loans from COASPIRE mainly for security upgrades and general facility upgrades. One has to understand that the public school system in the Dominican is horrifically underfunded. Our Oikocredit Country Manager here in the Dominican told us that only 4% of government spending goes towards the public education system. This scarcity results in over-crowded classrooms, lack of restrooms, underpaid teachers and overall distrust by the population. Private schools are for many families the only way their children can receive any type of consistent learning experience. Of course the children were adorable.
The last visit of the day was to Reposteria Teresa, a cake and pastry shop celebrating 30 years in business. Teresa greeted us with a warm hello and jumped right into the story of her business. She is an incredible entrepreneur that worked two jobs (including the reposteria) to support her family. Furthermore the reposteria employs two other women with full-time jobs. In her spare time (yeah I know) she taught baking classes to women struggling with the effects of living in poverty. Teresa worked with them to learn a new craft and create opportunity for themselves and their children. She is quite a woman. It was an honor to hear her story. Teresa has received three loans from COASPIRE the first one of $600 was used to purchase her oven for baking. Subsequent loans were used to purchase other equipment and raw materials used in the cake making process.
So all in all, today was an incredible urban adventure through Santo Domingo. Tomorrow we venture to San Francisco (Go Giants?) in the center of the country to witness Oikocredit’s cocoa producing partner Coopnacado. They are a coop of over 9,000 cocoa farmers and its HARVEST SEASON! We are all very excited to venture out into rural Dominican Republic.
Wonderful to read about your visits in Dominican Republic and the positive results from Oikocredit support. Enjoy the rest of your tour!
Thank Shari! It was a blast!