Portraits From Palmarito
Written by Kirstie Hibbard on August 23, 2016 in General
This week our Development Research Associate Melissa Coy and Outreach Coordinator Kirstie Hibbard are taking over our blog and social media, sharing reflections from their recent Vision Trip to visit Plant With Purpose’s program in Dominican Republic along with friends from Mission Lutheran Church in Laguna Niguel, California.
Stick around to hear more! And follow us on Instagram (@plantwpurpose) for additional posts!
Perhaps the most memorable day of our trip for myself was our visit to the community of Palmarito. Mission Lutheran Church has financially supported Palmarito for over a year. Our group had been praying months in advance for the families we would come to meet. To hear their stories of transformation, and to witness the pride and joy on their faces was somewhat surreal. I cannot help but smile (and sometimes squeal) in reflecting over their faces and their stories.
Palmarito is a small community—just 90 families—tucked in the mountains of rural Dominican Republic. Families in Palmarito rely on harvesting organic cacao for food and income, but a rugged terrain poses obstacles that local families must to overcome to make a living. Plant With Purpose partners with Palmarito to help the community restore their land and build opportunities for the future. Farmers are making exciting strides planting more crops, generating new revenue streams, and restoring the land.
Local families are strengthening their cacao farms by diversifying through agroforestry. Partnering farmers incorporate fruit trees in their plots including avocado, orange, and zapote. In their community nursery, neighbors are learning and supporting each other in growing high performance cacao seedlings.
Palmarito’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) equips over 50 families to save their income and access loans to invest back into their farms. As a result, the community’s food production, income, and resilience is steadily increasing. Today we hear from a few of these community members.
Juana Aria is a leader in the local VSLA group serving as the group accountant. Juana attests to the success of the group.
“We are a very happy and proud community. We see in this group the glory of God. The group has taught us responsibility, honesty, discipline, and solidarity. We love each other and we now know how to save. We no longer have to take outside loans from loan sharks. Plant With Purpose has changed our lives.”
Juana recently took out a loan so that her son could travel for work. Other members have used loans to support their own small businesses like the community grocery store and beauty salon.
Overcoming the cycle of poverty is reason to celebrate, and morale is high in Palmarito. “Before we didn’t celebrate, but now we are a celebrating community,” Juana says. “Now we celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the anniversary of our group.”
Jose Del Carmen Bautista is a founding member of Palmarito’s VSLA. He reflects on the groups initial meetings when members were hesitant to buy shares, lacking confidence that they could really save. Now each member contributes the highest amount of shares each week.
Jose describes the group as “inspired by God.” Before each meeting, group members read the word and pray. “If someone in the community needs help, we help them,” he says. In a given meeting the social fund collection can amount to $500. That money is then distributed among members who are in need at that time. Jose hopes that all 90 households in Palmarito will join VSLA.
“We are very grateful to God and for the opportunity to come out of poverty. Plant With Purpose is an inspiration from God,” he says.
Alexandro is five. He never stops smiling. His parents and grandparents are all members of the community VSLA, and their family manages a small cacao farm. Alexandro doesn’t worry about where his next meal is coming from. His family is able to provide food for him and his siblings. He even helps out in the harvest.
Children in Palmarito feel safe. They enjoy a better life because of the investments their parents are making for their futures. We celebrate with Alexandro’s family and the many testimonies in Palmarito of families growing out of poverty.