For the month of December, our 2% for Justice commitment will support Latinas & Líderes, an NYC-based organization supporting leadership growth in girls from under-resourced communities in the Dominican Republic. We're especially inspired by their Noche Buena Dinner Sponsorship running this month, ask ask you to join us and support!
Latinas & Líderes' core mission is to empower and inspire girls from under-resourced communities in the Dominican Republic, allowing them to obtain the tools and skills for becoming leaders of their own lives, families and communities. Their leadership and empowerment camps, along with other educational and team-building opportunities, aim to transform girls into the leaders of tomorrow. They also engage in a variety of community outreach programs in New York City and the broader Dominican Republic.
A critical part of their work is organizing a leadership and empowerment summer camp and softball league for girls from and under-served communities in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This is based in a belief that providing girls in Dominican Republic, and everywhere, are provided with leadership and educational opportunities, it empowers them to obtain the tools necessary to become the leaders that will make the world a better place.
Why is their focus on girls in the Dominican Republic? The Dominican Republic has the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of these girls come from some of the most under-resourced communities in the country, therefore perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Almost half of school dropouts in the Dominican Republic are the result of early pregnancy and happen around the eighth grade. Too many Dominican girls and young women are also severely affected by gender violence, under-age prostitution, and child marriages. It is the mission of Latinas & Líderes to disrupt this heart-breaking narrative by building the leaders of tomorrow!
We were blessed with the chance to speak with Betty Lugo, Founder and Senior Executive Director of Latinas & Líderes, to give us all greater insight into her personal journey and the mission of her organization.
How did you get started in community impact related work?
Our work started in 2018 with a backpack distribution in two communities and an elementary school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Sofia and I (mother/daughter team) set out to distribute a few bags as a "promesa" for a sick close relative battling cancer. The small backpack distribution with the support of friends and family became a distribution of over 100 backpacks filled with school supplies and personal care items. This distribution inspired us to want to learn more about the issues affecting Dominican children.
What led you to create Latinas & Líderes?
After our initial distribution in 2018, we learned that Dominican girls are especially vulnerable. The Dominican Republic has the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of these girls come from some of the most under-resourced communities in the country, therefore perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Almost half of school dropouts in the Dominican Republic are the result of early pregnancy and happen around the eighth grade. Too many Dominican girls and young women are also severely affected by gender violence, under-age prostitution, and child marriages. Our organization was founded to disrupt this dismal narrative and to provide and facilitate girls the tools and experiences to become leaders. We are working directly with 30 girls from the two under-resourced communities that we distributed supplies in 2018.
What's unique about your approach vs. other organizations uplifting our youth?
We are a grassroots organization started and led by a mother-daughter team from the Bronx. We built our organization from scratch and our funding came from small donations of $20 or $30 from family and friends. L&L works directly on the ground with our 30 girls and their families and provides them wrap-around support. We are fully committed to supporting our girls through adulthood and helping them through college, a trade, or a business (or a combination of these). Many programs work with young people for a few years and cycles them out, but L&L is here for the long haul. We are also committed to working with the mothers of our girls to help us lead and support the work.
If so, how did you approach change once COVID hit?
When COVID hit we had to pivot the way we work with our girls as we could not travel from our base in NYC to the Dominican Republic. Instead of waiting for things to pass to continue our work, we leveraged Zoom to meet with both our girls and their families regularly. We designed workshops and delivered them online. As you may imagine, many of our families have little access to the internet, but we made it work. Many of the workshops were focused on sex education and leadership. We also launched two fully-equipped softball teams for our girls. We trained the mothers to coach them and the girls love playing! Throughout this pandemic we have been regularly shipping personal care items, groceries, clothes, games and arts and crafts to our girls and their families as many of the parents of our girls lost their jobs when the COVID hit.
What are some of your takeaways from the work you're doing? Anything you've found especially effective, unexpected, rewarding or enlightening?
We are the leaders our ancestors prayed for! We are the leaders we (YOU too) have been waiting for! There are many ways to help in our very own families and communities and you don't need a lot of money or to do something great to make an impact. It's good to start small and slowly and strategically scale up. Poquito a poquito. We also know that if you empower and inspire one girl or a mothers you will be helping an entire family and future generations.
What are some challenges or opportunities you've faced as an NYC-based organization focusing on work in the Dominican Republic?
Our biggest challenge has not been being a NYC-based organization working in the Dominican Republic. Our challenge is that we do this work while still juggling full time jobs and commitments in NYC. Betty, the founder, is a full time administrator with the NYC Department of Education and her coleader-her daughter Sofia is a full time student at SUNY New Paltz. We love the work so much that although time is very limited and traveling is required we push through because we love our girls. Unlike most nonprofits, L&L does not pay us a salary. The money we raise goes directly to the work we do with our girls and our work throughout the broader Dominican Republic.
How can people best support Latinas & Líderes and other organizations uplifting a new generation of Latina leaders?
To support our work you can donate to one of our initiatives via our website at latinaslideres.com. Spreading the word about our work and attending one of our events helps as well. Please visit our Instagram page at @latinaslideres - like and share our IG content. If you have a business or a company and would like to sponsor us or collaborate with us, reach out!
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