Number 13

May 2005

Dear Friends and Supporters,

E-mail apology: Our e-mail server in Utah has been having some problems (a generous statement meaning "has totally and catastrophically failed repeatedly") over the last six weeks. Unfortunately, this coincided with our time voyaging in the Golden Dawn so discovery and handling were delayed by our being "off the 'Net" for weeks at a time. By the time you receive this, we have been assured all will be repaired and will stay repaired (through the thorough mechanism of installing an entirely new upgraded and updated mail server). You have our (and their) apologies.


It is hard to believe that we have allowed another almost six months to roll by since the last Update.

There is nothing but good news: The Project has advanced to a new level of success, Arden and I are healthy and well, Jonathan has almost completed a successful year of High School in Saugerties, NY under the watchful eyes of his two older brothers, and our daughter, Mina Jo, has presented us with a beautiful healthy granddaughter, Shanti.

The Project:   By early February, we had over 50 client families with outstanding Family-to-Family Project micro-enterprise loans, in three major cities of the Dominican Republic. We had been attempting to visit each family monthly. Not only is it an hour's drive to the nearest of the three cities but also this is Latin America. That means that nothing happens between the hours of noon and three o'clock in the afternoon, mid-day temperatures are in the nineties, the telephones only work sometimes, the electricity and water come and go without any predictable patterns (though I have considering applying my studies of Chaos Theory to the question), and people make well-meaning appointments which they are often simply culturally unable to keep. The result was two very worn-out and "run-ragged" old gringos. There had to be a better way.

The "better way" had always been a part of the project plan, but had not yet been implemented. What we did was appoint a "Volunteer Director" (or, in two cases, "Directora") in each of the three cities. Fella Paulino and her husband, Tomas, head the Project in Puerto Plata, Juana Benita Rodriguez manages Santiago, and Jaoquin Antonio takes care of things in our newest area, San Francisco de Macoris. These fine Dominicans do all of the collecting payments, nurturing clients and making new loans (recycling the collected payments on existing loans in their area). This is in keeping with the philosophy of the micro-enterprise movement which is to have local people managing and encouraging local micro-enterprise. Having done this, we waited a month, then took a three month vacation to visit our new (and only) grandchild, checking in with our Volunteer Directors every few weeks by telephone. This has worked out very well.

Upon our return to the DR three weeks ago, we found we had a few "troubled loans" in each of the three cities. Dealing with these problem loans is stressful so we have taken over management of them from the local Directors to ease their load. So far, one is being approached with an "alternative payment plan" and two are the result of a health problems as yet unresolved. Still, even with these "setbacks" the success rate of Project loans exceeds 84%. 11% of the loans are in the "troubled" category, which means that they are currently paying but have missed payments. 5% are in default (not making payments and essentially considered unlikely to be repaid). We consider this a good showing in a country where the economy is struggling and the clients are at best "credit risks".

For those of you interested in international economics, the general state of the economy in the Dominican Republic has been on a slide downward since the change of government last fall. We are told that this "slump followed by increased prosperity" is part of the normal four year political ecomonic cycle here: every election brings a new government requiring replacement of nearly every single government employee, this temporarily crashes the economy for 9 to 12 months until the new people get their feet on the ground (and their hands in the till) and confidence is restored which brings increased prosperity. In the Puerto Plata area, electricity has become even more erratic and is available even less hours than previously. This has been decimating to small businesses that depend on electricity to do their work. Backup diesel generators are very expensive here as is the diesel fuel to run them. A micro-enterprise started with a $500 loan can not afford a $2000 generator and $100 a week in fuel. Many of our friends and members of our Church congregation are out of work as businesses close or lay off employees while "waiting for things to pick up". It is not yet desperate. The new President, in an effort to "improve the economy" and "modernize the country" has decided, according to the local press, to build a subway system in the capital city, Santo Domingo, despite the fact that only the most expensive hotels and apartment houses there advertise "24 hour a day electricity and water" as their major selling point (meaning they have their own electric plant and water system).

Arden and I:   Our faithful readers will recall that both Arden and I suffered serious accidents last summer. Arden's left knee was crushed in a bicycle/car crash in Saugerties, NY (Arden on the bike) and my right collarbone was detached at the shoulder in a silly motorcycle spill in Luperon, DR. We both had operations (I had two) and are both well mended and up to speed. Arden has recovered 98% of the use of her knee and retains only mild and occasional discomfort but sets off hand-held metal detectors at airport checkpoints. My shoulder is useable, say 80%, and taking a bit longer to settle down. Both of us swim (as well as snorkel and scuba dive, in fact) and enjoy long walks in the cool of a morning and are able to physically handle our 42 foot sailing catamaran, so we are doing OK.

We had heard the usual horror stories of the threats to health and life in tropical Latin America, but are happy to report that neither of us has had a single day of illness since we arrived here, and this in spite of our failure to follow the usual rules for tourists and visitors regarding restaurants, , street foods, local fruits and vegetables. We do insist on bottled water for drinking but are lax about the use of ice in restaurants.

Jonathan:   Jon has worked hard and is about to finish the school year at good old Saugerties High School. He has been living with his two older brothers at the family homestead in the central Hudson Valley of New York. Once school is out, he and a buddy plan to come down for a Caribbean vacation.

The Grandchild   Our beautiful 29 year-old daughter currently lives on the island of Culebra (from which one can see both the main island of Puerto Rico and the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands). In December, she gave birth to a lovely little girl which she has named "Shanti" (pronounced more like "SEAN - tea" than anything else, that's "Sean" as in Sean Connery and the accent on the first syllable). Naturally, despite our pretension of being "seen it all" world-travellers, we quickly arranged a vacation and set sail to Puerto Rico and our new grandchild, just like every other set of first-time grandparents you've ever known. Two weeks to get there, two weeks to return and a two month visit and respite for the new mother. In the next week or so, there should be a photo of the little angel in the new Slideshow feature on the we site.

Future Plans:   

For the Project, the plans involve a review and in depth analysis of its successes and failures, with an eye towards seeking more funding to expand our efforts. We are still actively seeking money to loan. If you or someone you know would like to help a family here, please donate directly from the "Donate Online" links on our web site. Your money will be used 100% to help a family to help itself and could be recycled over and over again to family after family.

The Hansens: The summer "visiting season" is approaching and we expect to host family and friends from the US. We might take a month and travel with our sons, possibly to visit their sister on Culebra.


Well, hello again from Luperon, in the Dominican Republic. We have passed our one year mark as of February and continue to cultivate our little garden in this sector of the kingdom.

We have recently returned from a three month trek by catamaran east to Puerto Rico. Arriving in Culebra, a small tropical island off the east coast of PR, we spent two delightful months with our daughter, Mina Jo, and her new baby girl, Shanti, our first and only grandchild. Can you tell I am a typical dewy eyed grandparent? We anchored in the bay right off their house so we could see each other but not be too close. I was able to help out with cooking and give my daughter some time for blessed swims in the clear waters of the Caribbean. But at that age the babe is mostly still connected to the mother. It was with great happiness that we could wish each other a mutual Happy Mother's day this year. They will continue to live in Culebra for now. There is some possibility that Mina will train to become a Montessori teacher in the future.

We considered expanding the Project to Puerto Rico but as the name implies and as history has developed, Puerto Rico is quite prosperous by Caribbean standards and does not suffer the same grinding poverty as the DR. I am sure there are needy families that we did not encounter, but the island is under the protective umbrella of the USA and has many more advantages than other island economies. So we returned to the land of uncertainty where the infrastructure is sketchy, the hearts are eager, and the soil is rich.

As a note, I hardly spoke any Spanish in PR because most everyone can speak some English. I had the opportunity to play the piano in one of our churches in Fajardo. Everyone was so grateful to have music again. The Mormon church exists in Puerto Rico but does not have the vitality and appeal one finds in the DR. I could say the people there trust more in the worth of the dollar than in God, but that may be harsh. The missionaries report finding a general apathy towards change or spiritual awakening.

Returning to our former mooring in the Luperon Bay, we found our community undergoing the usual growing pains. When I say community I mean the Domincans, the foreign sailors who live on boats, the sailors who have given up living on boats and built or bought houses ashore, the sailors who have failed marriages or business and have gone back to living on their boats, and one unfortunate family that has been forced ashore because their boat has holes in the hull. We have every type here from an ex-sailor evangelical gringo preacher who now lives in a "mansion" on the hill to dedicated drinkers and pool players.

We spend a lot of time with our Dominican friends and converts to the church, traveling to various cities and listening to community gripes. As with any group of people there is scandal, gossip and enmity. The restaurants compete strenuously and the girls do a thriving business. We try to steer clear of this undercurrent of muddy water and keep on a friendly basis with all. I wouldn't say we are pillars of the community but we seem to have attained some special status by going out and returning three months later in good health and condition. Not sure what that is all about.

Having some help with the Project has made our lives much less stressed. We have fewer collections to make each month as the volunteers take care of that. As Kip mentioned we have taken back the difficult cases with the intention of making the loans less burdensome to these families who are hard pressed financially. It turns out that most of those who can not make their payments are deeply ashamed and worried about it. We try to ease this weight so the loan will not be a curse instead of a blessing to them. That would defeat the whole purpose of project, you understand. So its going to take time and patience for some of those who made bad decisions or simply are the victims of bad weather or failed health. But altogether 84% of the loans are being paid back successfully in our three areas. We will be writing up a report of this pilot project with the goal of increasing our capacity to loan in the future. Again I was asked,"Why are you doing this"? by the Director of employment from Santo Domingo. The answer is still the same. To try and help the less fortunate and with the resources that are made available to us. We have been blessed with much and hope to be blessed with more in the future.

Notwithstanding our work with others, our family remains high priority. We miss having Jonathan with us very much and being away from Brett and Benjamin and Mina/Shanti. There is hope that Jonathan will be coming to visit after his school year with a friend and perhaps stay for the next year. Only time will tell whether he has been better off this year living with his brothers in NY and having much time and space to mature . It has been harder on the parents I can assure you. But we continue to expand and remain enthusiastic (most of the time). We certified as scuba divers while in Puerto Rico to experience some more wonders of God's creation. We have two families converted to the church now from Luperon who we take every Sunday an hour away to the meetings. I will soon begin teaching reading to an illiterate sister. Our friends are increasing as we become more aware of and more tolerant because of the difficulties of the mortal probation for our brothers and sisters. Everyone is trying to cope and if we can add some light to the prevailing darkness and trial I will be happy. Thank you all for listening and caring. It helps to know you are there.


Jonathan is currently enjoying the dubious pleasures of attending high school in Saugerties, NY, where he lives with his two elder brothers and Arden's dog, Jude.