After a relaxing and refreshing free day on Thursday, we were ready for another packed day. We ventured to a neighborhood in West Santo Domingo that houses many Haitians and Dominicans, most of them children of former immigrants from Haiti that came to the Dominican Republic seeking jobs in the sugar cane industry.The neighborhood is called Batey Palave; Batey is the Taíno word for central community area, and Palave is the modified last name of the sugar cane plantation owner.
Originally, the Batey housed sugar cane workers who immigrated from Haiti. Today, the plantation and mill are no longer active, but the community remains, housing descendants of the original agricultural residents. The Haitians were ostracized and discriminated by many Dominicans, and the same immigration issues that were present two hundred years ago are still prominent today. To better understand the history and current challenges that many Haitian—Dominicans face, we visited the UJEDO (Union de Juventud Ecumenica Dominicana or Dominican Interdenominational Youth Union) organization common area. Rafael Lluberes Perdomo and Silvia Vinals, with UJEDO and Imagine Santo Domingo (UJEDO’s partner organization) respectively, welcomed us and related the history of migratory difficulties on the island of Hispaniola. After a brief conversation with Silvia and Rafael, as well as a typical Haitian snack, we headed out into the rain for a tour of the community.
Two of the most surprising things we noticed during our tour of Batey Palavé was the government´s blatant disregard for basic human rights and the negative cycle that the impoverished experience that prevents them from rising in society and seeking a better quality of life. The open sewage system that flows through residential streets presented a striking contrast between the immigrant’s lives in the Batey and the much more comfortable and clean lives that many of us take for granted. There is a central sewage system that collects the contaminated water and waste of the community, and empties directly into the main river in the town. The sewage—which reaches every corner of the city— is a breeding ground for tuberculosis and cholera, yet we still witnessed children running and playing in the puddles. The government, who does notice these hazards, neglects to take action to rectify the inhumane living conditions that many Batey residents are accustomed to.
These locals are at another disadvantage due to limited access to a high school education. Secondary schools are either too far away for Batey residents to attend or students of undocumented parents are barred from enrolling in high school because they have no legal papers. The inability to receive a higher education prevents the impoverished Batey immigrants from climbing the socioeconomic ladder, thus stimulating the negative cycle that amplifies the relationship between poverty and limited education.
Because many of the living conditions that we witnessed were so vastly different from our own, the day was both a shock and a positive experience that reminded many of us to appreciate both what we have at home and the comforts of our housing in CONAMUCA.