On November 25, 1960 the Mirabal Sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, were assassinated by the Trujillo regime for their clandestine activities as part of the resistance, giving their lives for freedom. The sisters called themselves Las Mariposas, and it is from their inspiring lives of fighting for social justice that Mariposa DR Foundation takes its name. The mariposa (butterfly) is a universal symbol representing transition, freedom and peace. The Mirabal sisters or “Las Mariposas” have become not just national heroines, but international symbols. In 1999, United Nations declared November 25th, the day of their murder, as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Founder Patricia Thorndike arrives in Cabarete and establishes Iguana Mama Mountain Biking Adventure Tours, the first eco-tour company on the north coast of the DR and one of the first eco-tour companies on the island.
Patricia creates 3-10 day hiking, biking and cultural tours all over the island, including trekking up Pico Duarte, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi in North America. She invites and/or hosts more then 50 journalists, photographers and filmmakers to the DR, helping to put Cabarete on the map as the adventure capital of the Caribbean. One of those writers is Julia Alvarez. When they hiked Pico Duarte together Alvarez had just completed In the Time of the Butterflies.
Iguana Mama had innovative programs offering discounts for tours in exchange for book and school supply donations for local public schools. Patricia and client Judy Greenburg, founded the first non-profit in Cabarete, Friends of the DR. With all the donations they are able to create the first libraries in public schools on the north coast. She also hires a community engagement director to help build a school in a Haitian Batey and sponsors Dominican girls to go to private schools.
Patricia marries Freddy Mendez Suriel and has two children, Nico and Tati.
Under President Leonel Fernandez public schools begin kindergarten programs. (1998)
In 2002 they change the name from Friends of the DR to the Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring Project (DREAM). Patricia sells Iguana Mama, and becomes full time Executive Director of the organization she founded. Under Patricia’s leadership, DREAM creates the first free early childhood Montessori programs in the Dominican Republic. In addition to the first summer programs and sports programs for children in Cabarete, Patricia spearheads and designs the building of more then 20 classrooms, including a large Center that is home to the town’s first public library and can also be a shelter during flooding and hurricanes. To date, more then 2,000 of children have come through DREAM Montessori programs since Patricia and colleague Sarah Ludwig Ross (founder of 3 Mariposas Montessori) started them in 2004.
President Hipólito Mejía allows children of Haitian descent in public schools for the first time, but only until the 8th grade (2000). This law has not changed to date.
In 2009, a group of DREAM executive and honorary board members, staff and volunteers determined to end generational poverty came together to create the Mariposa DR Foundation.
One girl inspired co-founders Patricia Suriel and Jessica Lawson. Her mother had died and her grandmother looked after her. She lived in a small house with seventeen people. Their home had no bathroom, no running water and flooded in the rain. She was eleven years old. As volunteers worked with her to give her support, we did countless interviews, home visits and had casual conversations about the needs in the community, revealing that there were no activities or special programs just for girls. We then set out on our mission to get girls from adolescence to adulthood, safely.
In 2009 James White became the founding President of the Executive Board.
Patricia Suriel and her family found Cabarete Coffee Company, the first Coffee shop in the DR to sell locally roasted, organic coffee and cacao and the first coffee shop in Cabarete. (2009)
In January of 2010, Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake, and MDRF devoted the first 5 months of the new year to earthquake relief. We were one of the first organizations to get relief to Haiti, driving a large van of food and water and blankets just two days after the quake. Over the following months we sent more supplies and rescued a family who lost 3 children and 8 relatives, supporting them in Cabarete, including sending their children to school until they were well enough to travel back home to Haiti.
Also in 2010, one girl grew to fifty-two and the Mariposa Girls Leadership Program began. We met wherever space or shade could be found and started building even more connections in the community to get the girls the resources they needed.
2011 was a year of tremendous growth. We accepted 20 new girls into our program, ran our 2nd annual all girls summer camp, opened a local Mariposa Resource Center in the Callejón de la Loma and made tremendous strides in strengthening our programs. Our staff (including volunteers) grew to eleven people, we began providing yearly medical and dental well-visits for all girls, and we began hosting service trips with international high schools and colleges. That year we also won first place in the first ever Nike Girl Effect Challenge, beating out 53 organizations worldwide and raising over $25,000. And in December we launched the the first Cabarete Responsible Tourism and Investment Guide, an innovative social enterprise that began our road to becoming self-sustaining.
The Foundation was growing quickly. Tricia recognized that we needed space and saw an opportunity when a local property went up for sale. In the fall of 2012, that property, which had been vacant for two years, was run-down, and needed extensive repairs. With the help of generous donors, over the next two years we transformed it into a beautiful facility where Mariposas could engage in sports, receive academic tutoring, have access to libraries and computers, receive job and life skills training and health and wellness care. Having their own space made a huge difference; it allowed Mariposas to feel empowered to make a difference in their lives, their communities and the world. The Mariposa Center for Girls is the current headquarters for our programming and administrative offices.
James White stepped down and Aislinn Doyle began serving as President of the Executive Board.
In 2013 we planted the start of our permaculture garden, stocked the library with books, and started our music programming. We also opened our pool for swim lessons- the first pool in Cabarete accessible to local girls. We also achieved one of our proudest accomplishments: at less than four years old, the organization was honored to receive the 2013 Swarovski Crystal of Hope Award on behalf of the Girl Effect. The co-founders attended the Life Ball in Vienna, the largest annual charity event in Europe, to accept the award.
We kicked off 2014, our fifth year, with the formal inauguration of the Mariposa Center for Girls. It was an incredible three day celebration and a gala with more than 500 local and international guests and MC'ed by Lin Manuel Miranda. The Mariposas proudly showed off their talent and hard work to the guests. That year we also expanded our scholarship programs to cover 65 girls and held our first surf competition. 2015 brought the start of our Mariposas Volando program, supporting Mariposas who graduated from high school with internships and opportunities to continue their education.
In 2016 we began to really feel the effects of climate change as our neighborhoods flooded by torrential rains. As water rose in our community, many Mariposa girls were forced to move out of their homes to reach higher ground. In response we ramped up our environmental education, starting the Riverkeepers program and collaborating with Plastic Tides Foundation to instill a need to protect our waterways, especially as a coastal community. In that vein, we started our second social enterprise: the Mariposa Upcycled Sails project, with funding from the 11th Hour Racing foundation. Mariposa Upcycled Sails keeps used sails out of the landfill, offers employment to Mariposa mothers, and income for the organization.
In 2017 we continued to expand our academic, environmental, art, and sports programming. We also started a yoga and mindfulness program, a biking program, and sent three Mariposas Volando to United World College schools abroad. Also that year, Cabarete Coffee Company was donated to the Foundation by the Suriel family, furthering our goal to being self-sustaining and fulfilling one aspect of our mission to employ.
Aislinn Doyle stepped down and Tesha Poe began her term as President of the Executive Board
In 2018 the Mariposa DR Foundation was endorsed by the United World College (UWC) as an official UWC short course site. In July 2019, students and staff from 16 countries took part in our first UWC short course, “Sustainability as Social Justice: Investing in Girls and in Mother Earth.”
In early 2019 MDRF signed an agreement with Honorary Chairwomen Julia Alvarez and husband Bill Eichner to restore their coffee farm, Finca Altagracia and add it to the Mariposa Family.
Also in 2019, the first three Rise Up Scholars head to the USA to study at colleges in Idaho, Iowa and North Carolina on full scholarships.
Today, the Mariposa DR Foundation continues to engage in programming around academic enrichment, international awareness, community engagement, environmental education, art education, health and wellness, and offering innovative summer enrichment including Kiteboarding, Surfing, Swimming,Cycling and SUP. We continue to host dozens of service trips and welcome hundreds of volunteers a year. As we begin our tenth academic year, we are excited to see where the next ten years takes us!