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Community Challenge Fund

Community celebration

Community Challenge Fund

Community Challenge Fund

The Community Challenge Fund (CCF) is designed to help poorer communities in the DR to build basic community/economic development projects, including but not limited to water supply systems, electrification, cement floors, improved smokeless wood stoves, latrines, schools, libraries, sports courts, and economic development projects. CCF provides funding for 10-15 community projects a year with a maximum project grant of $10,000. More than 140 projects have been funded since the program was founded in 2004, for a total investment of over $360,000. Eligible projects must include a community contribution of at least 25 percent, often in the form of sweat equity and some construction materials. Active involvement by both Peace Corps Volunteers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs and community groups is required and a plan for sustaining the project must be demonstrated.

How the fund works: Peace Corps Volunteers and NGOs work with local community leaders to identify needs and priorities. They then work with the community to plan and organize the project, calling in technical help as needed (for example to test water quality). If found to be feasible, the project is planned, and local funding is committed. The community leaders, with the help of the Peace Corps Volunteer or NGO, prepare an application for Community Challenge Fund (CCF) for up to $10,000 per grant. The application is then submitted to FDR’s CCF Project Committee. The CCF Project Committee reviews and approves projects meeting the program criteria. Once approved, funds are released to Peace Corps Dominican Republic or the NGO and used to purchase materials or skilled labor. The Volunteer or NGO then assists the community during construction, monitors the project and funds, and provides a final report on the project.

How you can help: The Community Challenge Fund is a sustainable fund that, through low-risk investments, is able to generate enough funds to approve 5 to 10 projects a year. But the need is much greater. To respond to those needs, FDR has established a goal to approve 10 to 15 grants each year, thereby helping more Dominicans living in poverty.

Your contribution is essential to help us meet that goal. Due to in-kind administrative donations, 100% of contributions designated to the Community Challenge Fund go directly to project costs (materials and technical labor), making your gift,large or small, go a long way. If you have questions, you can contact the CCF's Manager, John Epler, at johnepler@comcast.net.

 

Sample Projects

Conserving forests

Two Community Challenge Fund grants to the rural communities of Tres Ceibos and Higuerito have already begun to pay dividends to the communities and the 93 benefiting families. The grants paid for materials for the construction of improved efficiency cooking stoves, significantly reducing pressures on deforestation in the two communities.
The stoves were constructed on site for a grant cost of just $64 each, and have not only greatly increased the energy efficiency of cooking for Dominican families by significantly reducing the amount of wood needed for cooking, but they are vented to the outside removing unhealthy smoke generated by the previously open fires. Additionally, they cost much less than the alternative propane stoves, and cook more quickly and evenly than the old open clay stoves.

Quotes from benefiting families tell the story: "I am so very grateful for the savings in gas because of the stove;" "I don't have to pay as much for the wood for cooking;" and "the flavor of the habichuelas (beans) is much better since I started using my new stove!"



Clean water project      
Sometimes it's not easy to overcome obstacles and and achieve success. When the communities of La Hondonada and La Javilla (Sánchez Ramírez) started working with PCV Jennifer Vettel ('12-'14) planning to bring clean water to their community, they didn't envision the difficulties they would face or the successes they would achieve.

Showing community pride.

The task was daunting: just digging the trenches and laying nine kilometers of PCV pipe over hilly terrain was a major feat. Building a 30,000 liter storage tank also presented a challenge.

FDR's Community Challenge Fund committed early to the project, allowing the community to get started on the tasks. Unfortunately, another major funder that had committed to the project did not release their funds in a timely matter, resulting in several months delay in the work. Frustrated, the community was so anxious to finish the project, they conducted local fund-raising to pool the $1,200 needed to finish. When the agency finally released the funds for the project, the community used the funds to expand the project. Originally planned to reach 50 homes, the finished project provided clean drinking water 24 hours a day to 72 homes, the primary school and two churches!   

Cement floor project
 We can lose sight of the impact Community Challenge Funds (CCF) can have in small communities. The award of CCF funds to the Las Charcas (San Juan) cement floors project resulted in several changes. Just before Peace Corps Volunteer Erin Hicks was scheduled to complete her two years of service, a community member asked if he could make a presentation to the Neighborhood Association on the benefits of cement floors in homes. At the end of the presentation, the entire audience stood up and applauded. Excited community members asked if Erin would stay to help them organize the project. She enthusiastically extended her Peace Corps service and helped prepare an application for $2,500 to replace dirt floors for 12 of the 47 homes in this community.  

During the project, a skilled mason provided instruction to an unpaid assistant who was able, by the eighth home, to do the skilled work at a savings to the project, resulting in enough funds for a thirteenth cement floor. To work toward a second phase of the project, the community charged a quota to each benefitting family, developing a fund to help pay for cement in more homes. A raffle and other fundraising activities have added to the fund, giving the community a great start toward paying for a self-run phase two. Erin reported that "this was the most successful project in my community". 

Community members prepare the cement floors

More and more community members are enjoying a dry home where their children have a clean place to play and a family gets sick less often.

Community leaders, Tomás, Francisco (70+ years old) and PCV Joe South.


Altegracia aqueduct
 In Altegracia, a neighborhood of Santiago, 12 families benefited from extending a water supply to their neighborhood. They dug trenches and laid pipe. Each family then connected the faucet outside their house into their home to be able to access water for the first time in their homes. Several homes also received cement floors.


Los Bueyes sanitary cement floors 

In the small, rural community of Los Bueyes, families with dirt floors breathed in dust when it was dry and their bedroom floors turned into mud during the rainy season. Thirteen families worked together to construct sanitary cement floors in their homes. All Community Challenge Fund projects require a community support. Here the community provided 26% of the project cost in labor, food for the workers, and sand for the project. ​
Children pitching in to create cement floors in their home.


El Guayabo aqueduct  

High in the hills of the Cordillera Central, the 38 families in El Guayabo celebrated the completion of a new aqueduct system piping water from a year-round spring to their homes. The project was made possible by a $2,000 Challenge Fund grant and long hours of labor put in by community volunteers, resulting in a consistent supply of clean water for the community. Planned and carried out by the El Guayabo Water Committee, with the assistance of PCV Leigh Forbush, the project involved the installation of several miles of underground pipes over very rough and uneven terrain. Integrated into the project were PVC-led workshops providing training on maintaining the system as well as community health and nutrition. Sustainability of the project is assured by the bi-monthly payments made by families to an Aqueduct Fund for maintenance and repairs.

 Workers celebrate the last day of work on the project.


50th conference attendees tour 51st Challenge Fund project
Invited by community members and PCV Joe South, a small busload of RPCVs traveled to Santiago to visit the nearby barrio of Altagracia in February, 2012, to tour the community and a Challenge Fund water project. The project piped water from a nearby mainline to 12 households in the impoverished community. 

 Water flows in the kitchen.


In addition, CCF funds enabled construction of sanitary cement floors for four homes.

Beneficiaries of the project turned out to greet the RPVCs and invited them for a traditional cafecito at one of the homes. While waiting for the refreshment, to everyone's surprise, a representative of each of the 12 families benefiting from the project stood up and individually expressed their deep appreciation (as only Dominicans can do) for the $2,000 grant and told us how having running water in their homes had changed their lives. Their stories had a special meaning for many in our RPCV group, as over half were Challenge Fund donors, making projects like this one (and the 50 projects before it) possible. A tour of several homes followed - with the proud owners enthusiastically showing the new water faucets and filtration systems in their tiny kitchens.
 
 

Five key ingredients of all projects


Local ContributionThe community benefiting from a Challenge Fund Grant  must contribute or raise at least 25% of the total cost. To date, the average local contribution has been more than 60%, a large portion being community beneficiary’ sweat equity in the project.  Communities contribute basic labor needed and provide some of the construction materials such as sand and gravel.

Sustainability: Each project must demonstrate that it is sustainable.  Water projects, for example, require household assessments toward a maintenance and replacement reserve fund

 while health and sanitation projects also include a community health/hygiene education component.

Donor Contributions: Two Returned Dominican Republic Peace Corps Volunteers and their family members provided the original seed money for this fund, more than  $130,000, as a match for all donations up to that amount. The full match was met by large and small donations from individuals and families throughout the U.S. and a sustainable fund has been established to assure the program could indefinitely assist between 5 and 10 grants annually. However, the need in the Dominican Republic is so great that FDR has set a goal of funding 10 to 15 projects a year. Therefore, additional donations are needed to fill this gap.

Peace Corps Volunteers and NGOs: Peace Corps Volunteers non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are key partners in the successful delivery of CCF support to local communities. Volunteers and NGOs work with community leaders to define, plan, and implement projects. They oversee the allocated funds, assuring they are used for intended purposes. They also work with the community to assess the results of the project and provide photos and a final report.

The Friends of the Dominican Republic is a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax deductible. 

 

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FDR is a 501(c)(3) organization. Your donation is tax deductible. 

The Dominican Republic

Did You Know?

In October of 2020, the World Bank noted that over the past decade, economic growth in the Dominican Republic (DR) had substantially reduced poverty rates while supporting expansion of the middle class. However, the global shock triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the DR’s economy, causing a sharp reduction in 2020 across critical sectors such as tourism, construction and mining, and their GDP was expected to contract by over 4%.

It also noted that disparities in access to economic opportunities and public services remain deep. Poverty rates are persistently high in small towns and rural areas, and women face disproportionate challenges nationwide. The national poverty rate was projected to rise in 2020 to 14.2%, representing approximately 1.6 million poor people, and the middle class was projected to shrink to only 40% of the population.

The Bank also said that while the government of the DR has focused on the urgent challenges posed by the pandemic, the DR remains at high risk from hurricanes, flooding, and other extreme weather events. And, while access to adequate water and sanitation services has improved since the early 2000’s, the DR’s exposure to climate change threatened these gains.

Finally, the Bank noted that as the pandemic recedes, the investment in human capital will be vital to the DR’s growth and development. The Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index estimated that a child born in the DR that year would be only half as productive over her lifetime as she would have been had she received a complete education and proper healthcare. While the DR has made great strides in expanding education and healthcare over the past decade, the uneven quality of education and healthcare across the country, and the population, remains a main obstacle to broad-based economic growth and human capital development.

A STANFORD CENTER ON INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT INVESTIGATION some years ago found that replacing dirt floors with cement floors significantly improved the health of young children. Specifically, there are significant decreases in the incidence of parasitic infestations, diarrhea, and the prevalence of anemia, and an improvement in children’s cognitive development. Additionally, replacing dirt floors by cement floors significantly improves adult welfare, as measured by increased satisfaction with their housing and quality of life, as well as by lower scores on depression and perceived stress scales.

 

Current Volunteers

If you are a current volunteer and are interested in soliciting funding from the Community Challenge Fund, you can contact John Epler challengefund AT fotdr.org. 

 

Peace Corps recognition