On a four-day trip to the Dominican Republic last fall, Sam Abrahams stood in a one-room, tin-roofed shack with a single light bulb. The people around him sang gospel, laughed and offered him their seats.
Abrahams was there with 16 other University of Richmond students to watch a bank meeting of small, impoverished business owners who receive loans from a microfinance company, Esperanza International, he said.
The students traveled to the Dominican Republic to learn about microfinance for their Social Entrepreneurship living and learning community, he said.
This semester -- in a fundraising capstone project that will benefit not only Esperanza bank members, but also an entire community in the Dominican Republic -- Social Entrepreneurship has planned to raise $25,000 to give to Esperanza to build a water-purification system, Abrahams said.
Esperanza will use the money as a loan for a group of small-business owners or an organization, Social Entrepreneurship member Miki Doan said. The group or organization will then pay Esperanza back using the profit it makes from selling water to the community, he said.
Although Esperanza has many projects designed to lift communities out of poverty, the students decided on the water project after their trip to the Dominican Republic when they realized how important it was to have a clean, accessible and affordable water source, Abrahams said.
Doan said: "When we were there, all we used was bottled water, even for brushing our teeth. We didn't use any tap water at all. And it kind of struck me that it's more powerful than any other project."
Abrahams said that, unlike some countries where only tourists couldn't drink tap water, the water in the Dominican Republic was so contaminated that it was dangerous even for locals.
"Fresh water is available; it's just expensive," he said. "Twenty-five thousand American dollars essentially creates this self-sustaining, water purification plant."
Group member Grant Cohen said that although the group's minimum goal was to raise $25,000, it hoped to raise $40,000.
Cohen said that there were a few corporate sponsors, such as Captial One and BB&T interested in donating to the cause. The group will also contact Richmond alumni for donations, he said.
Cohen said Social Entrepreneurship would have a table to collect donations in Tyler Haynes Commons beginning Feb. 20. He said the group was asking for $1 donations.
"You can't turn down $1," he said.
The group will have an auction with music, food and a speaker March 25 at the Science Museum of Virginia, Doan said.
Cohen said he hoped Esperanza's president, Carlos Pimentel, would be the speaker.
"We've heard him speak before; the guy's phenomenal," Cohen said. "He's very persuasive, very elegant, very inspirational."
Cohen said that Esperanza was an important organization because it was a humanitarian institution that restored people's basic rights.
"Esperanza brings people back to life," he said. "It puts them on the map."
Contact staff writer Avery Shackelford at email@example.com.