Not a handout, but a hand up
When former Seattle Mariners catcher David Valle and his wife, Vicky, first visited the Dominican Republic for winter training back in 1985, he didn’t anticipate the radical turn his life would take. At the time, he was still an underpaid minor-leaguer in the Mariner’s farm system.
“They weren’t looking for an autograph . . .”
As Dave explains in the new documentary Esperanza, a crowd of kids had formed around the American baseball players after practice one evening. Dave assumed they were just like the fans he’d met in the States, clamoring to meet the stars. Where was his autograph pen?
“But the difference was this,” he explains. “All the kids were shoeless, most of them were shirtless. And they weren’t looking for an autograph—they were looking for food to eat for that night.”
Dave and his wife responded by approaching a nearby street vendor, paying her a few dollars to cook up all her remaining food for the kids. So Dave felt good about distributing the food and meeting an immediate need. But still he wrestled with the gnawing realization that “it didn’t really solve anything.”
Their face-to-face encounter with desperate poverty would haunt Dave and Vicky for years, and they vowed to help make a lasting difference someday, if they could. They struggled to imagine what it would be like for their own young child, as Dave put it, “to be in those kids’ shoes—or lack of shoes.”
A turning point
Dave and Vicky kept their vow, and eventually returned to the Dominican Republic. And since 1995, their non-profit Esperanza (“hope” in Spanish) has helped more than 200,000 of the poorest families there build small businesses.
A small loan (often not more than about $200) provides seed money for everything from corner restaurants to beauty salons and grocery stores, and helps lift countless women, men, and children out of poverty—all in the name of Christ.
Accountability teams and regular stockholder meetings help ensure the loans are carefully monitored, and each must be paid back with interest. Virtually all of them are.
“Microfinance isn’t a handout,” Dave explained, “it’s a hand up. And that’s what drives us. My desire is to use the passion that I have for this country to mobilize people to serve the most vulnerable people.”
To people who had been subsisting on about $2 a day, the microloans are a game-changer. And Esperanza has begun to change the face of the country, as well, with support for community health and dental care, clean water projects, housing, and education. Esperanza staffers involve the local church at many levels, and openly share their biblical mandate to serve.
Sharing the story
In each of the two short inspirational documentaries, you’ll meet the people whose lives have been changed and hear David passionately explain their journey and triumphs.
“Throughout our lives, many things will catch our eye,” he said, “but very few will catch our heart. And I’ve come to understand that those are the things that I need to pursue. And that thing that I needed to pursue was Esperanza. It was hope.”