By building partnerships with international organizations, local solidarity movements, non-profit organizations and faith-based communities, the community advocates for services that public institutions neglect to provide. There is no doubt that these partnerships have provided valuable services, however challenges in their different models led me to wonder if these projects were being experienced by community members as changes that authentically, effectively and sustainably benefited the Batey.
By Keara Cormier-Hill. Harvard GSD. Published: Fall 2018
In 2015, by way of a fellowship placement with an international education-centered organization based in the Dominican Republic, I was introduced to Batey Libertad. Batey Libertad is a small, tight-knit, multi-generational community of about 2,000 residents in the Cibao Valley with a notable population of transient Haitian migrant workers and generations of Dominican born-families of Haitian descent, along with a number of Dominicans of non-Haitian descent.
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When you hear people say “batey”, you hear about a place where people that come from Haiti live together. Since Haitians are historically a group that has been discriminated against during the history of the Dominican Republic, to hear the word “batey” refers to a place of poverty, lack of everything, lack of jobs, lack of other advantages, lack of support. Batey Libertad resident - - -
At present, there are an estimated 425 bateyes in the Dominican Republic. Established in the era of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, former Dominican president and dictator who held power from 1930s to 1960s, bateyes were company-owned settlements with barracks created to house low-wage Haitian workers who were invited to work in nearby sugarcane fields for months at a time during the height of the sugar industry. They were not equipped to provide permanent or even adequate living situations for the families that lived in the barracks. Over time, families and communities were established in bateyes, though amenities did not follow and the sugar cane industry was on a decline. The bateyes were abandoned by government guards and their private owners. Workers looked for jobs elsewhere in an already tough economic climate, increasing the national tension between Haitians and Dominicans, a sentiment known as anti-haitianismo.
your life is illegalyou are told youmust leavethe only home you have ever known. you are told thisnot only with words, but with a brutal force and not one moment to proveyour legalityBatey Libertad resident- - -
Anti-Haitian sentiment was not a new arrival to the Dominican Republic and the government continues to seek ways to distinguish Dominicans from people of Haitian descent, despite the fact that they are a people that share the island’s story of origin, a people that helped to build Dominican wealth and a people that continue to do so. In September 2013, as many as 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic were stripped of their Dominican citizenship by a legislative act. In 2018, 5 years later, there still is no permanent solution.
As a historically marginalized community, Batey Libertad is often the last to receive the amenities and public services that surrounding communities receive such as 24-hour electricity, running and potable water, quality education and healthcare. In addition to this, it is not uncommon for the military to arbitrarily raid the batey and threaten mass deportations to Haiti, despite international criticism from human rights advocates.
- - - My favorite part of the batey is that, despite everything, everything, everything, despite the lack of opportunities in every sense, people still live happy there…We’re people that are very happy, as if the limitations and worries don’t affect us that much. And people that aren’t from the Batey sometimes don’t understand how people can be so happy living in a place like that. But it’s a reality, a reality that only we that are from there know.Batey Libertad resident- - -
Even, in the face of these challenges, the batey is a community of passionate, united members. This very passion in addition to the great need in the batey has attracted many community development initiatives from international institutions to the batey. By building partnerships with international organizations, non-profit organizations and faith-based communities, the community has acquired services that public institutions neglect to provide. There is no doubt that these partnerships have provided invaluable services, however challenging conversations with community members led me to wonder if these projects were being experienced by community members as changes that authentically, effectively and sustainably benefited the batey. With organizational changes occurring that impacted my former colleagues in the batey, the question became increasingly interesting to me.
Through interviews with 3 community members focused on the themes of leadership, innovation and need in the batey, I listened for their perspectives on a) what defines the batey b) notions of accountability and c) perception of role of community knowledge and involvement in change-making efforts, especially in the context of international work. I was motivated to these areas of focus by findings from research conducted The Cañada Project, an initiative based in Los Plantanitos, another marginalized community in the Dominican Republic established by the University of Texas Graduate Program in Community and Regional Planning. The project emphasized the foundational importance of the community members’ understanding of their community, their challenges and their resources when addressing community needs.
- - - Because, part of being a leader isn’t just saying, “Well, this is how I will become a leader.” No, you have to earn the trust of every person in the community for them to see leadership. So, they do that.Batey Libertad resident - - -
Additionally, I was influenced by contemporary critique around accountability and sustainability of international interventions. In Séverine Autesserre’s Peaceland, Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention, Autesserre offersthe understanding that local knowledge of everyday practices and narratives not only strongly impact the effectiveness of interventions across the globe. Organizations like the Accountability Lab build on this idea; in acknowledgement that local knowledge and investment is key to effective interventions and improved lives for citizens, local leaders’ knowledge, capacity and network is edified so that they are prepared to bring value in their key role of long-term advocacy.
Through the interviews, community members unveiled hopes for more educational opportunities, desires for a vibrant body of multiple community members leading community initiatives, and a vision of a Batey Libertad where poverty has been eradicated. There was a common longing for a definition of transformation where bateyeros see other bateyeros as secure, established and developed enough to themselves provide help for the batey.
The desire for more profound impact in the batey echoes a critique of tactical urbanism. Similar to the tactic of using active, short-term or low-cost interventions by designers to respond to needs left unaddressed by government authorities, external organizations came to the batey to provide immediate solutions in response to a multitude of issues. Equally similar, the non-institutional nature of the projects earn justifiable questioning regarding the adequacy of the project to address the great level of need that serves as an impetus for the projects.
- - - We want a community that, from generation to generation is independent of these kinds of programs. The goal of a sustainable project is that they stop existing along with the problem that they are trying to help.Batey Libertad resident- - -
Interviewers poignant acknowledgement of the transformational nature of international partnerships and, yet simultaneous understanding of the need for community-owned aid points to the need for these new models of change that emphasize accountability through local leaders and a respect for local knowledge.
If the sign of good leadership even amongst a community of little differences the ability to work collaboratively, this should be even more present when external organizations work on behalf of communities. The goal should be to co-create, not solely consult nor survey as the bare minimum for input. Instead, designers should embrace the idea that their purpose and perspective is no greater than those for which the intervention is designed.
- - - If there were more resources in the international institutions, there would be more professionals in the community, right here in Batey Libertad. It’s a poor community, but with a purpose and an aim, we’re going to reach our goal.Batey Libertad resident- - -
Without this as the target, projectized interventions miss the opportunity to spark the local community to create something ongoing that has the power to make profound change and disrupt systematic norms.
Interview #2: Felipe Barrios (pseudonym)
Felipe is a 23-year-old young man of Haitian descent. He was born and raised in Batey Libertad and moved to the United States in 2018. He is the son of a well-known community leader in the batey, a former teacher with an international foundation that operated in the batey, a scholarship recipient and was founder of his own soccer community initiative in the batey.
KC: Felipe, tell me about the batey in your own words.Ok, Batey Libertad is a very small, marginalized, modest community with many limitations in every sense. It’s a community that is very isolated from what’s average. For example, it’s as if it were it’s own world. But, in the last few years, thanks to some international visitors, it has been able to develop a little more, little opportunities are being created and the batey has achieved a lot. But above all, Batey Libertad is a community where poverty is very palpable.
KC: Can you tell me about your favorite part of the batey?My favorite part of the batey is that, despite everything, everything, everything, despite the lack of opportunities in every sense, people still live happy there. Like the young people, the kids, we’re people that are very happy, as if the limitations and worries don’t affect us that much. And people that aren’t from the batey sometimes don’t understand how people can be so happy living in a place like that. But it’s a reality, a reality that only we that are from there know and we use that to cope with everything.
KC: What do you think is the most profound need in the batey?There are many, like health and education. I think I would say that health and education are the most profound needs in the batey. Because people a lot of times, because of the lack of resources have had to fight against illnesses that affect them, many have had to go and ask for help or some kind of assistance. So, health is an important factor in the batey.
KC: And talk to me more about education.
Education. The batey, thank God, has had various scholarship programs or half scholarships, I don’t know what you would call them. And those have helped, honestly, many have benefited from them. I myself am one who, thanks to a scholarship could go to university. If it hadn’t been for that, there wouldn’t have been any way for me to go. We have been grateful for them, though there are still many more people who haven’t had the opportunity because the scholarships are sometimes not complete to give 100% of the university cost. Yeah, in education, we have been privileged because in other bateyes in the country, they don’t have this opportunity. But still, there’s a need for more tools, that aren’t just scholarships but also to reinforce your education. You have to keep helping yourself, preparing yourself as a person, as a student, and go through a process of economically establishing yourself. That support accompanied with a process of advising is also what I’m thinking about when I talk about education.
KC: In your opinion, who is a leader in the batey and how do you become a leader in the batey?Well, I don’t want to be…
KC: And also, if you want to talk about someone in your family, you can. Ok, because, I don’t want to be like, I don’t know. But, even if I wasn’t his son, I think that I would still say the same, Papito. He’s my father but it’s not because he’s my father that I say it. One, I have heard other people say that they consider him a leader. And he has brought a lot to the young people and has brought in many external groups. He’s a leader.
And Augustina too, who also works for the good of the community. Who else in the batey? Oh, Jonlico! Jonlico also is a leader, although he isn’t living in the batey, he’s in Cabarete. But, he is an activist with programs. And other people that work with Y Place. I would say Julio too.
KC: And how do you become a leader in the batey?To be a leader of the batey, a person has to use the problems of the batey without personal interest and create their own projects. And I don’t know, make it so… hold on, let me start over.
First, to be a leader in the batey, you have to take into account the interests of the batey, you have to see what’s most needed in the batey and, together with other people, from the batey, you can present or create or look for resources to help the different situations, and there are a lot. To be a leader in the batey, you have to be from the batey, in my opinion. Like, I don’t believe in leaders that come here and say that they are leaders. Instead, you have to really know what the batey is and, how the batey is. Like, you have to have your roots in the batey to be a leader in the batey. It’s not because you have a certain social or economic position that’s better than the people in the batey that you become a leader. A leader doesn’t have to necessarily do that, take a position or a title. Instead, you really want to help and understand how everything functions.
KC: What people do you think are innovators in the batey? How does one become an innovator in the batey?Well, I think the people that I mentioned. To be an innovator, I think it doesn’t stand apart from the experience of being a leader. It’s almost the same, they are the people that are from the batey, they know how everything works and their interest for the community is over any personal interest. For me, that’s an innovator or what it takes to be a leader in the batey. Also, that you see things beyond surface level. Like you don’t conform, you can bring other ways of thinking to other people. Also, a person that can turn their thoughts into a reality.
KC: What things would you change about the way that they address need in the batey?Well, of course, everything. To have a new way of doing things, making things new. Although there are known leaders and innovators. It should be that young leaders are able to emerge. It’s always good, I wouldn’t say to change or to take things away, but always to modify and to have more people doing it. Because, one person alone can’t know of all of the necessities of every individual in the batey. And it shouldn’t be that someone is the automatic choice. It’s always good to modify.
KC: In terms of the foundations and international groups, what things do you think work with them and what things would you change?The thing that I think should keep happening is the scholarships, the construction of houses to take down the old houses; ILAC does that right now. What else? The help they offer in terms of health in a lot of different areas. All of the programs Y Place does, I worked there, as you know. Yeah, with everything that’s being done, to me, they’re good things. To improve, I think it’s difficult to say because you can always improve.
KC: You worked for an international foundation, what things do you think, after working there, you would change?Oh, if it’s like that. I would say, I don’t know because I know that the board has made a lot of changes, but to improve, I think that a lot of the resources that the organization receives should be used more for the work in the batey. I have heard, first, that they decide to put a lot for the volunteers and their houses. I know that the volunteers don’t have jobs, they don’t have salaries, I think they deserve to live well because they don’t pay them. But at the same time, there are other ways to show appreciation and to give them a better livelihood here. Like, use the funds in the batey. I don’t know, look for a house in the batey, like remodel one that is already here so they can live in the batey or at least find a house that cost a little less. Because they spend a lot in Esperanza in super expensive houses that we, who live in the batey, will never live. A person from the batey, when they hear how much they pay in rent, how many millions of pesos, one’s surprised because no one, or the majority of people, have ever paid so much, and when we hear that, we think of a rich person or a person that is abusing the funds that one knows is for direct use for the program and the work that is done in the batey. So, things like that. Now I don’t know if that’s changed in a year because I’m not working with Y Place now and I know there are a lot of changes.
But in other programs, I know that there are changes to make as well. In other programs, I know that there are some changes to make too, like Cruzando Fronteras, there are always things to improve. For example, the students that come to visit, they never stay in the batey. They always come and they leave to go somewhere else to sleep. So, it feels like they aren’t really interested in sharing in the experience of the batey. They come for a couple of hours in the batey and then they go to the city. And I also think they need to create more leaders in the programs, so it’s not only my father. I think also to have something that’s not necessarily a program, but more centralized. Like for education, a mix of two programs like Y Place and Cruzando Fronteras. Some things that Y Place does, Cruzando Fronteras does too. I think that both should work better or closer to the community. And to create projects or scholarships with more resources to help students prepare academically with more workshops.
Interview #2: Salome Antonio (pseudonym)
Salome is a mother of three; 2 of her children are enrolled in Yspaniola programs. She is a host mom for an international organization that works in the batey meaning international students stay in her home when they are visiting for projects. She is also a volunteer with Progresando con Solidaridad (Progressing with Solidarity), a government program that provides cash benefits, technical training and other resources to families in need.
KC: Talk to me about the batey. How would you describe it?Well, since the batey is a very poor community, you know, I would describe it with a lot of difficulties. To be a batey, just to call somewhere a batey means poverty. So, for that reason, the solidarity work that I do is to help the community a little, the poorest and the ones with the most needs.
KC: And can you tell me your favorite part of the batey?Well, in reality, I don’t have a favorite part. It’s all the same. For me, everything is kind of equal. I’m content with everything. (laughs)
KC: What is the most profound need in the batey?The greatest need in the batey is education. Because, you know if we drive our kids to be someone in society and show them that they can study, and we help them study, that’s how we will eliminate poverty. Because, when you study, that’s where poverty is stopped. If you study to become a professional, you won’t be poor anymore. I also think, in terms of children, that they are always in the streets. We need to care for them better, maybe through a daycare, because even though there are programs like Y Place, we need a place where children can stay longer. It would be much better, because they would be able to keep learning, keep educating themselves and they aren’t going to be in the streets.
KC: And do you think that you have seen the benefits of how education can affect the batey? Like do you think the benefits already exist or it’s something that, little by little, it’s happening?Little by little, the goal is being reached that all youth study in a university career. But, despite whatever program that exists for education here, it doesn’t affect all of the students. Or, at least, it can’t affect them because there are too many students and not enough resources. So, the problem is that, if you already finish high school, to go to university, it’s costly and a lot of students can’t afford it. I don’t know if there is someone that can help with that so that there is less poverty in the community and there will be more professionals.
KC: Who is a leader in the batey?I think that Papito is a leader in the batey. Papito for the Haitian part, because we are a Dominican – Haitian community. I think there are two leaders here. Papito in the Haitian community and Augustina in the Dominican community. They help get medical equipment and houses. And through them, we can learn about the things that affect our community?
KC: How did they become leaders in the community?They have become leaders in the community, I would say because of the respect that we have for them. Because, part of being a leader isn’t just saying, “Well, this is how I will become a leader.” No, you have to earn the trust of every person in the community for them to see leadership. So, they do that. They have been supporters that help the community because of all that they have created and also, with the organizations and different institutions and through them, they have become leaders.
KC: And which people do you think are innovators in the batey and how did they become innovators?There are many innovators because there are people who have gone and studied and come back and bring the things that they have studied to the batey. So, they are already professionals and they come and give help with a purpose. So, the youth get inspired every time because they start thinking about what they can be or thinking about what they can do.
KC: What things would you change about the way in which needs are addressed in the batey?I would change the cleanliness of the batey. Here, there needs to be a community clean-up. Also, I would change the perspective of others that live here so that they can see that there are admirable people here.
KC: What things do you like about the way in which international foundations help? What things would you change about the way international foundations help?For me, I like that they help with housing and with education. Because before, there were many people that were without a home or better said, a house, and thanks to the international institutions, now we have them. And many would not have been able to study but thanks to the international institutions, they’re doing it. Although, I would change it so that they are helping more youth to study to be what the want to be or study what they want to study. Because, if there were more resources in the international institutions, there would be more professionals in the community, right here in Batey Libertad. So, it’s a poor community, but with a purpose and an aim, we’re going to reach our goal.
KC: And for you, what is your dream for the batey?Have the young people finish high school and have the majority, even if it’s only 95% be professionals and come back to work here in their own community so that, with the knowledge they give, they attract children from here to want to achieve a goal for the future, whatever they want to achieve.
KC: And when you started the solidarity program, what was your motivation?My motivation was to help the neediest people because this program is voluntary. For example, the families are volunteers and, through the work that I do, there are many people that have taken technical courses that help bring them out of poverty. I collaborate with the community and that’s how we reach our goals. I do monitoring and follow-up in the program and I see the importance of it and the people that are interested in reaching the goal of the program, that’s why we call it: “Progressing with Solidarity”.
KC: And do you think that if this project were bigger, you would see different things in the batey?Yes, if this project was bigger, it would be very different. Because I always have more people to visit and more people to help because there are a lot of people in poverty that don’t have the solidarity card. So, they aren’t in the program, they aren’t in the courses. And if more programs come to achieve a more stable goal, there will be no more poverty.
KC: And what do you think would have to happen in order to have more people working in the program or to make the program bigger?It’s a government program, you know. So, the things that come from the government take a lot of time, especially when it comes to people that have the most needs. It’s good that they took initiative but some times, they don’t manage things correctly.
Interview #3: Jorge Lorenzo (pseudonym)
Jorge is a community organizer in his late 20s. Though he was born in the Dominican Republic, he has been denied documentation, inhibiting from traveling as a Dominican. He works as Program Director at Yspaniola, was a recipient of the Yspaniola scholarship and worked in capacity skills development in another international foundation prior to working with Yspaniola.
KC: Jorge, can you talk to me about the batey in your own words?Ok, well, I’m not going to use somebody else’s words…
KC: Ok, you know what…Well, ok, in my own words, the batey is a unique community in the Dominican Republic; there is no name like it in other places. When you hear people say batey, you hear about a place where people that come from Haiti live together. Since Haitians are historically a group that has been discriminated against during the history of the Dominican Republic, to hear the word batey refers to a place of poverty, lack of everything, lack of jobs, lack of other advantages, lack of support.
If you go to the batey, you will see this kind of necessity from the outside because the reality is, they don’t receive any support. In terms of the people, the people have a unique habit of coming together. And it’s not just Haitians that live there, Dominicans also live there. There are people with a lot of potential, but they don’t have the opportunity to use it because they are excluded and lack educational and economic opportunities.
KC: Describe your favorite part of the bateyMy favorite part of the batey is the importance of family, the unity between the community members that are always there to help you, to greet you. That love and affection.
KC: What is the greatest need in the batey?There are so many. I think that the economic opportunities, employment, inability to secure work, anything that has to do with the economy.
KC: Who is a leader in the batey? How does one become a leader in the batey?There are many professors that are educating children and youth and showing them that the education system is to help develop them and give them better preparation. They also give support to the community in another sense. Because, to be a professor you have to be motivated, and this is the image that we want to see in the community; that it’s a community with a strong sense of education. There are other people that work for the good of the community in other ways. Augustina, for example and other women that work to bring programs that support the community and are always looking for solutions to social and economic problems. For me, a leader is each person that takes initiative and has an idea that will benefit the community.
KC: What people do you think are innovators in the batey? How do you become an innovator in the batey?Talking about innovation in the batey is a little complex because there could be a lot of innovative people, but there aren’t many opportunities to innovate so it’s complicated. Innovation is when someone takes initiative but, another form of innovating is when you have something and you have a platform to innovate from. But there isn’t much opportunity here, but not for lack of motivation. A very good example of innovation is that, in the school in the batey, the school principal and two teachers are teaching robotics to the students, things that they have never seen and computing and other education initiatives. Or Papito; he’s one of those people that, when there was nothing in the batey, like not a lot of solutions, he took what he had and made something of it.
KC: What are things that you would change about how they address problems in the batey?I would change everything. Not because the programs aren’t good. They are very good. Thanks to them, you can see the community developing, houses are being constructed, education, everything. They should continue existing so that people that receive these benefits, services, or projects still receive them. But, if there was a crisis or the people didn’t have an opportunity to get them, we wouldn’t be able to go on. For example, if there isn’t the project with the houses, there would be people who can’t have new homes. Or, the same with the scholarships, if there isn’t the program, they aren’t going to be able to get one.
Like, every time we have a project that is for a period of 20 years, it’s like and then, how will the community go on? There would be a need for that.
KC: So, if I understand you well, there is a problem of sustainability because the programs don’t have roots in the batey. So, it’s like they can be here today and not tomorrow?We want that they aren’t here tomorrow! We want that because what we want is that it’s eliminated. We want a community that, from generation to generation is independent of these kinds of programs. Like the goal of a sustainable project is that they stop existing along with the problem that they are trying to help.
KC: What are things that you like about the way in which international foundations help in the batey and what things would you change? Well, I think that I like everything because they are contributing in every situation that exists. For example, look at construction. A family has a house that has 4, 5, who knows up to 9 people living in only one room, there’s no bathroom or kitchen or living room and everybody obviously is sleeping in the one room. Perhaps the house is without cement and has floors without cement. This brings a lot of health problems. It’s an unhealthy environment. So, the construction of the cement houses with the cement floors, a place to cook, where there is also an extra room for the kids or other people to sleep comes. There is space to sleep. I think that’s a good contribution to a problem that exist.
Also, education. Every child should have the ability to go to university, to learn more, to have more opportunities in their life and to have more intellectual capacity. If they don’t have it, they have less opportunities in their lives and less possibilities. For example, Juan’s nephew. He should be 18 or 19. But because there isn’t a good education system, he doesn’t know how to read or write. So, they couldn’t keep him in elementary school anymore because he was already a man in the midst of kids and the system couldn’t keep him with school children. They had to send him to a school outside of the batey that was for adults, but he couldn’t go because he had to pay for transportation. So, he stopped going to school. So, those are the kinds of things that affect a lot of kids. Because there isn’t a good system, they don’t learn, and they can’t go to the next grade and they stay there until they have to drop out because they need transportation and everything to go to other schools.
KC: What are the things that you think they are failing to do in the batey? It can be the community, the government, the international foundations, whichever of those. What things are they failing to do to make the batey reach the moment of sustainability where you finally see a different situation?So many things that it is difficult to pick one because we are starting. Like a country that has just won its independence is just beginning to build itself.
Maybe a professional development center to educate people in different areas. I’m referring to technical abilities for adolescents, children and adults. Like a center for teaching technology, things that teach you different abilities so that people can take care of themselves, they can work and they can take care of their own families and they can do businesses with others. Also, now we have for every four houses a corner store selling the same thing. I think we need to expose them to other possibilities so that they know that there are other things out there to want.
Lexicon keywords: Accountability, Community Knowledge, Placemaking
Keara Cormier-Hill is currently a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) with interests in using education as a tool for promoting community-level wellness and empowerment through youth, especially in groups marginalized by race, economic status and gender. Prior to HGSE, Keara collaborated with youth-centered international organizations in the Dominican Republic for two years as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow. Combined with previous experience supporting poverty reduction programs in incubator stages through the DC Social Innovation Project and asset-based community development projects for playspaces at KaBOOM!, her work led her to explore many models of community building and critically analyze what is being built and established. Keara has earned a Master of Education in Prevention Science and Practice with a focus in Adolescent Counseling from HGSE and her Child Protection Certificate from Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights.