miércoles, 23 de abril de 2014

An E-Mail to My Mom

The subject of this e-mail was "last Ilayas update until after exam :)". I have to go to CA in late June to take the First Year Law School Bar Exam, so it's study hard time! But there's no time to study hard because I'm doing the second year material at the same time, which I am of course already behind on. Anyway, here is the e-mail. I am trying to do more of the short and sweet posts because there are so many updates to share but I seem to have the habit of waiting until I have a book to write, which lots of people, I know, don't have the attention span to read. And FYI, Ilayas is 4 and Yenilove is 7. 

Hi Mom, 

I need to really take this exam seriously now so one last Ilayas update until after the exam is over. :)

He just came in and said, I wish Yenilove wasn't here because she's stronger than me.

I told him that it's good when we have people stronger than us because it makes us stronger and makes us grow. I talked a little more and then he said, actually, I don't think she's stronger than me. I told him one day he would be bigger and stronger than her because boys get bigger and stronger than girls. Haha. 

Oh, I have to show you this one in person. But he asked me in front of her if Yenilove's parents died from a monster. And when he said monster he put his hands out like claws and growled, LOL. She looked a little annoyed but kind of amused because I couldn't help but to laugh. I said no they were sick and then God gave her to us. He said, "Okay," and she smiled. 

Love you, Caitlin

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it. If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

martes, 15 de abril de 2014

Ak Blan Ou Ye?

Last week we had chiropractors visit with a group called Chiro Mission. On Friday and Saturday we led them to the schools and communities where they consulted and adjusted, and also some helped out with our shoe box solar oven activities. During lunch on Saturday, Amanda took them to where they eat, and I went with Ilayas, Yenilove, and Maraya to La Sirena to get hot dogs for the solar oven testing activity we were doing in Padre Granero in the afternoon. Afterwards, we walked from La Sirena to the road where we can catch the PB taxi that goes into Padre Granero. We waited forever and I felt constant stress standing on the side of the road with three squirrely little ones. 

As we waited, a Skim Ice vendor passed by. Skim Ice is like a freezie pop. They wear brightly colored jump suits with sometimes a penguin on them and push a big cyllinder that contains their treats they sell. My kids always want one when they see one and started begging. 

As he came near he noticed Yenilove's Haitian appearance mixed in with my mixed kids and white self and said to her, "Ak blan ou ye?" She just looked at him and didn't answer so I interjected. This Creole phrase he said means, "Are you with ´white`"? Blan is what Haitians refer to foreigners... even dark-skinned ones. 

"Is she with blan?" I asked. He stared at me surprised that I understood his Creole. I went on to tell him, "If you see a child and an adult, you have to talk to the adult, you can't just start talking to the child." He said okay. I then apologized for my sharpness and let him know that we had been waiting for 15 minutes or so for a carrito PB and none had passed yet. Then we of course bought Skim Ices, he said thank you, and went on his way. 

The other day we were buying peanut butter from someone in the batey in Muñoz... the batey where Junior, Yenilove, and Elisenia used to live before their family fell apart. Their sister Alexandra AKA Chi Chi still lives in the batey with her godmother and another brother Elideau lives up the road with a kind family. As we waited for the woman to fill the jars of peanut butter, Alexandra told Yenilove that a man was calling her in the corridor. I looked and saw a man standing a distance away looking over at us. I called over to him and told him that he should come here rather than calling her over there. So he came and asked her how she was doing and some questions she didn't answer but looked to me and I answered for her. Then he left. Sometimes people here do sketchy things and... they don't actually know that it's sketchy or why it's sketchy so you can't blame them but just let them know that... you don't feel comfortable with it. 

I find Yenilove to be extremely clingy. I am not complaining, just observing. I don't know if this is a coincidence or a reality but the girls in our family... I am constantly almost tripping over them as I try to go from one crowded space to another in the house because they like to be right there with me, whereas the boys like attention and to visit, but they sort of check in and then go and do their own thing. It makes me laugh. Yenilove especially feels concerned about knowing my every move and is always asking a day ahead if I will go anywhere the next day, where I will go, etc. In the busyness of life I get annoyed and impatient with her and the fact that she is making me feel "micromanaged", but she said something the other day that interrupted my busyness and reminded me why she does that. 

She came and hugged me and said, "I love you Mommy." I told her that I love her too. She then said, "I don't want you to die." I assured her that I wasn't going to die and she looked at me like she wasn't sure. I assured her again. Tears. The things some little ones go through. The Lord "gathers his lambs in his arms, comforts them, and carries them close to his heart". From a favorite song we used to sing at church growing up. 

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it. If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

viernes, 28 de marzo de 2014

Songs From Looong Ago

In the fall of 2007 I wrote 3 songs. I sang them for two friends, Kristin and Nathaniel, who I used to sing worship songs with sometimes in Blacksburg. Nathaniel plays the guitar and wanted to work with the songs on his guitar, so I recorded two of them and e-mailed them to Nathaniel. The third was written in my notebook that got lost when I left it in a suitcase in a taxi in the Dominican Republic. I have some parts of it in my head, but it is lost. The other two I found the e-mail I had sent to Nathaniel, and listened to them. 

So I think a lot of how I envisioned my future was tied up with the man I would marry. I can hear some of my independent female friends gagging at that, but it's true. In 2006, I wrote this poem when I found out that I would not marry the American man I had thought I would, toiled over it, and toiled over God and life in general. 

In 2007, I wrote these songs as I began envisioning a future with Jeres and Project Esperanza. I entered into a life that was so different than I had envisioned throughout childhood, so different than what my family had envisioned for me, and I don't know that anything could've held me back... or nothing did at least. So I will share these songs with you. I don't know if they are good or they are not good.. but they represented my heart at that time... fall 2007. 

Let's Go Find a Place: 



Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it. If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

domingo, 2 de marzo de 2014

On Time Another Month!

So I am happy to announce that this school year we have a pretty perfect record as far as paying teachers on time! Thank the Lord! This fundraising has been a problem ever since late 2008, and now we are back on track it seems! Also, thanks to the start up help of Project Esperanza's mom, named Larissa, we have an "office" in town... just a tiny room with a tiny bathroom, one block from the Malecon and ocean and one large block from La Sirena, the Wal-Mart. This post is a picture explanation of the office and of the way we record teacher attendance and pay teachers each month. So nothing too exciting about directly helping kids, but the behind the scenes stuff that goes on to make it possible that we help kids. 

So this was our bedroom/office. It was taken from the doorway so this is the entirety of the room, and it is the bigger of the two bedrooms in our house. Jeres, Ilayas, Maraya, and I sleep here and Yenilove and Junior in the other room. To get an idea of the whole house, read the No More Mrs. Nice Guy post and then imagine that two more kids moved in a month later. :) This is the picture that I sent to Larissa when I requested her help in renting a small office space in town. Plus, a volunteer placement organization that visited in August shared some critiques of Project Esperanza as far as it's predicted ability to be able to accommodate a higher amount of volunteers, and one was that we had no office in town. The hopes are that the cost of renting this new space will be offset by volunteer trip fees. 

Here is our new little office. If you want to send something or stop by, the address is Calle Vista Alegre No. 9, Puerto Plata, Republica Dominicana. 

This picture is taken in front of a business two houses down from the office. If you look hard, you can see the clear blue ocean water. I didn't take a picture looking to the right, but it's a shady, quiet street, one block down from a main street passing through town, full of businesses. It's right by the police station, soccer field, and sports complex in town. It's also a short walk from the Montesorri school I would love to send Ilayas and Maraya to next year. Walking down this shady street, I feel like I could be in Winchester, Virginia. And I thank God for this location, as there are so many streets that are very busy, or too sunny, or too noisy, but I do feel like this is just right. 

This photo is taken across the street from the office. If you peek through those trees, you can see the large yellow building that is La Sirena. If you don't know, La Sirena is the closest thing we have to a Wal-Mart. You can get most things there. 

La Sirena had some great sales on Friday! We are preparing to start doing school meals in Padre Granero, as we have some donated food items we can't let go to waste! I add in that part because, we don't actually have any extra funds available to do it, but are trying to get it going! And although this office is so close and convenient to store such things, I have to remember that when alone, not to buy more than I can carry back. 

To the right when you walk in the door. Want to put in some shelves along the upper parts of the walls to store the soccer jerseys and such.

This is what is left over after making shoe box solar ovens. I once asked Luckner to go find some boxes so we could ship items for the online art shop and he came back saying he couldn't find any. I can't wait to see him again so I can show him this picture, and pictures from the solar oven activities! I went all around Puerto Plata and found over 60 boxes! So these leftovers can be used for more solar ovens or art shipments. Again, we need some shelves! And you see that big barrel? Those are items, mostly clothes, that we use as bingo prizes, donated by Martine in New York City. Those are tamper free barrels that cost $150 to ship, no matter the weight! E-mail Cole at nsalvitti@gmail.com if you would like to give her any items to ship down in the next shipment. 

And just the view from the other corner of the room. That green suitcase is full of antibiotics donated by the last Helping Hands medical group that was here. If you look in the first picture in this post of our room, it was right by our bed. Not ideal for a house with toddlers! And we now have two sewing machines, hoping to do more classes in both Padre Granero and Munoz. The boys voted to learn mechanics next, if we can get that together for the summer. I mention this because they are the only ones who have done a 3 month courts on the first machine we had. But Isuna in the art shop has used it some too. 

Tiny bathroom door...

To the tiny bathroom. I really wish it just didn't have a shower. But maybe it will get used and water will get all over the place or we will somehow rig up a shower curtain to go around the little corner...

And now our bedroom looks more like a bedroom, with a little tiny home desk. :) Now, a look at paying teachers....

Teachers sign every day when they arrive at school, put their time, and the time when they leave. The director initials to verify that what they wrote is correct. At the end of the month, the director gives me these pages. 

I make a little slip to summarize the days of school that month, the excused absences of the teacher, unexcused absences, and total minutes late. 

Each slip and the money goes into each teacher/employee's envelope. 

No checks for us yet. That would require there being money in a bank account when in reality, I spent two hours Saturday night first waiting in a horrific line at Western Union, (which is in La Sirena, so close!), then being told that the transfer number was not bringing anything up, then going to an internet center to look it back up and finding that I had copied it correctly, then calling my mom who handles the orgnaization's funds in the US, then her calling Western Union and answering some questions and then releasing it. I gave up and went home, then went back Saturday morning. And this was just for half of the funds. The other half were sent Xoom. Sending too much through one method often makes them hold it up longer. 

This is the pay sheet (from a previous month as you see it is already signed) that I give to each school director to distribute the envelopes and have everyone sign and date and then give the signed sheet back to me. 

And then everything goes in one envelope, to the director. Yesterday when I did this, I called both directors to invite them to the new office space and to pick up the envelopes, but didn't get a hold of them, gave up, and went home. They both called me back and ended up coming to my house later, which is another reason why I desperately wanted the office space, to make the home a more private space! But at the same time, I do value them as friends. And I'll show them the space another time. I took a picture of Madame Judith receiving the Munoz manila envelope but she didn't want me to post it on the Internet because she didn't like her appearance. 

And that is the system we have down to pay teachers! We have had directors in the past (one) that have more access to internet and are more computer savvy and they enter the teacher sign in and also student attendance into a shared Google Drive doc, but for now, we are all on paper. 

And thank you for reading! 

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it. If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

lunes, 10 de febrero de 2014

About my Daddy again...

So yesterday was my dad's birthday. Ironically, he appeared in a dream last night. I'll tell about that and some thoughts surrounding it, but first, let me update on a few things:

1. Wildolf has a motorcycle and seems to be diligently moto taxiing. So at least that part of the plan has come out and he is working. I try to give him the cold shoulder and encourage him to stay away because I don't think he deserves the trust after the violence he displayed, but that is good that he is working. 

2. Two sister nurses, Jennifer and Rachel, gave us a nebulizer for Elisenia, as well as a stroller. They think she has asthma and that is the reason for her constant respiratory problems. They also gave us lots of albuterol and steroids to put in the nebulizer. Adeline puts her on it each night and says it makes her sleep much better. 

3. Everything else is going well. We have Amanda, a Peace Corps volunteer who joined us in December, and is helping out with the art shop. And Michelle, my "assistant" who came on board in Jan., helping out with volunteer recruitment, sponsorships, everything and anything. They are great and I'm so glad to have them here, as well as all of our local staff and the kids... I feel very grateful. 

So in my dream, my dad just appeared right on the shore. I didn't see anything else but the sand and the ocean and him. He didn't have a beard but had his mustache and a big smile and beautiful kind eyes. He wore his red flannel button up shirt and we hugged and I felt so relieved to see him. I asked him where he had gone and he said he had gone to the beach so that he could breathe better. He was healthy. He looked good. That is all I remember except that we got to spend some time together. 

I don't know what came over me today. I just am finding myself unable to shake off tears. So I decided I better write about it. I have been strong. I am focused and every event that comes to knock me off focus, I don't let it. I also grew to have a very hard heart. In the U.S., I played with kids and encouraged them and cuddled them. Here, I have learned to yell at kids and keep them in line and care for their needs while not let them take advantage of me. I have also experienced a hard life (partly by choice), and my heart grew hard. I have mourned my dad, but today I feel like the sorrow is as fresh as ever. It feels like my soft heart has come back. And I miss him.  

It just makes me think how no one.. absolutely no one.. can replace your daddy. And no one can replace your mommy. And that is the position I am in for Yenilove and Junior. Trying to replace their mommy. Something that can't be done. Hard stuff. But what a beautiful bond. I'll never forget when we first visited Jireste's family in Haiti. (I'm going to start writing Jeres because that is his middle name on his birth certificate, so it's where the name he goes by comes from, and it looks more how it sounds.) We met his brother in town and then traveled down the long gravel road with him to where his family lives. We first made it to his gradmother's house... a mud house with a thatch roof in a yard surrounded by prickly bushes. She led us into the doorway where his cousin, aunt, and a few others crowded around. She hugged him and looked at him and said, "He looks like Christo," his dad. She immediately started bawling and his aunt started bawling and they cried and exclaimed about how much they miss Christo. And Jeres hung his head and sobbed. And I teared up. It was so beautiful. It was so honoring. His brother must've been through this before because he didn't seem anything but annoyed and repeated, "You should be happy to see Jeres. It's not when you see him that you should cry." 

Ilayas came and found me crying this afternoon and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I missed my daddy. We had a talk about this a few weeks ago and I tried to explain to him what had happened to my daddy. I know it's heavy stuff for a 4-year-old, but it's part of life, and I didn't want to lie to him. I laughed, too, both times when he saw me crying, so he would know that although I'm sad, it's all okay. He said, "You need a nice daddy who won't leave." I explained to him how my daddy was so nice and would never leave if he could help it, (and thought about how much I wished he and Maraya could know him, but no use in thinking about that. I also wished I could apologize to my dad for not physically being there for him.) I told Ilayas that God is the nice daddy who won't ever leave us. 

Here is the post I wrote when he first passed away. Love you forever, Daddy.

miércoles, 22 de enero de 2014

An Especially Eventful Week Park 4 of 4

I am terribly sorry that I abandoned this series for so long! Volunteers arrived, summer English camp started and that just caused me to be busy beyond belief. After camp ended, I played catch up on law school until the final exams in December. I did well! But then spent my month of vacation playing catch up with Project Esperanza stuff and having some quality family time. Now the second year of law school has started and I don't really have time to write this but don't want to abandon the blog! 

For some updates, everyone is doing well, thankfully. We brought in a new boy into the group home as I mentioned was the plan. His name is Sony, he is 14 years old, and has been homeless and shoe shining in Puerto Plata since he was 11. He was making a commendable effort to go to a little school in a church by our house and was a great candidate to enter the home. I mentioned in part 3 that CONANI was talking about sending Elisenia and Alexandra to an orphanage. Well, Alexandra's godmother doesn't want her to go anywhere under any circumstances, and CONANI backed out anyway. They backed out when this new law was passed that has taken citizenship away from people of Haitian decent who already had citizenship. This has caused lots of negative backlash from the international community, and rightfully so. Right before this law was passed, the social worker from CONANI had asked us to take in a 12-year-old Dominican boy from the streets. It would've been different to take in a Dominican boy, but we were ready to do it. The day she told me to go pick him up, and she would take Elisenia to the orphanage, was the same day this law was passed, and that all was thrown out the window. 

So back to the especially eventful week. After I loaned Wildolf this money, I think things went a little downhill for him. I expected him to saca the moto right away and show me it. He said he would run errands with it, etc. However, he disappeared for a few days. (Again, I hadn't planned with him or told him to do x,y,z but really just wanted to get him to leave me alone.) When I next saw him, he told me that he was unable to get the moto, but didn't tell me why, and said that he was thinking of selling hard-boiled eggs on the streets instead. Some people do this, but it was more common when we did the street census in 2006 than it is today. He asked if I thought that would be a good investment. I said, whatever you do, the important thing is that you work hard at it and don't give up. Perhaps I should've said, give me the money back. But anyway, that is what I said, and I again didn't see him for a bit.

Then the next thing that seemed to happen was this fight incident I described in part 2. After this happened, I told the others about lending him the money and most people assumed that he had bought drugs with it, as he had had that habit in the past which went along with his stealing habit. They also said that since he had been hanging out at the boys' home, a Dominican man who they knew to be a drug dealer had come around looking for Wildolf. I was enraged at the thought of him leading people to the house with guns and to sell drugs!! The morning after this incident, Willy and Ewode let me know that Wildolf was lurking around close to the land the organization had purchased with a machete, and had threatened them both when they went by. Ewode and I went to the police, which led us to getting sent back and forth between the police office and the court house. I plead that the police arrested him him, went looking for him, exerted some protection over the house and situation. However, they were so nonchalant about it and said, if he threatens you, call us. I kept saying, "He came to the house with guns! He did threaten them today! Are you going to wait for him to hurt someone?" We spent a large chunk of the day at the police office and court house until finally they allowed Ewode to file a claim. They wouldn't let me because I wasn't there, even if I am responsible over the household where this took place, but did allow Ewode to file a complaint which would call Wildolf in for a court date.

As we sat down with the woman working in the court house and Ewode dictated information to her, I got a phone call from Rafael, who was our watchman in Munoz at the time. He was waiting at my house for me to return so I could pay him. We had already been in contact, but this time he called to let me know that Biby had been cut in the arm with a machete by Wildolf. I got off the phone and reported this to the woman. I begged her to send the police after him. (If I had gone the path of corruption and offered the police money, they would've gone from the very first request, most likely, but I don't actually know how to do that yet. And that's sort of a source of the problem here anyway.) They said that the person who was cut would have to file the report! Or if he was at the hospital, the hospital would have to send a medical evaluation. We rushed to the emergency room at the public hospital where we found Biby getting stitched up. The cut was right above his left elbow and required 20 some stitches on the inside and 20 some on the outside. It had taken place right in front of the Centro de Juegos where Biby was working at the time. They had apparently exchanged words and Wildolf ended up cutting him. Several ran after him and threw rocks after him but he ran away. I had to stay on the hospital staff to write up the report before the court would close for the day and the officer on duty ended up making me pay 500 pesos for this medical evaluation, which are apparently free. When I turned this into the court, I told the woman that I had paid 500 pesos for it, would she please make me a copy. She reported this to her co-workers and they all got a good laugh out of it. I started ranting negative thoughts about the country and then they stopped joking.

I think I will have to cut this story short or else it would go into 5 or 6 parts. It took a few days, but they finally gave Biby an order for his arrest. However, this then turned into a mess where we informed the police in the day time that the best time to trap Wildolf for his arrest would be during the night as we knew where he was staying at his sister's house. (She came to my house the next day and is a gifted actor. She shed tears, got a little hysterical, and said that she had heard that Biby had killed Wildolf and she hadn't seen him. She plead for mercy for him. Then others reported that he was hiding at her house.) The police told us the hour to come, but then when Biby and Ewode went, they didn't mobilize. So we let this go for a bit, as all of the running around was getting a little expensive, and I hoped that he would just stay away from my house, the boys' home, the Nintendo business, etc. He did not have family in that neighborhood and it seemed as though the reason he was hanging around was because he was trying to receive the same aid that boys in the home receive, if not more, but we don't normally take anyone in at that age unless they have been involved throughout the years and need a temporary stay, and we don't really take anyone in when they have that amount of family around either. I told him that I would help him register in school when it opened back up. I guess he just wanted money, which he got.

Wildolf hid for about a month and then we started seeing him around. After he saw nothing happened to him, he started coming around quite often. I approached him one day and asked him when he would pay me back the 3,000 pesos. He said he was waiting to start a job and then would pay me back. I told him that we had an order for his arrest and if he continued coming around we would have to follow through with it. He started in telling me his account of how they had done x,y,z to him and he was really a victim. I didn't believe it for a second since, again, I spoke to several witnesses on both accounts right after the incident occurred and all of their stories matched. His was the only story that differed. He had a friend with him who seemed to believe his side and I think I actually swayed his friend by repeating details of my exchanges with him and the loaning of the money. Our conversation ended when he said that Biby had stabbed him with a knife and that is why he cut him with the machete. I found it hilarious to think that Biby, who is bigger than Chinaider, would stab him with a knife while Wildolf had a machete in hand, and he would have the ability to then cause Biby such a large injury and run away. He said that they grouped up on him to attack him and he cut Biby in self defense. Upon hearing that I yelled, "Well then they would've killed you!" I repeated what I had said about the police order, and then left. I wasn't trying to promote violence, but just to say, did he really think that I would believe that 3 or 4 young men who are all bigger than him could've attempted to attack him and he would've won? This was a typical case of an abuser trying to appear the victim.

Anyway, until today, we never went back to the police. He continued coming around a bit for awhile and I tried to ignore him. At one point when I saw him passing by the boys' home I asked him if he lives around here now? He said no. I said, "Then what are you doing here!?" Other than that I try to avoid eye contact whenever I see him and.. well there haven't been any more problems with him. Hopefully things will stay that way! I haven't gotten any of the 3,000 back from him, but that just adds him to a long list of people around here who owe me money! Education. Work. Spiritual formation. All are in such great need here. Your prayers and support are always appreciated.

Don't forget, if you want to support this humanitarian/missionary/social activist, please consider using this credit card or these awesome gift options. Sign up as a customer here. I do not receive a salary for running Project Esperanza so it is necessary to try to raise support in some way to be able to continue to dedicate the necessary time to it.

If you want to support Project Esperanza, learn how to do so here. Thank you and God bless! 

lunes, 21 de octubre de 2013

Batey Soap Opera - M & J's Story

I am terribly sorry that I haven’t yet posted Part 4 to An Eventful Week. This summer was so very busy, as well as the start of the school year, but I have to post that and another post I want to write about my kids and family. But this post, I just have to write now.

A volunteer a few years back named Laura had a great idea. When she saw that we were not getting much of a turn out at our make shift movie theater, held in the school to help to raise rent money, she suggested that we lead members of the batey community to film their very own “soap opera” which we would show once a week. That would get a good turnout, for sure! We began working on the first episode but kept running into sound problems and Laura had to leave without us ever getting very far, although we did form a group that was interested, planned the first episode, and film some. I actually wrote about this in a previous post.

Well, I just was recounted a story of something that happened among a couple that lives in the batey where we have a school and fair trade art shop. This event has “batey soap opera” written all over it. Also, being in law school and writing frequent essays where we are given a fact pattern and then asked to decide what offenses different parties will be charged with, this situation also resembles a “batey fact pattern”. 

First, let me talk a little bit about that word batey. What is a batey? Well, here in the Dominican Republic, it is used to describe a housing complex where there are usually a lot of Haitian immigrants, but not always, who usually live by sugar cane plantations, and live really hard lives. The inhabitants of the bateys normally do agriculture work, such as harvest the sugar cane, and throughout history, have had little to no opportunity, such as the government owning the housing and the people not really having much freedom or opportunity to move up in life, and the government denying children born in the DR and growing up in the DR any sort of citizenship. These problems hold true today, and the DR actually just passed a ridiculous law that apparently will attempt to remove the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian decent for up to 4 generations.. so taking away citizenship from people who already have it! Anyway, I have heard volunteers and visitors refer to the batey where we work in Muñoz as a slum or a refugee camp. 

Rooftop view of the batey. Photo taken by Nicole Salvitti.

A medical geography class from VT that was doing a study abroad program in Punta Cana has visited us a few times before. Their teacher is on our board of directors. The last time they came in March 2012, we did a census of the batey and they actually created a map as well. The census showed that the batey, which is about the size of a football field, has 172 households and just over 550 people. So just imagine that. We found these very similar statistics when we visited tent cities in Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. One of the biggest problems this batey faces is that over 75% of the households have no toilet – indoor or outdoor. We’ve done some work here, but that’s another story. In this blog post, I want to tell the story of a couple of our artists.

We’ll call them by their initials to protect their identity. M was involved with our artist group ever since it got going. Her partner, J, got involved later on as we began letting some very interested men join. Both have been consistent sellers ever since. I enjoyed observing them as they attended our sessions, and seeing them interact. It gave me much insight into the lives of a couple living in such a situation, and my heart already hurt for them a few times seeing the challenges that they face, while also realizing the love that they have for each other. They have two kids – a 4 year old boy, and a little girl who is about one year old.     

M’s mom is someone I visit with frequently. The other day I visited with her for a minute as we came by with some visiting chiropractors. She had a cast on her wrist. I asked what happened and she didn’t fully answer but said, with no explanation or guarantee that she was telling the truth, that she fell. This evening I met with our watchman and maintenance man for the school and art shop and we went over the artists’ pay sheet for this past month, as he was going to go around and pay them. He said that M was waiting for him, and I said that she did not sell this month, but that one of J’s items had sold. He said, “Well I can give it to M because you know J is in prison.” I did not know and was surprised, sad, and inquired.

He told me a story. There was a rumor going around that J was having an affair. Not long ago, two of his sisters had come over from Haiti, with a friend. A rumor had been started that he was having an affair with their friend. Apparently M’s family was taking part in this rumor, and J, outraged, went to M’s family’s little house, which is right along the main street, sided with palm boards and painted pink. I didn’t hear the full details, but I know that J demanded that they tell him who saw him with this woman, and denied the accusations. It ended up in a fight that took place in the house, where J had a stick of some sort, M’s mom’s wrist came out broken, and M’s sister stabbed J in the leg with something. J left the house, and upon hearing this, others encouraged him to return to apologize.  

So J returned, his mother apparently went along, to apologize. But M’s stepfather, who was not there during the fight, was enraged, and threw a rock at J. J dodged it, but his mother took a hard hit. So in the end, both men, J, and M’s stepfather, ended up in prison. And both M’s mother and J’s mother ended up injured. M’s stepfather was released by his employer he is fortunate to have, but J remains in prison for his full term of 3 months.

What is the moral of the story? There is a high divorce rate in the US, that is true, and I think anyone would agree that that is sad.  Families are meant to last, and when a family breaks up, it takes a strong toll on everyone involved. The Bible says during creation, and Jesus later repeats, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19:6). I don’t say this to place judgment on anyone who has gone through a divorce by any means, and I’m sure anyone who has gone through a divorce found it to be a painful experience.

But volunteers have observed and inquired about an even higher turnover of spouses/partners that seems to happen here in the batey. It is not uncommon to see a parent with a child and spouse, but the other parent of the child lives nearby.  They had a previous relationship that ended, and now there is a new spouse. Of course this happens in the US, but volunteers have observed it happening much, much more in the batey. Some couples stay together forever, but there is an extremely high rate of splitting up and getting together. I would say from my observations that there is more such turnover in the batey in Muñoz than in the barrio of PadreGranero where we have a school as well. And the difference here is that the batey is on a tourist excursion route and tourists who pass by daily have a huge impact on the community. Prostitution is an even bigger temptation for people living closer to the tourism, and it just destroys families.

When volunteers have mentioned this to me, I share my thoughts that it has a lot to do with the little to no personal space that these families have. Their houses are very small and they rarely have yards, but are connected to other houses with very thin walls, and again, in this one batey the size of a football field, there are 172 households. Then there are two other bateys right nearby. Can you imagine having a natural argument with your spouse and all of the neighbors knowing about it, picking a side, and adding commentary? Can you imagine fetching water from a common tap shared among 10 houses and a rumor starting that you are having an affair because of the way someone observed your conversation with the person who was at the tap in front of you? Stress, stress, and more stress.

I also share my thoughts about the effects of healthy and functional families as compared to unhealthy and dysfunctional families. I think it is fairly common knowledge that if a child has problems at home, it affects his or her learning in the classroom. How can we have strong individuals who can change their futures if the families are constantly undergoing stress? And how can families function healthily without a little private space!?

So what is the solution? Well, there is lots that could be done to change this, but what we are doing is the fair trade art shop. If we can increase art sales, (and a big opportunity here is partnerships with stores in the US who would purchase from us in bulk), then we can provide a steady income to our artists. More income means the potential to live on a larger plot of land with more privacy.

So if this story touches your heart, consider purchasing something from the art shop, or promoting it to an individual or business that you think would be interested. You can also share this story with others you think may want to help. Thank you for caring and supporting. And long live M and J!!!