Josh Porter of Vida Plena: “Be good do good”
In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition Josh Porter who oversees the organization Vida Plena. A space that was founded in October 2018 where women get to work on their skills for a better future for themselves. BOP was curious to find out why Josh Porter made the decision to move with his family to the Dominican Republic to help these women.
“Oh, you passed it already! Let me speak to your motoconcho, so I can give him the correct directions. He probably knows where to go.” Josh Porter (41) explains the directions to Vida Plena over the phone. What follows is a nod from the motoconcho and a ride over a dusty road in Friusa Bavaro to end up at a space with a parking lot in the middle and a few buildings around.
A playground reveals the elementary school were 800 children follow classes. The other building is an orphanage that 13 girls call their home. Josh stands in front of a smaller building on the opposite side where the sign Vida Plena can be seen. Inside 6 women are seated on high tables. The space is decorated with lamps made of driftwood and paintings made by Josh. Silver bracelets with Larimar and Ambar stones lie on the table. “This is what we make here!” Josh picks up one of the bracelets. “We help women to provide for themselves.”
“When you give a woman 10 USD, you know that 9 USD gets re-invested in the community,” Josh says as he speaks about the women that come to Vida Plena.
A need to help
It started 3 years ago when Josh was living in Winona Lake Indiana and working as a orthopedic product development engineer. While driving his car one day, he heard a story on the radio about women in Syria putting themselves on fire to commit suicide. This struck him so intensely that he wanted to help women get out of bad situations and circumstances. Two painful years followed. As he describes himself, it was a burden because he did not have the outlet to actually help. While he was looking into the possibilities of going to the Middle East with his wife and 3 children, the Dominican Republic came on his path. As a member of the board of Directors of the 2nd Mile missions, he got the opportunity to start Vida Plena, since the organization already started the elementary school and the orphanage in Friusa.
First stop was Costa Rica, where Josh and his family spent a year to learn Spanish as they prepared for their move to the Dominican Republic.
“In the beginning we found it difficult to meet other people. There are no public parks here, where you take your children and easily meet other families. The feeling of a community is not that strong in Punta Cana. On the positive side, we got the opportunity to live in Cocotal, where my next-door neighbor Rafael is great. My children are different things here. Rafael taught them how to surf in his Macao Surf Camp, and they are learning soccer from Venezuelans and participated in the DownTown Punta Cana soccer league!”
Be good do good
Be good do good is the slogan of the organization.
Vida Plena -meaning full life- helps women in the two poorest neighborhoods in Bavaro Punta Cana. They are called el Hoyo in Friusa and Monte Verde. There, there are women who have a hard time providing for their children because of unemployment, and the lack of certain skills to earn a living.
After they had a group of women of these two neighborhoods, they started making bracelets out of mud firsts. Josh’s friend Luke from Indiana and owner of the company Mudlove taught the women how to make these bracelets with messages like breathe, hope, inspire, and be the change. The aim was to export these bracelets, but after thinking about it again they decided to sell these bracelets in Punta Cana. They also added other designs to their portfolio, like the silver bracelets and chains with Larimar and Ambar. Every piece has a card that has the name of the woman who made it written on it. “It is all about testing the waters. I have some very ugly designs here too. With time you find out what people like!” a laughing Josh explains. Now, the products of Vida Plena have almost 20 buyers. Amongst them are resorts, and stores on the airport.
Road to independence
Every piece provides dignified employment to a woman in difficult circumstances.
Vida Plena is not just a place where women make jewelry. It is a spot where they are also enrolled in a 12-week entrepreneurial program where they learn skills in setting up their own business. From literacy classes to classes on learning on how to present themselves. After learning all these skills, they are eligible for a micro-loan that they can use to invest in their business. “We want to make these women independent. We just started a sewing salon next door where we teach them to sew things like bathroom sets and other products that can help them make a living. After this program is over, they can micro-lease the machine. In this way they can start a small business from home and watch their kids at the same time.”
“At the moment we have 10 women, but when the demand grows, we would love to have more women here. It is about serving the ones that are in need!” Josh says.
Want to know more about Vida Plena? Check out: