Category: Honors service (page 2 of 5)

Day 6: Batey Libertad

Alarm went off at 6:30am this morning, waking me up to our last official day in Batey Libertad. I don’t want to think about. Thankfully, there is plenty to do. Waking up at 6:30 is not as exhausting as it sounds—at least, not as exhausting as it would sound to my pre-trip self!


Breakfast was simple bread rolls and avena (a sweet drink that is kind of like oatmeal in a cup). It might not sound like much, but it was plenty food to fill our bellies. Probably because we are up so early, mornings are spent journaling and/or reading and playing with Dawenza our “host niece” or whatever little kid stops by.


Our first activity of the day was to talk with Pepito.  Pepito is the unofficial leader of the Batey. His family has lived there from the time it was called San Rafael. He spent a few minutes of the morning telling us all about the history of the Batey and how it has developed over the course of time.


 As Pepito spoke, I grew to understand the importance of the readings we had done before traveling. The batey started out being a place for Haitian migrant workers to live during planting and harvesting season, when they travelled into the Dominican Republic to work for the sugar cane companies. Over time, it became a place for people to live instead of only for temporary lodging, that is when the name changed from San Rafael to Batey Libertad. Without having the context of the readings beforehand, I think Pepito’s story would have been harder for me to understand.


 It is interesting to think about how much the Batey has changed. While by American standards the Batey may be terribly impoverished, there has been improvement over time. As Pepito described it, I began to feel renewed appreciation for the people who lived there and the place they called home. Whereas before, people would have had to carry water from a distance, there are now standing pipes where people can get water two times a week. It is limited to those times because the water has to be accessed by a gasoline pump that the community pays to operate. Also, most of the original barracks where people used to live are gone, replaced by block (concrete brick) homes.


 Still, despite the improvements, there is still so much more that can and should be done. Originally, the sugar companies were in charge of maintaining the bateys, but when the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic collapsed under pressure from US competitors, so did the supervising body for many bateys. Even now, the government has not stepped in to replace the sugar companies and has not been supportive of the communities efforts to improve the conditions in Batey Libertad. In fact, it took four years for the government to run water pipes the 2 kilometers from Esperanza to the Batey. Even with this improvement, the water pipes still sit across the road, unconnected to the Batey water system; leaving the community to rely on the gasoline pump. It is a situation that smarts with the discrimination faced by people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. That is why, when Pepito explained that many in Batey Libertad want to change the name to just Libertad, I wanted to clap my hands in agreement.



After meeting with Pepito, we had the opportunity to buy some of the merchandise made in the batey. The students sold bracelets that they made with plastic straps and yarn. They also sold a CD put together by Felix and Wilson. The women, including Nick and Tim Dagastino’s host mom, TiMami, sold candles and purses that they had made. All of the money that they made either went toward the Batey women’s fund or to pay for school expenses. I bought two bracelets , a purse and the CD (which I can’t wait to take advantage of!). Looking at all the merchandise, I was once again impressed with the industriousness of the people that live in the batey as I have been so many times on this trip.


After lunch of arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) Juli and I joined the others to continue doing resource development. Kisha and I were assigned to contact paper word cards for the students. It is much harder than it sounds, but it was so worth it, and we were never lacking for willing helpers! The Batey kids were always up for a craft.


We were also able to read with the children in during reading hour in the (El Centro de Aprendizaje) Learning Center’s library. As an elementary education major, it was fun to interact with the kids in an education setting. The skills of the children run the gamut from way below age-appropriate reading level to above reading level. I began to look at the work that Yspaniola was doing in the learning center in a new light. In an education system as broken and dysfunctional as the Dominican Republic’s, it is reassuring to know that there are programs in place to enrich the kids’ education. Learning is something that is dear to my heart and I feel both sad and happy at once thinking about the children I met. I am glad they have the center, but sadden by the obstacles they have to overcome to receive quality education.



On another note, the English exchange was a lot of fun. I got to speak in English, Spanish and Creole. Amy, one of the Yspaniola interns, facilitated the whole exercise. We had about a short amount of time with each person, which was split between languages. If we were exchanging Creole and English, for example, some time was spent on each language. We each had a list of questions that we could ask like, what is your name? how many brothers and sisters do you have? Etc. After each interaction we would rotate tables until we made it all the way around the circle of tables.



At the end, Nick, both Tims and I all engaged in an impromptu Creole-Spanish exchange with some of the girls in the batey. It was so much fun!


 Finally, after dinner, we enjoyed our despedida (going away party)! The night opened with a traditional Haitian Folk play. Although it was performed in Haitian Creole with Rosa’s help, I was able to piece together to story.


It was a simple tale about a young woman who, on advice of her friend, acquired many suitors. Each came to her promising money—although some, like the poor farmer, clearly did not have any. Now she did not really want to marry these men so she told them all to come at four for her decision. Being faithful suitors, they all arrived at four only to be cast out of the house by the young woman’s irate father. It was a hysterical rendition of the tale complete with outrageous costumes and a final dance.


Right afterwards, we gave out the shirts to the Yspaniola volunteers.



Then it was time for our own dance party in front of the Learning Center. It was so much fun! Emilio (one of my host brothers) did much of the music selection and as a result we ended up dancing the night away in 3 languages!


I also learned how to dance Bachata! It is surprisingly simple but nonetheless enjoyable. At the end, we all went out on the Play (open field in the Batey) and continued talking and laughing until our tired bodies forced us to bed. It was a wonderful night to end on.


I’ll never forget talking and laughing under the stars, distinguishing each other by voices alone at times, relishing every minute and not even caring if the Spanish wasn’t quite right. I will never forget it, and I will miss it when I think of it. I will miss the Play too, and the Learning Center. I will miss it all, but mostly, I will miss the people here.




Batey Libertad. There is no place like it in the whole world.

~Camille Fontenelle, 2016



Day 5: Batey Libertad y El Chorro

This morning, my roommate and I woke up, sweaty as usual, and had ourselves a breakfast of penne pasta, bread and some sort of instant fruit juice mix. An interesting selection, but I wasn’t really hungry till lunchtime so I guess it did its job. We got ready, even with though there were little squirts begging us to play with them constantly. They were intrigued with our stuff, always popping into our bedroom, fishing through the stuff on the bedside table and acting as nice walking hazards. They were adorable but we definitely had to add an extra 10 minutes every morning to ensure we would make the meeting times.



This particular morning, the group met at the learning center in the batey to do more resource creation, in addition to some class observation. Since I was one of the people who didn’t go yesterday, I went into the learning center in the morning to observe the class that was being taught by Cory, one of the Yspaniola workers. The class was for younger kids (maybe around ages 6-8?) and it was focused on learning the alphabet. They had a set of exercise that went through sets of letters and the kids learned the name, the pronunciation and a word that starts with the letter. There was also a volunteer from the batey who was probably about 12 years old that was running an activity for the other half of the students on the other side of the room. A die was thrown and the kids had to provide the same information on whatever letter showed up. After half the time, the two groups of students switched and in total, class lasted about an hour.



 Being in this classroom confirmed my feelings that I could never be a teacher. Though I can’t say I’ve been in an American kindergarten classroom lately, I can imagine a lot of the same situations are encountered and those teachers also need very high patience levels. They were so energetic – talking constantly, yelling, clapping, causing mischief, not participating, pouting, hiding under the table – and Cory was a pro at handling it. There were some very well-behaved students, as you may expect to find in any classroom, but I could only focus on the prominent ones that required special attention. For whatever reason, the kids were more well-behaved at the 12 year old’s station, which I found to be very interesting. However, in the end, most of the students had grasped the material and understood the concepts that Cory was trying to get across.




 After my group finished observing in the classroom, we headed back outside to work on some more flash cards and bananas while the final group went in to observe for the last hour. Nothing too interesting to report other than that we are getting really good at using contact paper by this point. We are also pros at keeping the scissors from the kids to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Unfortunately, we are less successful with the markers and there are currently some arms that could rival Miami ink.




 Once everyone was out of the classroom and our supplies were cleaned up, we headed to the building where we had Deportes Para la Vida for the town-wide rice eating competition. We all gathered into this tiny building and plates and utensils were passed out. There were approximately 20 participants including all of the guys from our trip and even Kisha and Alex! Then the food was brought out. I have never seen a larger portion of rice in my entire life. A platter about two feet wide was piled a foot high with white rice. Everybody then dished themselves a very generous helping of rice and a pot of chicken was passed around as well to add some flavor to the rice. Then it began. Everyone was stuffing their faces. Some dropped out early, others just kept eating and even went back for more. The Americans held their own pretty well, and Kisha definitely impressed people with her stomach capacity. There was no judging criteria so it was difficult to tell who won, but it was just a lot of fun to get the town together and eat some really good food.





 Once the competitors’ digestive systems had some time to recuperate after the gargantuan lunch, a large group of both Americans and bateyeros piled into a van for a 15 minute drive to the trailhead for el chorro, the waterfall. The hike was along the river; constantly crossing it led to many wet feet. People in flip-flops had no issue, but those in sneakers were a bit less fortunate. The hike was mostly among the trees; so it was fairly shady and, therefore, not too hot– though you can’t escape the humidity.


 After a 30 minute walk or so, we reached the waterfall.  At the base of the waterfall, it got to about 6 feet deep so you could do some swimming in there. Some people climbed a few feet up the rock and jumped in, others played chicken, and some just sat and watched the shenanigans. It was very refreshing to get in the water and being under the waterfall was a great back massage. Many a Facebook profile picture came from this hike, and rightfully so – it was beautiful and everyone there was having a great time, celebrating being in the batey.


When we got back, we had some free time, so I went back to the play to join in on the soccer game for day number 3. By this point, my legs were starting to be sore, but they were starting to trust me with the ball and weren’t afraid to pass it to me. I even got two assists which was awesome! These kids are so incredibly good that I was thrilled that I contributed. Just like at home, mom called us for supper during the game so Tim W. and I headed back to our house for a delicious spaghetti dinner.


 Once dinner was over, the group assembled at the center for tutoring hours. This is where kids from the batey would bring their homework that they have trouble with and the volunteers help them work through their issues. I set up camp with two girls who were having math homework woes and together, we figured out how to solve adding problems with 3 numbers. It was a very rewarding experience watching the kids do the problems on their own and I almost felt like a proud big brother. Other people helped out with reading, writing and I thought I saw a history book out but I could be wrong. Overall, it was a fun way to spend the evening and as I said, it was quite rewarding.


 When we had finished tutoring hours, we made our nightly pilgrimage to the play for some activities. Usually this just meant standing around talking with some of the older volunteers while the young kids ran in between our legs. But occasionally, there would be some sort of physical game that was initiated. Tonight though, it began to rain shortly after we arrived so that put the kibosh on the play for the evening. We gathered under a little hut in the center of the town but I left shortly after at the request of my host sister. We sat in the house and played card games by candlelight until, for whatever reason, the lights came on. The electricity schedule in my house confused me but I wasn’t about to complain about it. My host brothers and I found the USA vs. Mexico soccer match on TV so we watched that till it was time for bed.



All in all, it was a very eventful day for us travelers. I know for me personally, this was the first time I got to work directly with the kids on their schoolwork and it was a great experience. In addition, I think everyone’s Spanish has grown throughout the trip. Again, I know I don’t speak for everyone, but it’s amazing how much of the language I can remember when English just isn’t an option. The trip so far has been enlightening and so much fun and I can’t wait to see what the last few days have in store for us!

~Eric Wiscount. 2016



Day 4: Batey Libertad- Agricultural Tour and DPV

After waking up at an early hour to the lovely chorus of roosters, Camille and I couldn’t locate anyone to give us the keys to the latrine. Therefore, we grappled over the following: to use the bucket or not to use the bucket? At that moment, we didn’t get to decide because we discovered a rooster in our bedroom!

April fools.

But seriously, we ended up using the bucket. Like many other things I’d already begun to discover about the quirks of Batey living, it ain’t that bad, and it’s possibly very liberating. I’d add my morning bucket shower to that list as well; not only was it peaceful and enjoyable (despite the decorative spider webs), but I got squeaky clean without wasting tons of water.

After breakfast, the UD group and Yspaniola volunteers all gathered to head out to La finca (the farm) a short walk opposite of Batey Libertad and across the highway. There we toured the fields and visited the adjacent rice factory.

Camilo, my host brother and a Yspaniola volunteer, along with Dana, the local program manager, primarily led the tour. First we stopped at the beginning of la finca, in front of the rice fields, and here’s some of what we learned:

·       We were visiting during the off-season, where the rice was still growing. There is no need for workers during this time as there is nothing to plant or harvest.

·       The area along the highway has 21 rice factories, hence why this area of the Dominican Republic is known as “the bread basket”.

·       Many Haitians work in the rice field, planting, where they are paid per tarea (large row of rice). Pay is around 500 pesos, or about $10.

·       This job does not include any type of health insurance or benefits, meaning that should a worker who plants barefoot in the mud get cut by a the glass-like shell of a snail, they may be thrust into a serious situation.

·       Dominicans who work on the rice fields often get paid more for doing the easier jobs, such as overseer work.

The rice field

The rice field

Our next stop was the rice factory, directly across from the first rice field we visited. This factory was only one building big, but contained all the machinery necessary to shell, separate, and package various types and qualities of rice. Below are pictures of the factory as well as brief descriptions of the process:

Rice that needs to be de-shelled, done so by the machinery in the background.

Rice that needs to be de-shelled, done so by the machinery in the background.

Area where rice is separated and packaged; short grain rice determined to be insufficient is not wasted but instead sold as food for animals.

Area where rice is separated and packaged; short grain rice determined to be insufficient is not wasted but instead sold as food for animals.


Rice packaged and labeled by quality/type.

Rice packaged and labeled by quality/type.


The control panel with ALL THE BUTTONS!

The control panel with ALL THE BUTTONS!

We happened to run into the son of the owner of the rice factory, who informed us that they export their rice around the world and keep some in the Dominican Republic as well. They even have a rice exchange with the US! So cool!

Walking along the dirt path with a gorgeous mountain backdrop, we enjoyed seeing the other crops that are grown on la finca, including plantains, bananas, pidgeon peas, and ahí picante (hot peppers). A few brave and foolish souls decided to pick the ahí picante off the vine and eat it together at the same time. Luckily, I managed to catch the before and after moments:

Before the realization that water will not subdue the burning of the deceptive ahí picante.

Before the realization that water will not subdue the burning of the deceptive ahí picante.

At this point I was glad to be the cameraman and not the participant.

At this point I was glad to be the cameraman and not the participant.

 According to the daring Eric Wiscount, who confronted the ahí picante head on, “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten my life.” Ladies and gents, in this battle of man vs. food, ahí picante won (Man vs. Food reference, anyone?).

After returning to Batey Libertad and enjoying a delicious lunch of arroz con pollo, I regrouped under the gazebo area with the volunteers to play cards (namely, the game know as B.S./cheat – I recommend a quick Google search if you’ve never played). While not everyone partook, we did have many spectators, both adults and kids. However, some of the girls were more interested in braiding my hair than watching the game.

I did particularly take a liking to the hair-do of my 7-year-old host sister, Dawenza, who braided my hair in four or five separate plaits. I rocked that style for a good portion of the card game, until an older girl braided my hair neatly into two plaits. Later in the afternoon, my hair was taken over by three young girls. As a testimony to their combined hairstyle, the outcome can be summarized by this exchange between a young girl and myself:

Girl: “¿Cómo te llamas?” (What’s your name?)

 Me: “Me llamo Juli.” (My name is Juli.)

 Girl: “¿Porqué tu cabello es tan feo?” (Why is your hair so ugly?)

Some people may find the honesty horrifying, but I found it hilarious. Letting kids braid my hair is nothing new, and the outcome is always pretty similar. Plus, I really didn’t mind it (well, only until I had to detangle the tiniest of braids using massive amounts of conditioner).

At around 2 o’clock, we gathered for our presentation of Deportes Para La Vida, with Camilo leading the session. Deportes Para La Vida (DPV) is a peer-led program geared towards educating youth about HIV/AIDS through games. The activities that day were appropriate for all ages present, including the younger ones. First we started with an easy, routine warm-up activity to get everyone upbeat and focused. It involved counting fingers and toes in a fast paced, fun fashion. Next, we played another super exciting warm-up game, one that I actually used to do as a theater warm-up. We then dove into the main game, which held the significance of the lesson.

Splitting half and half, two groups lined up facing each other, with each person standing shoulder to shoulder with his hands behind his back. One group was given a tennis ball to pass back and forth during a short song, concealing the ball’s location as best as possible. At the call to stop, the other group had three chances to guess who had the ball. After one round, we added a metaphor to the game; the ball represented AIDS, and whoever ended up with the ball was the person with the hypothetical AIDS. This showed that unlike stereotypes, which base who has AIDS on outward appearances, in actuality, you cannot judge if someone has AIDS by how they look. The only way to know is through a test.

Unfortunately, I was so into DPV that I didn’t even take photos, so instead I’m going to provide you with a picture of the UD group with some of the Yspaniola volunteers under the highway sign for Batey Libertad:


An amazing bunch

An amazing bunch

Resource creation and observing in the Learning Center were next up on the list of things to do. During resource creation, we worked on making materials for the teachers and students in the Learning Center, located right in Batey Libertad. In fact, we set up our station right outside the Learning Center. Resources included many many many Spanish flash cards that needed to be cut, organized, and contact papered. I’m just going to say this now: contact paper is evil. Luckily we triumphed and eventually organized an assembly system.

Many (possibly too many) kids were eager to help, so we tried to delegate jobs to them. While this decreased efficiency and tended to cause slight chaos at times, I felt it added to the excitement and it was encouraging to see the kids’ enthusiasm to help.

While some stayed to continue to work on resource creation, I went with three others to observe a class in the Learning Center. The Learning Center is designed to supplement that which the Dominican education system lacks. While typical schools will focus on rote memorization, the Learning Center promotes critical thinking in literature as well as teaches basic math to the younger students. Inside in the back is an area designated as a small library, where students can check out books and attend reading hours.


During my observation time, the lesson given by the awesome teacher, Cory, was about making inferences. They incorporated this idea into their weekly readings of abbreviated chapters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. A large portion of students were raising their hands with confidence. Cory often awarded the class with stars for the impressive amounts of participation. These stars went towards a sticker board that once filled out, indicates that a party will be thrown for the class. Of course, there was a fair share of erasing stars as well, leaving some grumbling at the loss. Good news though: the class ended with a large net positive of stars! Wahoo!

The classroom observation coincided quite well with the educational discussion we had with Cory, Dana, and the volunteers later that evening. After a brief introduction to the goals of the Learning Center, we broke off into groups to discuss education in both the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Paul, who is part of the local team of Yspaniola, was clearly knowledgeable and animated about the subject. He discussed his ideals for education reform in the Dominican Republic and also posed some questions about U.S. education that stumped all of us (Why is the cost of higher education so high? How did it get that way?). Through the conversation, I got a really good feel for just how important the Learning Center is for Batey Libertad. After seeing the success of so many students first hand earlier that day, I felt thankful in that moment for organizations like Yspaniola and the passionate people who make up its team.

To solidify the night, we went to the Play to enjoy a game or two of a game called ¿Quíen Falta? (Who’s missing?). I enjoyed playing with Dawenza, helping her jump from half-tire to tire that lined the road leading along the play, leading into the Batey. We also worked on mastering the hand-clapping game that I call Numbers. A lot of kids would join us to try their hand as Numbers, or play another classic game called Slaps. It was a lovely end to the night under the numerous stars of the Play (and an equally numerous amount of gained mosquito bites). While I couldn’t capture the beautiful night sky, I’ll leave you with the equally breathtaking view of la finca:


Cool cats on the agricultural tour hosted by some fantastic Yspaniola volunteers.

Cool cats on the agricultural tour hosted by some fantastic Yspaniola volunteers.

~Juli Beck, 2015


Day 3: Dajabón, Batey Libertad

Today we had an early start and went to the border to see the start of an international market day. Every Friday and Monday morning the border is opened and Haitians will rush the border with goods and foods to sell at the market. They will bring in furniture, food, clothes, shoes, or other goods into the Dominican. In return, people will bring the Haitians products that they need, such as ice. The most amazing part was seeing the women carry unbelievably large bags of goods on their heads! I was also surprised by the line of people that were waiting to bribe a guard to get into the country for work. I knew the system was generally corrupted but to see the corruption right before my eyes was a whole different experience.

Next, we entered the chaos of the market. It probably didn’t help that I suffer from a slight case of claustrophobia, but the amount of Haitians bumping into me left and right was a tad overwhelming. However, I did leave with a pair of red shoes that I got to practice my bargaining skills for.

Hotel in Dajabón

Hotel in Dajabón


After the market we got right on a bus to head to the Batey. We took a public bus so that we could experience the checkpoints along the way. This bus ride was something I was not mentally prepared for—stop after stop with military personnel asking for your passport is a little nerve racking! As white Americans we were only asked twice, but others with darker skin had to constantly be on guard.


Scenic route to Batey

Scenic route to Batey

When we finally arrived at the Batey I was overcome with nerves. Entering such an unknown territory and experience was scary and I did not know what to expect. However, my nerves quickly subsided when I was ambushed by two adorable little girls yelling “Americanos! Montame!” meaning “Carry me!” I did just that, and all of a sudden there was a little girl in my arms wearing my sunglasses with the biggest grin on her face. (I soon realized that this was going to be the new theme of the week—carrying little girls around until they regretfully let you peel them off of you…)

We were then given a tour of the Batey, and later returned to our host families to settle in. Elsa, my host mom, was one of the wealthier members of the Batey. I was fortunate enough to have a closed off room to shower in, a generator for the nights when the Batey operated without electricity, and a latrine that was right behind house. Other host families did not have such resources and lived without many of these amenities.

We then had free time with the volunteers. We went into the “play,” which is a large dirt field where a lot of the kids go to socialize. It was interesting because we started to tell jokes and even though there was a language barrier, it was still easy to relate to and laugh with them. That was the point when I knew that the week would bring exciting new relationships and perspectives.

~Danielle Weber, 2015


Day 2: Santiago and Dajabón

~9:30 PM


Our group has just returned to the hotel on Day 2 of the University of Delaware Honors Program UDaB trip and I resist the urge to watch the Indiana Jones film playing on our television. Instead, I reflect on the day and am only vaguely aware of the din of vehicle traffic, speeding motorbikes, and honking drivers that remind me that Santiago nightlife is still active. I ignore the impulse to look out my window and start to remember how the day began and our van trip to Dajabón this morning….

 ~9:15 AM

The van awaits us and our destination is Dajabón, a border town between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thirteen of us crowd into the van and it is close quarters, even with the luggage tied to the roof. I remember taking a piece of chicle, or chewing gum, to ward off motion sickness in case there were bumpy roads or traffic along the way. We all had graham cracker provisions because the trip would take a few hours and would pass by military checkpoints as we neared the border between Haiti and the DR. Once I was situated in the van, my view was restricted to backpacks, fellow passengers, and the bobbing of the tree-shaped air freshener the van driver had wisely affixed to the rearview mirror. Looking out the van window, I was entertained with a picturesque mountain landscape, wide open fields and clear skies.

The view from my window seat. As we drove we saw green pastures and fields give way to a more arid landscape.

The view from my window seat. As we drove we saw green pastures and fields give way to a more arid landscape.

Road trip scenery: the inside of the van as seen from my seat

Road trip scenery: the inside of the van as seen from my seat







Sometime that afternoon:

After a brief stop in Esperanza to drop off our luggage, we finally reached Dajabón. Once there, we checked into our hotel, put on a preemptive layer of picaridin bug spray to deter the wildlife and headed over to Dona Pura’s for lunch. We collectively devoured a variety of chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, and enjoyed homemade pineapple and orange juices – as well as a drink called “avena” that tasted like Creamsicles! After the long van trip we were all eager to walk around and stretch, so after eating, we walked toward the “old” border.

The whole gang. Dona Pura's meals were so good we returned the next day for lunch.

The whole gang. Dona Pura’s meals were so good we returned the next day for lunch.

 As we walked, we felt the warm tropical heat and stopped to sample ice pops sold by two boys traveling through the streets with their coolers. Upon reaching the arch of the Dominican military station, we had our first view of Haiti peeking through the camouflaged-style painted archway. Passing through the arch and walking out onto the border bridge, we were soon deterred by barbed wire and a padlocked gate.

Our group on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti in the background.

Our group on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti in the background.

 However, it was the view to the sides of the bridge that had the most impact on me. Along the banks of a slow flowing river, groups of women were washing clothes, children were splashing in the water and numerous garments were left on bare dirt and rock to dry. I was struck by the contrast between what I had seen in the DR and what I was now seeing in Haiti. The Haitians appeared to lack resources and basic services while the Dominicans seemed to be more affluent. When the Haitian children and the occasional adult looked up at us, I felt uncomfortable seeing their poverty. Looking back, I realize now that while there was a physical gap between my group on the bridge and the locals below us, the gulf between our experiences and struggles was far wider. As an outsider looking in, I could only imagine what their lives were like and found it difficult to comprehend their struggles. As I watched trash float in the river and animals wade through the same water that people were using to wash their clothing, I was aware of how much I take for granted living in the United States. Furthermore, I began to think about what responsibility the United States and other wealthy nations have to assist struggling countries such as Haiti. 

 To the left and right of the gate we could see Haitian children playing in the water, people swimming, and women washing clothes.

To the left and right of the gate we could see Haitian children playing in the water, people swimming, and women washing clothes.

Seeing the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti also made me begin to question things. Why was the bridge so heavily fortified when the border below was a shallow river with only sparse vegetation? Where did the Haitian people actually live? Why couldn’t these people locate a more desirable water source? I struggled to fathom their daily experiences and despite my pictures and notes from the bridge, later that day I still couldn’t believe what I had seen.

One of the boys who talked to us from the other side of the bridge.

One of the boys who talked to us from the other side of the bridge.

 After the visit to the “old” border bridge, we traveled to the “new” border. This was an entirely different atmosphere, where we saw the bustle of commerce as people crossed the border with their wares in both directions. With the help of our guides, we began to notice the inequities that existed at the border. For instance, on the road deck of the bridge, we saw concrete deposited in rectangular grids. We soon learned that this was a Dominican government directive that these rectangles be filled with bleach to form pools of disinfectant on the bridge’s surface. The rationale behind this was so that when the Haitians came to do business in the Dominican Republic, they would be forced to walk through this bleach – ostensibly to prevent the spread of cholera. Since there is no scientific basis to prevent cholera in this manner, this practice provided insight into the skewed power dynamics on the island. Likewise, as we stood at the border, we actually witnessed Haitians being deported. A pickup truck on the Dominican side of the border slowed as it approached the bridge and then the guards at the border opened the gate and escorted the men out of the truck and towards the gate. I was shocked by the size of the group and how the deportation began and ended in mere moments. This made me think of the articles we had read before the trip and I contemplated if this scene would become more familiar if recent Dominican immigration rulings are enforced.

Now that Day 2 of the trip is over, I realize that this UDaB trip will teach me more about the island, its people, and their history than I ever expected. Having seen first-hand the realities of life for those on the border, I now have a better sense of the struggles they face and the obstacles of their everyday lives. My desire to help and volunteer on the island has been strengthened and I expect that today’s itinerary will be one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Looking back, I am beginning to understand that this border journey will continue to shape my perspective long after I cross the U.S. border and return home.


~Tim D’Agostino, 2016


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