My name is Abby Burris, and I am a senior in the Global Studies program here at Darlington! I’m from Cedartown, Ga., and have been attending Darlington since freshman year. I am also heavily involved in the theatre here at Darlington, and serve as President of the Community Service Team, Vice President of the Wildlife Appreciation Club, and as a prefect in Regester House (in addition to being a member of many clubs here at Dar!)
I’ve always been someone who loved to travel and explore the world around me, and so I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Global Studies program here at Darlington! Coming from a small town, I was eager to widen my understanding of global culture and environment, and the Global Studies Program did that for me!
To fulfill my Global Studies program requirements, I took a Global Issues class, participated in Model UN all four years, learned to speak Spanish by taking a class each year, and then went on a trip overseas to report on a specific issue. When I first came to Darlington, the only Spanish I knew was hola (and unfortunately, that’s not much of an exaggeration!). Thanks to Spanish teachers who encouraged me to learn about Spanish culture and traditions, not just the language, I fell in love with learning Spanish! We served as a host family for two host students from Spain my freshman and sophomore year, and they strongly influenced my love for Spanish language and culture! When junior year came around and I learned of the trip to the Dominican Republic, I was ecstatic! I had the perfect opportunity to combine my love of Spanish and service to document an issue affecting the Batey communities in the Dominican Republic, and I jumped at the chance! In November of 2018, I flew down to the Dominican Republic and spent Thanksgiving Break focusing on serving the community and creating this mini-documentary! My video focuses on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #6, Clean Water and Sanitation. These goals are something that we studied intensively in Model UN, and I was thrilled to get to use what I learned in a new, global setting!
Batey Communities of Haitian Migrants in the Dominican Republic lack adequate living conditions and resources to improve them. Unclean water, dirt floors, and no access to healthcare or sustainable work is often the reality of these communities.
Batey communities in the Dominican Republic are plagued by unsanitary and inaccessible water. According to the World Water Council, 85% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to safe water, and 49% lack access to sanitation. Without clean water, exposure to preventable diarrheal diseases and malnutrition are increased, particularly affecting children. The U.N statistics further reiterate the severity of the situation, as an estimated “1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases” each day. When we arrived in the rural mountain village of Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, we were instructed to build an aqueduct that would provide water to multiple houses. Although Jarabacoa was luckily located near a freshwater waterfall, they had no reliable system to access the water- by the time water was received, it was polluted & dirty despite being from a dependable source. Coffee was a common drink because as they boiled and brewed it, some bacteria in the water was killed by the extreme heat. This is not a long term solution, however, and by providing the families with adequate drinking water, diarrheal-based diseases and malnutrition can be avoided. Unfortunately, most batey communities are still weighted down by inadequate access and sanitation of water, creating unhealthy and unsustainable living conditions. Furthermore, due to the extreme poverty of Batey communities and lack of access to resources, many residents are helpless for improvement.
As a result of the extreme poverty taking root in the Dominican Bateyes, living conditions are inadequate. Many roofs are no more than sheets of tin, walls are made of scrap wood and metal, and the floors are nonexistent- they are only packed dirt. According to Erin B Taylor’s Materializing Poverty, “in situations where assistance is widely available, but cannot be accessed for lack of money or entitlement, then people can be said to be poor.” Due to these slum-like living conditions, there is a spread of disease & little opportunity for healthcare. The dirt floors infiltrate their way into clothing, bedding, furniture, food, and onto inhabitants. Naturally, this produces a spread of diseases and further deteriorates quality of life for Batey residents. When we visited the Monte Coca Batey in Hato Mayor, Dominican Republic, we built cement floors for families to provide them with the ability for house and health improvement. Although we were able to improve the lives of a few families, most Batey inhabitants are faced with the reality of a shack without a floor for a house and little ability for cleanliness and disease prevention.
Many members of the Batey communities are marginalized Haitian migrants working in the sugarcane fields for less than two dollars a day. Because they are often undocumented, they cannot get access to government aid or healthcare, and are unable to apply for sustainable work. As the Journal of Tropical Medicine explains, “barriers to healthcare experienced include insufficient health insurance coverage, geographic restrictions, and limited understanding of or trust in the local healthcare system arising from reports of humiliation and discrimination”. Essentially, workers are brought into the Dominican Republic from Haiti by sugarcane companies and promised work and housing. As the documentary The Price of Sugar claims, migrants were often robbed of their papers at the border and promised much more than what they received. Once the workers are in the Batey communities, they’re virtually stuck. Even if workers are able to save up enough money to purchase documents of citizenship, they are oftentimes rejected and spurned by natural-born Dominicans. In David Howard’s article Dominican Republic Spurns Haitian Migrants, he states: “In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are linked with vodu, a belief system and practice which many Dominicans associate with evil. Haitian migrants are scapegoated as the harbingers of moral and medical decay, their presence blamed for such problems as malaria in rural settlements and the spread of AIDS.” Additionally, FROM HIDDEN HAND TO HEAVY HAND: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic claims that “labor changed from something resembling free wage labor into a government-managed system of semi-coerced exploitation”. If the inhabitants of Batey communities are powerless to fix their conditions due to societal and economic prejudices, there can be no expected improvement, causing the Bateyes to sink deeper into poverty with no escape.
Although the problems of Dominican Bateyes may appear far away, there are many steps we can do here at home to help prevent poverty and exploitation. By purchasing and using only fair trade sugar, companies that exploit Dominican-Haitian migrants and trap them in poverty lose power and support. The poverty of Dominican Bateyes are a repeating pattern in many societies in the world, including here in the U.S- by gaining knowledge and exposure, we can be active in supporting societies in poverty around the world through aid, giving, and support.
This experience completely changed my thoughts as a consumer and a global citizen. I now try to be purposeful in my purchases, and think twice about what I’m buying and how it’s affecting those behind the scenes. Additionally, this trip really taught me a lot about the value of community and how important it is in our daily lives. Although the Batey residents may not have had much in the way of physical items, they had endless joy, love, and support for one another, which is exactly what the Darlington community has shown to me and the rest of my senior class this year. Since the Dominican Republic I have traveled to Ghana doing Prison Ministry, and went to Peru with Rustic Pathways this past Thanksgiving to help build gardens for a girls’ dormitory. Being able to go to the Dominican Republic opened my mind and allowed me to be present throughout my future travels. I will never forget all of the love that I saw in the Dominican Bateyes and hope to not only continue supporting them from afar, but travel back one day in the future.