It took awhile to find the right location to move the program to. We decided to spread things out, renting two group homes in separate, but close locations, and a separate building for school. We rent two rooms of a section of a church for the school. Causing things to take even longer, the first group home we rented was slow in becoming vacant because the owner and her family had trouble finding a house to rent in the area of town that they wanted. Therefore, the boys remained in the streets during this time. After almost two years, Ti Ronal was back in the same living conditions that he began in. However, instead of sleeping in a broken down house with other boys, he stayed in his own room in an apartment building on 30th Street. You may remember 30th Street from Etyenn’s story. It’s known for selling artwork and selling drugs. Ti Ronal didn’t pay for his room but had an arrangement with the landlord where he cleaned every morning in exhange for staying rent free.
One Sunday afternoon in November, I sat writing on the computer in our apartment outside of the city. Ti Ronal appeared on the porch and sat down. I looked up to greet him and tell him that I would come to visit with him in a minute. I first noticed he had a hat on, which is uncharacteristic of him. Then I noticed that his lip was very swollen and cut up, his head was bandaged under the hat, and his right cheek had a large cut that had been stitched up. I closed up what I was doing, went onto the porch, and sat beside him.
He recounted the previous night’s events to let me know what had happened. During this time, his main source of income was from collecting and selling bottles, which means walking around the streets late at night in order to search the trash outside of clubs and other such locations. He arrived home around 3am. There was a fight going on in front of his building. It was apparently between two Dominicans: a prostitute demanding her pay and a man that refused to pay. Ronal said that there was a group of Haitians defending the woman and telling the man to pay her. He entered into his apartment but left one of his items outside as he was carrying several. Ronal returned to retrieve his last item but when he stepped outside, the man and his brother attacked him. He wasn’t sure why the man attacked him. He didn’t know if he mistook him for someone else but he was obviously in the wrong place at the wrong time. He fought with them to defend himself and they ended up cutting his forehead, cheek, and lip with a broken bottle. Jamba, who was previously a member of the Los Limones house and is very large, ran after the attacker who apparently found a watchman that he stood by to take refuge.
Ronal spent the only money he had to go to the public hospital and get stitched up. He then borrowed 15 pesos to come to our apartment where he spent the day and night. As we sat there on the porch that day, we both quietly reflected. Ronal said that it was his fault that these things had happened to him. If he had listened to his father, he never would’ve come to the Dominican Republic. His father had told him not to come and that it’s a bad country. (By repeating this I am not agreeing that it is a bad country.) I asked him what things would’ve been like if he had stayed in Haiti. When he came two years ago, he had received little schooling and the program where he had gone to school in Haiti was not currently functioning. Also, there is such little opportunity for work in Haiti. I told him that I thought it was good he had come in “search for life”. It was better than sitting still. He nodded and I knew that he agreed, but just wanted affirmation that the challenges he continued to face and overcome were worth while.
After this incident, I once again visited the house we had already paid a deposit on and were waiting for the landlady and family to move out of. It was not too long after that that the family moved out and the boys moved in. Ronal is a leader of one of the two group homes. He continues to sell hard-boiled eggs during the day, as well as perform side jobs with various businesses around town. I see Ronal as continuing to have a role with Project Esperanza of some sort, whether it’s a paid role as caregiver or beginning level math teacher or a volunteer role that can help out in various areas. By that time, in a few years, I predict he will have a passport with a visa, if not residence, along with a more steady day job.
I wanted to share Ronal’s story with you because it is a strong testimony of a young Haitian man who came to the Dominican Republic in search of life and, despite finding assistance with Project Esperanza, has faced lots of difficulties. However, he has overcome and continues to overcome each of these challenges. Each young man in our program has a different story. Together, we are building a strong program so that those to come in the future don’t have to face as many difficulties. With every obstacle we face, we arrive on the other side, stronger and wiser than before.
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