During the second day of our trip, students and chaperones spent the day at the Bateyes starting and finishing some service projects as well as getting to know more people in the local community. The Bateyes are communities of migrant workers, mostly Haitian workers, in the Dominican Republic.
At 7:30 this morning, all 24 of us were downstairs at the breakfast table, feasting on potatoes and fruit (and, of course, peanut butter sandwiches) after our much-needed sleep. We loaded up into two little buses and took off to Monte Coca Batey in the province of Hato Mayor. A 30 minute bus ride through the neighboring town and countryside, and we were there at 8 a.m. Splitting into two groups, some of us built latrines while the rest traveled to a neighboring batey to lay cement floors.
We were all shocked at the living conditions we saw. Although we expected poverty, the amount of trash was greater than what we imagined. Many people had only dirt floors, and no place to use the bathroom in their home. The houses were barely more than shacks, and mattresses shoved together created bedrooms.
At the sight of all this, we sweated away mixing cement, hauling sand, lifting cinder blocks, and pouring concrete. We headed back to Ascala for lunch, and at 2 p.m., we were on the road to the Bateyes again. After finishing the cement floors and exploring the batey, our group met with the others and we finished some more of the latrine. By 5:30 p.m. were back at Ascala, and took some of the best cold showers we’ve had in our lives. We also got the opportunity to hear the nuns who run Ascala speak, in Spanish, about the problems the community faces- the whys, whats, and hows of the sights we saw during the day. They also spoke of the work done by Ascala to support the community. Ascala provides a wide range of services from legal representation to medical care for the people that live in the Batayes.
At the end of the day we had a debriefing where everyone shared something that shocked them positively and something that shocked them negatively. You’ve already heard about the living conditions, but you haven’t heard about the people’s attitudes. Everyone was so thankful and excited- even though there may have been 12 of us and two of them, they were always jumping in to help! Although many of us are rusty in our Spanish, or don’t speak it at all, that didn’t stop them from learning our names and communicating with us. In the Batey, Spanish music blared from speakers, and because it was Sunday (the sugarcane workers are off), everyone was out and about. The love and liveliness that the people shared with us and each other was absolutely astounding. Despite having the worse living conditions I’ve seen and odds stacked against them, the people were so positive and overwhelmingly grateful.
For every ton of sugarcane a worker in these communities produces, they earn a little less than three dollars. They have dirt floors and at times struggle to feed their families, yet they still have a smile on their face and love to give. As Thanksgiving approaches, I encourage you to take a moment and go out of your way to do something for someone else. Two days in these Bateyes, and we have help improved the communities’ quality of life for years to come, and all we had were buckets of cement. Imagine what you could do for someone in your life! As we continue to be humbled and grateful for this experience, take a moment to appreciate what you have, and not what you don’t.