Written by Aaron Roth, a volunteer with Esperanza, one of Edify’s lending partners in the Dominican Republic
My first experience with a parachute, thankfully, was not when I had to jump out of a plane. My mother had found an old Army parachute at a yard sale, and my siblings and neighbors and I played with it for hours during a summer in the early ‘90’s. I distinctly remember talking with our resident engineer, my brother, how much time (in milliseconds) I would have to deploy the old, tattered, white parachute if I were to jump off the roof of our house. Luckily, our mother caught wind of our plans, and disabled access to the roof and scolded us enough to dissuade us from taking such a leap.

What was your first experience with a parachute? My guess it was some form of summer camp when you and your friends stretched out around the edges of the colorful fabric and breathed life into the beast as you launched beach balls, water balloons, or maybe, just maybe, some young, lucky aspiring astronauts that your youth leaders deemed rugged enough to survive a few test orbit missions from your summer camp launch pad.

We don’t usually do summer camps for kids. The Edify-Esperanza program stresses the importance in giving people a hand up, not a hand out. We make loans to small, low-cost private schools to build more classrooms and computer labs; initiatives that increase a school’s income and improve the quality of teaching at an institution. We believe the best way to launch a child into success is with a solid education, but yes, for fun, on this particular occasion we did let the kids play with the parachute (but not physically launching them, don’t worry).

Colegio Bethesda is the economically poorest school of the 33 schools in the Edify-Esperanza lending program. Colegio Bethesda, is a largely Haitian community, and this community is considered the economically poorest in La Romana, a large city in the east of the Dominican Republic. It’s a community where there is no regular access to water, electricity, and just 2 months ago, they got their first paved road.

So to celebrate the progress over the past 12 months of Colegio Bethesda with Pastor Wisley Denis and his school administration team, and their three new classrooms they built from the loan we made last summer, we wanted to do something special. Something that we don’t normally do.

With the 90 students, their parents and their community, we brought a summer camp full of activities of arts & crafts, English classes, and games. Within Edify and Esperanza, when we find an appropriate project to assist a school in a manner that is more donation based, we try to do it in a way that empowers the community, instead of just a group of Americans coming and giving away large gifts. Pastor Denis found workers from his congregation that wanted to make an impact in the school in the community. He was looking for parents and workers that were invested in the importance of education, so local Haitian workers from the community finished the three classrooms during the camp.

Pastor Wisley Denis said,

“We are all very excited about this summer camp. For these children, they know that other kids get to go to camp, but they know they could never go. They simply cannot afford it. By showing up, by being present here, we are showing them they deserve to be special.”

Sometimes I have a moment where it all clicks for me, and when I find myself in an economically poor community, with parents struggling to make ends meet, the temptation of drugs, prostitution and crime, the sickness, grief and the pain, the need and the desire of the innocent trying to just be children, and then comes something that just covers the entire situation with a new face, a new hope:

outstretched in the courtyard of the church was displayed the color-filled canvas pulled taut by the joyous hands of 30 screaming Haitian children.

How beautiful.

The photo I captured reminds me of the spirit of joy found in children, no matter where they are from, or what color their skin is. They all just want an opportunity to play.

I believe that children deserve access to good education, a teacher that encourages them and cares about their future, an administration that promotes values and discipline, adequate facilities that promote their development, and an opportunity for higher education.

And there, under the parachute was a common ground, a place where we could all laugh at the majesty of the colors of our make-shift tent. We all fit, we all deserved to be there, we were all special in the way we were made.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight.