By Magdalena Malinowska, KF11, Dominican Republic

After successfully (read: finally!) completing the first year of a PhD program a few weeks ago, I am pleased to (again: finally!) find myself in the role of a Kiva Fellow. With much joy I exchanged the ice-cold confines of the library for the warm embrace of the Caribbean climate in the birth-place of merengue and several all-star baseball players: the Dominican Republic. And it is with great excitement that I am leaving behind the pages of Junot Diaz’s comical rendition of the Dominican culture and embarking on the challenge of discovering the lives of real inhabitants of this island, through micro-finance. From Oscar Wao to real wondrous lives, from Hispanic Literature to Hispaniola, here I come!

The micro-finance institution which works with Kiva on this very beautiful (who hasn’t heard of Punta Cana?) and historically-significant island (Columbus’s first steps in “America” were here) is called Esperanza Internacional. It is robust, mid-sized, decade-old micro-finance organization with a strong social program fortified by a Christian ethic. A partner of Hope International, another organization with similar character and goals (similarity in name is fortunately coincidental), Esperanza’s objective is best explained in these words from their website: “The mission of Esperanza International is to free children and their families from poverty through initiatives that generate income, education and health, restoring self-worth and dignity to those who have lost hope.”

After two weeks of office-work and bonding in their headquarters in Santo Domingo, I arrived to the Esperanza Puerto Plata branch (goodbye A.C.! ouch!) to begin field work (yes!). In the next four weeks I will be meeting (and writing about) several of the hundreds of borrowers whose lives have been improved by access to microcredit. In addition to seamstresses, street-food providers, ambulant clothes-sellers and sugar-cane workers, many of them are Haitian immigrants (legal and illegal) – a mix of new post-January-earthquake refugees and those who made this same journey across the Massacre River decades ago. It is in part due to this heavy interrelation between the two parts of the island (often troubled, historically and presently) that Esperanza decided to open its Haiti branch not long ago. I will be exploring this aspect of the Hispaniola Island, by talking to borrowers of both nationalities and cultures in the Dominican Republic, as well as in Haiti – by visiting the Cap Haitien office in the next few days. Looking forward to meeting the Esperanza employees and borrowers there!

In the meantime, consider lending to Esperanza Internacional . Whichever location you pick you’ll have a chance to help the people of both of the cultures which make up this wondrous island.

Magdalena Malinowska is a PhD Student in Hispanic Literature in the Boston University Romance Studies Department. More info on her and the other Kiva Fellows can be found here.

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