When I posted my last blog (Turning Swords into Plowshares), we were about to leave for some volunteering and some vacationing in the Dominican Republic. Mother Nature kindly reminded us why we like to escape the winter by providing a massive snowstorm that delayed our flight for 24 hours.
The trip was an eye-opener, though not exactly in the way we expected. As for the work we did, well, let’s just say I’ll never get a job constructing cement walls, though I’d have a better shot at a job painting bee boxes or schools. There were five of us volunteering and, in truth, I think the amount of work we got done in five days could have been done better by a couple of Dominicans working one afternoon. Plus they’d get paid. But we quickly realized that wasn’t the point. Or, rather, it wasn’t the whole point.
To understand the rest of the point, you need a little background.
Back in the 1930’s, there were very productive sugar cane producers in the DR and not enough Dominicans who wanted to work in them. So the government of the DR invited the neighboring Haitians to come and work. (Haiti and the DR share an island named Hispaniola.)
So far, so good.
Unfortunately, the DR didn’t give the workers citizenship, and when they had children, the children also didn’t get citizenship. And neither did those children have Haitian citizenship. It’s now three or four generations (and one massacre) later, the sugar cane factories have closed and there are about 2,000,000 Haitian Dominicans who are, ironically, neither Haitian nor Dominican. No citizenship, no work papers, no nothing. Even if there were jobs, they couldn’t get them. Let’s just say the word “poor” doesn’t do any of it justice. Neither does “desperate.”
They live in communities called Batteys (bat TAYs), until the DR deports them to “their” country where there’s even less for them. That’s where we worked, in the Batteys. So it wasn’t just about the work we did, it was also about the demonstration of fellowship for a group of people in an impossible no-exit situation with not many friends.
One of the things that struck me – actually, it hit me over the head – is that I knew nothing about this terrible problem. I bet you don’t either. Syria, yes. Dominicans of Haitian descent, no. My experience in the Dominican Republic made me realize there are almost certainly many other tragedies we know nothing about.
“Tragic” doesn’t even come close. Do you want to call attention to something you know about that we might be unaware of?
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