Pablo is 40-years-old. He lives with his 10-year-old son Sebastián and his wife María. They live in Batey Nuevo, just a few streets away from Casa Santa Ana: home to NPH Dominican Republic.
The bateyes are infamous throughout the Dominican Republic, known for the poor living conditions and lack of employment that impact the residents of these communities. However, for Batey Nuevo, NPH Dominican Republic provides a strong lifeline. “A lot of what you see in my home is thanks to NPH,” says Pablo. “For my family and many others in Batey Nuevo, we don’t know what we would do without NPH’s support.”
The bateyes were originally communities that developed around sugar mills and plantations in mostly rural areas on some of the Spanish-speaking islands in the Caribbean. On the island of Hispaniola, home to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, they hold great cultural significance. Since the early 1930s, Haitians have immigrated across the border looking for seasonal work during the sugar cane harvests, where they are given a room with few facilities and very poor living conditions, and then expected to work 12-14 hours for just US$5.00-a-day. There are 425 bateyes throughout the Dominican Republic, where approximately 200,000 people live. Away from the luxurious beach resorts of Punta Cana, this is part of the Dominican Republic that few tourists see.
Batey Nuevo is in the San Pedro de Macorís municipality, where quarter of all the Dominican bateyes are located. “It is very small, with just 200 people or less,” confirms Pablo. He says that many of the inhabitants live in a “critical and precarious way”, and guesses 95% live in poverty.
Previously, Pablo lived in the more remote batey of San Felipe, also located in San Pedro de Macorís, approximately 8.5 kilometers from Casa Santa Ana. He came to Batey Nuevo 15-years-ago to sell his paintings to the visitors and volunteers at Casa Santa Ana, while also take advantage of the community’s tranquil life.
“There is no danger here, and I mix safely with members of the community,” smiles Pablo. He says that the bateyes don’t have the best reputation throughout the country, but he believes this is due to prejudice against Haitians. “During my time here, I have only seen one violent crime where two people died. God rest their souls.”
Of the 10.8 million population Dominican population, recent census reports claim 1.1 million are Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of which live in the bateyes and face discrimination on a daily basis, including being cut off from health support and access to clean water. Schooling is sometimes provided up to 4th grade for the worker’s children; after, they often travel to a secondary school outside the community, but usually they drop out to help with the harvests, leaving the children without a formal education. Many community members rely on informal work through the agriculture sector, which is difficult during low season. However, COVID-19 has brought even greater challenges in 2020.
“The quarantine stopped the informal work and we were confined to our homes,” laments Pablo.
This was also the case for those employed by NPH, which is an important source of employment for Batey Nuevo, including Pablo. “In my 15 years of living here, NPH has given me 13 years of work. I used to survive on small jobs, such as giving tours around the bateyes to the foreign visitors, explaining their history and how they relate to the sugar cane fields.”
However, with the abrupt stop of visitors caused by the pandemic, this work quickly dried up, as well as the income through selling his art. Furthermore, food costs have increased throughout the country, leaving many of the poorer members of the community starving. According to the newspaper The Dominican Today, the cost of chicken in supermarkets has risen from RD$60.00 (US$1.03) to almost RD$70.00 (US$1.20), and milk from RD$50.00 (US$0.86) and RD$70.00 (US$1.20)-a-liter. Fortunately, Pablo is one of the lucky few to have obtained new work in recent weeks, again through NPH with the OWS team (One World Surgery). With the doctor, he goes to nearby bateyes visiting patients in need of immediate medical support, as well as potential patients to be treated at the OWS Medical Clinic, now under construction.
Pablo knows he is fortunate. He is paid US$200-a-month, which is the sole income for the household, as his wife Maria is unable to work and does not receive state subsidies. Nonetheless, Pablo aims to keep improving in his new role so he can one day command a better wage. He explains, “For food, we spend about US$10-a-day, but it means we don’t always eat well, with meals consisting of rice with eggs or salami, chocolate with bread, or sometimes just bread with water.”
He knows many families are far worse off than himself. “Many do not even have a job. Therefore, we try to help each other out.” NPH has supported Pablo and his family in many different ways: not just employment. Pablo speaks of his gratitude to the community team after they helped him and his wife with their disabilities, providing him with a prosthetic limb and a wheelchair for his wife. “Apart from NPH, there are no healthcare centers in Batey Nuevo. Without them, we might not be here today, or we would struggle even more so to be mobile.”
They live in a small house consisting of a living room and a bedroom. Although it can be cramped, he is even more grateful for NPH’s support in improving the structure of his home. “When I first moved here, my house was made of wood and was in terrible condition. But NPH helped rebuild my home, providing the foundation blocks and durable materials for the walls. Now the home is my own and we don’t pay rent. It gives my family a good basis to build towards a better future.”
He hopes one day to build an extension so Sebastian can have his own room and personal space, which Pablo understands is important for his son’s growth. Sebastian also attends school at Casa Santa Ana, which provides an education to over 280 community students at kindergarten/Montessori, primary and secondary school level.
“The Batey Nuevo community knows how important NPH is to the area. We also know that it supports the most vulnerable children in the country. It helps break the chains of poverty for many people here, and it has done since it moved here in 2004. We thank NPH with all our hearts,” says Pablo.
Pablo aspires to great things for the future. Not only does he want to promote health, he also aims to be someone with greater potential in life, with more skills, experience and financial control. His overall desire is to see his son prosper and achieve his goals. Right now though, Pablo hopes that COVID-19 disappears once and for all, “so that the world will rise again, and everything returns to normal.”
*Names have been changed to protect individual privacy.
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