Featured Writer: Billy Asare
This July, I will have the opportunity to visit impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic, called the bateyes. For this trip, I am accompanying a group of faithful and compassionate members of the Church of God Valley of Blessings in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Led by my uncle, Reverend Adler Jean-Louis, the church frequently visits the bateyes to help meet the desperate needs of those who live in these communities. The church provides food, clothing, medical aid, prayer, and encouragement.
Driven by compassion, members of the Church of God Valley of Blessings provide food for the bateye residents.
The bateyes predominantly consist of Haitians who left their homeland to work in the agricultural industry in the Dominican Republic. These workers have little to no rights on the job, and they are subjected to conditions comparable to slavery at work for awfully low wages. With such inadequate income, the only option for a home is in the bateyes, which resemble life in a past century. Generally, the bateyes lack schools, medical facilities, and even clean water. The homes are just a few square feet in size and usually lack electricity and toilets. Batey Relief Alliance, an organization that seeks to help the many suffering in the bateyes, gives a chilling description of the living conditions for the Haitian workers and their families.
[According to Batey Relief, the bateyes consist of] tiny, drafty shacks built with mud and split canes, often next to large dumps or open sewers. The small rooms the population shares often lack basic hygiene. In some bateyes, there are no sewage systems, electricity, running water, trash collection or paved streets…only ditches filled with muddy, parasite-ridden water and garbage heaps with rats, flies, mosquitoes, and wild dogs. Sanitation facilities or latrines are as minimal as can be allowed for human existence. These shortcomings unfortunately create conditions for diseases where there are virtually no medical dispensaries or drugs. Life expectancy is very low when compared to the statistics for the Dominican Republic. Teenage prostitution and pregnancy complete the picture, as these unemployed young women find the only ‘work’ available. The upshot is a meteoric rise in the spread of AIDS, and a very high infant mortality rate.
What is the underlying reason for this injustice? Unfortunately, it largely has to do with race. The UN Refugee Agency released a report that mentioned that in the Dominican Republic, Haitians are “stigmatized because of the combination of their dark skin colour, low income level/social ranking, clothing quality and especially because they have steadfastly retained many of their traditional ancestral cultural values and modes. Therefore[,] they are seen as being not ‘European’ enough, and above all ‘too African.’” In the book Coloring the Nation, David Howard states that “Dominican nationalism has been colored by a pervasive racism, centered on a rejection of African ancestry and blackness. . . . Negritud is associated in popular Dominican opinion with the Haitian population. Dominicanidad, on the other hand, represents a celebration of whiteness, Hispanic heritage and Catholicism.”
Along with providing tangible relief, the Church of God Valley of Blessings also intends to provide hope that there is more to life than what is visible in the bateyes.
As the necessity for agricultural help remain and as the opportunity to earn an income in Haiti continues to remain scarce, more Haitians will eventually move to these communities destined for a fate of extreme poverty and discrimination. For this reason, I want to take part in trying to improve the lives of the people in the bateyes. As I wait for July to come, my prayer is that my heart is prepared for this journey. I pray that the words of Matthew 9:36 vividly describe my feelings when I see those who are suffering: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless.” And as I wait for July, I pray that I look at all who may be suffering right in front of me with this same compassion.
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