I AM With You
Rosa Iris, the loan officer I was traveling with on a sunny February morning north of Santo Domingo, stood waiting for the motoconcho which would take us to the next loan meeting. “I’ll wait for you here,” she says. I hurry off to Raquel’s house, the microloan associate I had just interviewed. After I snap her picture, she asks to see it. “You’re so beautiful,” I tell her. “Me?” Raquel laughs incredulously. She tells me that she is facing troubles in her business, and that she misses her family. Earlier, I had asked Raquel what her favorite Bible verse was. “Jeremiah 1:19,” she had said. Back at the branch office, I pull out my Spanish Bible and look it up: “They will fight against you, but they will not conquer you, because I AM with you, says YAHWEH, to deliver you.” I can only imagine the opposition Raquel has faced as a 24-year-old Haitian immigrant living alone in the Dominican Republic. Here, Haitians are often discriminated against, partly due to a long history of conflict between the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola. Extreme poverty and lack of basic infrastructure in Haiti motivate thousands of Haitians to cross the border every year. Once they arrive, they face the challenges of learning a new language and culture, and are often cut off from economic opportunities. But HOPE and their partner in the Dominican Republic, Esperanza, are working to change that. In keeping with HOPE International’s mission “to invest in the dreams of the poor in the world's underserved communities…”, 40% of the microloan associates here are Haitians. Raquel left behind her parents and 10 brothers and sisters in 2006. She began to sell clothing and food in the street to make a living. Last year, she took out her first microloan, for just 8,000 pesos ($200). Now she is halfway through paying back a 10,000 peso ($250) loan, and she dreams of renting a storefront and expanding her clothing business. Raquel’s Bank of Hope, or the small group of microloan associates in her community, named itself Si Se Puede, or “Yes, we can!” Raquel has learned a lot through the HOPE/Esperanza business training: “You have to treat the customer well, and speak kindly to them, she says. “If the merchandise is bad, just admit it and sell it for a lower price. Don’t try to fool your customers.” She has also learned to negotiate with her suppliers, to get the best price for the best quality fruit. Raquel is a gentle, kind woman, so it’s no surprise that she loves children. She is working on the necessary documentation to finish high school and go to college to become a pediatric nurse. In the meantime, she teaches a Bible Study every Monday in her church to kids 10 and under. Although I have many more material blessings than Raquel, we have a lot in common. I also come from a big family, and I miss them a lot. I share her love for children, and her occasional insecurities about her appearance and her calling. And I sometimes feel like a stranger in this country—but then I am reminded that God is always with me. Before I leave the community of Punta 18 to go to the next loan meeting with Rosa Iris, I pray with Raquel. I pray that God would bless her clothing and fruit sales and her children’s ministry, that she would realize Christ’s immense love for her, and that He would fill her with hope for the future. One month later, I have the unexpected opportunity to accompany another intern for her first loan meeting. To my surprise, we end up visiting Si Se Puede—Raquel’s Bank of Hope! After the meeting, Raquel greets me with a hug and a big smile. Business has improved and her face seems to hold a little faith, the substance of things hoped for. Guest post by Abigail R. Eustace, Dominican Republic Operations Fellow
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