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Caitlin McHale Floreal: Co-Founder and Director at Project Esperanza

Project Esperanza works with the Haitian refugee and immigrant population in the Dominican Republic to provide education, aid, economic opportunity, and sustainable community development. By empowering communities and improving quality of life, Project Esperanza is broadening the horizons of Haitian youth. Learn more about Project Esperanza here.

What inspired you to start Project Esperanza?

I first came to the Dominican Republic when I was a sophomore at Virginia Tech in 2006. I came with a small group to do supplemental educational activities at an orphanage, and ended up coming back a few months later with a larger group. That fall, I started a student organization to continue my work there. While in the Dominican Republic, we spent months doing a street census to assess the needs of kids working in the streets. We found out that 95% of them were boys with an average age of 14 who were Haitian, and that data was used to form our mission.

Can you tell me about the need for your work for those who aren’t familiar with the area?

Many young people come to the Dominican Republic from Haiti to find work and provide for their families. A lot of the boys we spoke with weren’t able to attend school in the Dominican Republic because they weren’t citizens and didn’t speak the language, and they slowly started to become estranged from their culture and families that they had to leave behind. As a result, we partnered with a church to form a school in Puerto Plata where these kids could be educated. Our programs have adapted as we learn more about the needs of the community.

What are your key areas of work?

Our primary targets are education, social aid, and community development for the Haitian community in the Dominican Republic. We have two elementary schools and partner with a pre-K through high school to provide additional support. We offer English camps, afterschool programs, and tutoring in the evenings and on weekends for those who need their days free to work but still want to seek education. In terms of social aid, we offer housing, food, and mentorship. We step up to help the community in times of crisis, like during the pandemic. For community development, we work with local universities to provide loans and grants to help small businesses get off the ground and also have artistic training programs.


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