Matching Funds Opportunity for the Construye tus Sueños Winners!

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To our friends and family back home,

The Volunteers of Peace Corps Dominican Republic invite you to engage with the participants of  (Build Your Dreams), an initiative of the economic development sector that offers business training and start-up opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in our communities. These hard-working groups of youth strive to change the economic conditions in their communities and their own lives by completing an intensive 14-week course, writing and submitting a business plan, and competing for funds at the National Competition to start those businesses.

For 2012, 34 groups of youth submitted business plans, 16 were invited to compete at the competition in October, and the five most competitive plans as identified by a panel of Dominican and American professionals were selected to receive start-up funds. The administrative costs of running the program are covered by a grant, and the majority of the prize funds were raised from Dominican institutions. Two groups, however, are from the same community and together require more capital than we could raise locally, so we applied for matching funds that have just been approved. These young entrepreneurs are from the community of Las Galeras, Samaná at the end of the northeastern peninsula and work with the same dedicated volunteer.

Lorenzo de la Rosa Cruz is receiving funding for his “Cafetería El Buen Sazón” cafeteria on the main highway leading into Las Galeras. He won the category of “new business” and was also a crowd favorite.

Altagracia (Yadira) King is receiving funds to expand her artisan business “Altagracia Accesorio Artesanal” and competed in the category of “most innovative/creative”. She will sell hand-made products in the popular tourist region of Las Galeras. At the competition she wowed the judges with examples of decorated sandals she had produced.

Our Dominican partner organization is facilitating matching funds provided by local institutions, and the remaining $1,250 USD is being raised from friends and family back home. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to this project, you can easily do so by accessing the “Donate to Volunteer Projects” link on the Peace Corps website listed below and searching for the project number:

http://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate

Volunteer Last Name: Humphreys
Project Number: 13-517-028

We are thankful for all the support we have received from home throughout our service and excited to be working with these young entrepreneurs that will make lasting impacts in our communities. If you have questions or would like to receive additional information about these projects or the program feel free to contact me.

ImageBrian Humphreys
National Program Coordinator, Construye tus Sueños
Community Economic Development, Peace Corps Dominican Republic
1-809-723-9936
bhumphreysdrv@gmail.com

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Featured Volunteer of the Month: January 2013

Now, Kristy was voted Featured Volunteer of the Month for our 22nd month of service. I am the Featured Volunteer for January 2013, our 30th month of service. Some might say this means she is 36% better than I am as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I prefer to think I am 73% more humble and behind-the-scenes in the awesomeness of my service.

The little article they wrote up focuses more on my work that for various reasons involves me wearing the Superman costume. I spend the vast majority of my time, however, in the capital managing finances, networking, and developing the vision of or planning conferences for the Construye tus Sueños youth entrepreneurship initiative. But the FV is nominated by other volunteers, and the list of people that have been featured includes some volunteers that have accomplished a great deal in terms of development and community integration, so it really is an honor to be counted among them.

Brian FVM

One Marriage in the Peace Corps: Part II

I looked at the statistics for our blog and found that far and away
the two entries that are found most often by searches are Kristy’s
about music in the Dominican Republic and mine about being married in
the Peace Corps, which I wrote back in January 2011. That was just two
months into our service. I went back and looked at this entry and it
clearly needs to get updated. It’s not necessarily inaccurate, but it
was written during a very chaotic and confusing time of transition. We
were living with a host family, couldn’t communicate well, didn’t know
the community, didn’t know the area, and it took a lot of time for us
to get any initial projects off the ground.

So for all you inquisitive married couples with questions about Peace
Corps service, let me bookend the blog regarding this topic by sharing
the advice of a married volunteer who is beginning his extension
of service with his wife: Do it.

The difficult parts of marriage are more so, and the good parts are
better. You will have someone to lean on and share the experience
with, which all the single volunteers will envy. You will be taken a
bit more seriously in your community, though not having kids will make
you seem like crazy people. And while you will still have to deal with
loneliness, unlike most volunteers you will have another American
living under the same (small) roof. You will have unique obstacles and
frustrations that single volunteers won’t see, but overall they are
right to be jealous. We are very glad we served with a spouse, and I
believe the other three couples in our group would say the same thing.

And as a reference, we just had our five year anniversary a month ago.
When we leave in June we will have spent half our marriage in the
Peace Corps.

If you have a healthy relationship and will be committed to making it
work, it’s totally worth it. Do it.

National business plan competition: Check!

The culminating event for the Construye tus Sueños national program manager is the large and complex national conference and competition.

For Peace Corps’ “Build your Dreams” youth entrepreneurship initiative, volunteers facilitate an intensive business education course that equips young talent from marginalized communities to realize their dreams and improve the economic conditions of their communities by starting and maintaining profitable small businesses. After graduating some 300 students in July, 70 of these at-risk Dominican youth submitted 34 business plans, of which the most competitive 16 were selected by a panel of professional representatives to compete for funds to start their small businesses.

Clark Kent came to compete. Might be a little bit of Superman cape sticking out of the sleeve.

Every group that submitted a business plan was invited to the three day conference that consisted of the competition, inspirational speakers, educational activities, and a microfinance and savings fair. In addition to the 34 groups we had 16 volunteers-in-training, 22 volunteers, several Dominican facilitators and panel members, and representatives from some 15 organizations. Groups competed to demonstrate their businesses to be the most feasible, focusing especially on the thoroughness of their market research, their knowledge of present and future competition, the discipline of their budgets, and their level of innovation or environmental progressiveness.

Some of you will have seen the sample introduction video of Superman taking the Construye business course and then arriving at the competition. Here is a link to the final version along with the entrance and exit at the conference:

The original goal was to have our panel of judges identify five winners, but we also decided to commit 10,000 pesos to three additional groups. So we will now be starting up a beauty salon, a cafeteria, an Internet center, a nail salon, a specialty clothing store, and an accessories artisan. The remaining two are a ceramics business and a Tae Kwon Do school for whom we are providing money for additional training.

Winners at FDD’s table

A major goal of the Construye initiative this year was to prepare the students who did not win at the main competition to return to their communities still hopeful about the impact they could make, and we feel that the first-annual microfinance fair left all participants excited about the future. They used the full two hours visiting booths and asking questions of the representatives, and they left the fair understanding that there are people and institutions beyond Peace Corps whose purpose is to help promising young people achieve their dreams.

Since I know some of our partners read this blog (Hi, Jong) I would like to make a shout-out to a few organizations that were critical in making the conference the success that it was:
La Fundación Dominicana de Desarrollo
Esperanza Internacional
Programa de Pequeños Subsidios

Also no jury would have convicted the following volunteers if they had killed me during the event, and we made it to the other side unscathed only because of their dedication:
Chelsea Koonz, Alanna Crotty, Jaymie Byron, Gabby Bashist, and Dora Emily Yaffe

Again, I wore the Clark Kent outfit here. I don’t think lenseless glasses are cool. Well, I do actually, but I’m not overconfident enough to pull it off.

Some have asked, “What are you going to do with all your free time now that the conference is over?” Well, now the focus of what I can take on for Construye expands a bit, and I have a short time frame to tackle many projects. We need to revamp our manual to better teach market analysis and responsible use of microcredit. We are getting money to develop our training, which means expanding the regional conferences coming up in five months. Four of the eight winners have volunteers who just left which means the CTS committee is responsible for working with them. Other organizations are wanting to facilitate our program, which means developing a way for them to get them involved while protecting the quality and integrity of our brand.

Additionally I have general responsibilities in the office, networking responsibilities in the capital, and I am going to refocus a bit on my boys’ group back in Villa Hermosa. We have officially started our eight month extension and are going to be swamped up to the last day, but it should prove to be the typical Peace Corps combination of challenging and rewarding.

Clark Kent bummed that he didn’t win a prize, but getting reassured by Dora that there is life beyond Construye and there are other ways to get his small business started if he wants to.

Weird Peace Corps Day

Even though every day in Peace Corps is weird, some stand above the rest. Weirdisimo days. Today was such a day.

Two weeks from now is the national Construye tus Sueños business plan competition and corresponding Microfinance and Savings Fair that I have been wholly focused on for many weeks. For parts of the last two days we have been shooting a video that we will show during the introduction on the first day. Basically Superman, played by yours truly, ends up taking the business course and submits a business plan for the competition.

Yesterday we shot the scenes at the Peace Corps office, but today my helper was unavailable. So for the scenes that needed to be shot at the center I had to travel there by myself. First of all, I got off the bus at the wrong place and had to walk about three miles to get there. I was a sweaty mess. When I arrived at the center I found that there was some kind of youth conference going on, and the room they were using had a big window such that they could see me setting up the tripod. They were distracted just by my presence and I knew the Superman costume would be a huge disruption, so I went in and told them what I was about to do and to not let it bother them. This of course had the opposite effect and the leader took them all outside to watch.

Once I put on the costume, it was over an hour of screaming and camera phones in my face. They were convinced that I was the actor from the Superman movie, and when I explained that I was just a Peace Corps volunteer shooting a video for a conference they responded, “Oh, you were in the movie and now you work for Cuerpo de Paz.” And then several people got on their phones and told friends that the new Superman movie was being made there. Keep in mind that I was using a 4” Flip camera.

A couple running shots required help from someone to turn the tripod. I grabbed an employee and kept telling him not to move the tripod, just turn the handle. But every time he would grab the tripod and run after me. When I looked back at these attempts I wasn’t even in most of the shots.

The shots of Superman running along the main highway leading up to the entrance was the most uncomfortable part, but it was definitely entertaining for some cobradores and some guys sitting at a colmado drinking Presidente.

Anyway, weird day. Here is a link to a few of the raw and unedited shots from the video.

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=519331629741

Capital Living

The hope was that when we moved to the capital in mid June we would be able to communicate and blog more often since we would have more reliable access to electricity and the Internet. While that has been the case (though the Internet is generally super slow), that increase in accessibility has also meant that we are much busier than we were living out in Villa Hermosa. Updates on our projects are in the works, but for now I just wanted to post a few pictures of our apartment where we live. It’s about a five minute walk to the Peace Corps office, which is awesome. Below are the two bedrooms, the small maid’s room, the laundry area, our living room/kitchen, our little patio, and some pictures Kristy drew to remind us of home. Enjoy!

A. Peace Corps office B. Our apartment

National Camp Superman 2012

During the last week of June I took three kids from my Superman class to the national Camp Superman in the mountains of the north. Five days of sleeping in tents and running almost 50 rambunctious kids through the many daily activities without them killing each other is…brutally exhausting, but amazing. The goal is to reinforce the information we teach in our individual Superman groups and give the kids a strong feeling of identity. Hopefully they receive a powerful reminder that will stay with them as they begin to navigate the difficult teenage years that they should want to develop themselves as mature, productive, civic-minded members of their communities rather than give in to the pressures of delinquency which have a strong social presence.

I would only re-exhaust myself trying to recall most of the major activities of the camp. Suffice it to say we had good food, an awesome river, and lots of crazy and dirty activities. We engaged issues such as gender roles, violence against women, good sportsmanship, the importance of science, and many other values and disciplines from the Superman manual.

A couple personal highlights were getting to read “Tiki Tiki Tembo” in Spanish to the kids one night when the movie didn’t work, and I was in charge of the field day activities where the kids wore capes and I was in my Superman costume while we organized a soccer competition and played Alka-Selter Tag (an awesome game described in previous blogs). Craziness. It was also good to think back on last year’s national camp where I was hardly involved and less comfortable with my language skills. It was a rewarding experience to see how far both I and my Superman have come.