Sunday, July 27, 2014

Enjoy Life

Today I visited a Haitian batey and the whole experience was extremely emotional for me. A batey is a sharecropping relationship Haitian immigrants have with sugar cane mills. The labor is so intensive and the wages are so low that no Dominican will do the work. So the sugar cane companies import Haitians live and work on the plantations, are given 4x6 concrete rooms as "houses"and allocated one meal a day. This has been going on for decades, the Haitians work the land in hopes to earn money and in the end they are never able to earn anything.  However, this particular mill was operating for a long time until it was closed about six years ago because it was no longer profitable in the global sugar market. What is left is an extremely isolated batey community with no source of income. What makes matter worse is the people are trapped there because they have no papers to prove their nationality.

My own ignorance assumed I knew poverty, assumed I knew what "no resources" looked like, assumed I was going to be able to emotionally handle the reality of true blight. Well, as my 10th grade Lit. teacher said, "when you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME." She couldn't have been more right.

I had a difficult time entering the batey. I kept thinking, who the f**k am I to come here and impose on these peoples' lives? Why the hell am I here? Why is this so uncomfortable for me? Why are children such incredible humans?

Tricia our host (who has a great relationship with the residents there) saw my discomfort and saw I was becoming increasingly emotional with the whole situation. She quickly prompted me to stay by her, to not worry about anything, but to accept that THIS is life.

I kept questioning why I was feeling so emotional. No one wants to feel shitty, so we reflect on why, and try to change that shitty feeling. Initially, I came up with the bullshit excuse that I didn't like being there, because I felt like a "do gooder" imposing on the lives of people I know so little about. Yet, I wasn't, and Tricia does an excellent job helping the community become self sustaining. It's a dialogical relationship where she asks, "what do you need?" And they then have a voice in the process. It's not a non-profit profiting off exploitation and not actually helping.

Reflecting back, I was crying and emotional, because I am human. The man who was curled in the fetal position on the concrete floor dying of kidney failure is human. The boys who were forced to "volunteer" and build a gym for their "community" by a corrupt non-profit are human. The gym was a ploy to get dollars for the wrong people, nothing more. The teenage girls braiding their hair with their girlfriends are human. The entire community suffering is human, human like me. They are me. I am them.

It hurt to see people who are a part of me suffer in such an unnecessary way. I was ashamed. I was scared. I was sad. I was overwhelmed. In the end my saving grace was the children running around the batey following us in excitement. Playing soccer with us (and beating our asses), making us throw them in the air, making us take pictures of them. It was their pure intentions that helped me cope.

One little girl in particular attached to me greatly. In a moment of my vulnerability she placed her little hand in mine and guided me through her hometown. I felt safe. It was a familiar feeling, holding someone's hand. It felt like home. It felt like family. It only reaffirmed the belief that love will conquer all and we must connect more. We must stop acting like oppression is not "our problem". It is. We all suffer from some sort of oppression.

Towards the end of the visit my little friend and I had a moment. I'd like to share with you.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Donde No Hay Libros

Today was my orientation day in Puerto Plata. I had the utmost pleasure of meeting Tricia Throndike Suriel.

Tricia moved to the Dominican from the United States after visiting here and falling in love with the culture and people. She opened her own mountain bike business and eventually become heavily involved in the community sitting on the board of an educational non-profit and opening several libraries within impoverished neighborhoods. Now, she is the Founder and Executive Director of The Mariposa DR Foundation rightfully named after the Mirabal Sisters.

The Mariposa Foundation works to break the cycle of poverty by educating girls. Students in the Dominican only go to school for a half-day or for four hours. The schooling is often inadequate in many rural neighborhoods and many of the girls drop out of  by the of ages 13 - 16 years old. Dropping out only increases the likelihood they will become pregnant at a young age or become child brides.

When the Mariposa girls finish school they head over to the foundation for four hours of enrichment. The fours hours is spent playing sports, arts, making music, extra reading support or extra math support. Yet, they go WAY beyond that. They also:
  1. Provide nutritious meals to the girls. Currently, in their summer program the girls are receiving both breakfast and lunch. 
  2. They take the girls on their doctor trips. They also teach them questions to ask the doctors when and if an issue arises. 
  3. They build houses for the families who are living in dilapidated homes.
  4. They make beds for girls who are living with an infection which has been caused by the rust on the mattress springs.
  5. They build partnerships with the schools to build a circular relationship so the girls' lives have consistency.
  6. They teach the girls how to play competitive sports to boost their confidence. 

Tomorrow I will be meeting the girls and visiting the foundation. I'll keep you posted!

The Butterflies

The time has come! I'm sitting on the patio at my hotel in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic ready to embark on what will be one of the most life changing experiences I have ever partook in. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the generosity and selflessness of all my supporters. In February, I was able to successfully reach my campaign goal and off I go. From the bottom of my heart thank you!

I wanted to start this blog to share my trip with you, so you all will be able to get updates on the work being done while I'm there. I'll do my best to update it as much as possible.

In order to come prepared Nobis required the fellows to complete several readings that delved into the history of Hispaniola. The readings also helped us understand the mission of The Mariposa Foundation which is to break the cycle of poverty by educating girls.

Here's what I've been up to since the end of the campaign:

  • Read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez: This book is a fictionalized account of the lives of the Mirabal Sisters or always known as Las Mariposas (the butterflies). The Mirabal Sister publicly opposed the dictatorship of the perverse Rafael Trujillo who reigned from 1937 - 1961. A dictator who was so obsessed with the anglo-saxon image he would powder his face to appear more white. A dictator who was responsible for the massacre of 15,000 Haitians. The three of the sisters were assassinated on November 25, 1960 in what was staged as a car accident.
  • Read The Farming of the Bones by Edwidge Danticat:  This is a historical fiction piece that follows the life of a Haitian servant during the times of Trujillo. Without getting into too much detail...she must flea the Dominican to save her life. Her only motive is love - as it should be for all of us. I highly recommend reading this book. It is short and brought me to tears at some points. 
  • Read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: This is a fictional novel that accounted for the life of Dominican immigrants in the US. It is also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This book was incredibly dynamic. It takes you through epochs of historical flashbacks of the Dominican Republic to the effect it has on first generation American youth.
  • Watched Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided which shed light on the historical racial tensions that exist within Hispaniola.