Empowering Communities in the Dominican Republic

Luciano Cadoni | April 2, 2013

Beneralda with the children she loves, teaches and is empowering with an education. Photo: Dominican Republic, Luciano Cadoni/CWS

Beneralda with the children she loves, teaches and is empowering with an education. Photo: Dominican Republic, Luciano Cadoni/CWS

“CWS has helped me a lot, they do great work and I like to participate in these activities.” This sentence has a lot of meaning, but to me it had a stronger meaning particularly because it was said by Adolfo, a 17-year-old Haitian youth who lost pretty much everything, most importantly his mum, in the 2010 earthquake. After struggling and feeling a sense of insecurity in Haiti, he decided to cross the border and look for a better and safer situation in the Dominican Republic.

That is how he ended up in Boca Chica, where things were not as he expected. He started living on the streets and working as a shoe shiner soon after his arrival. One of his fellow street kids told him about CWS and its programs.

“Since I came the first time I have not stopped participating in the activities they organize for us. I know this is time I do not work but still I prefer to come and learn here”.

As I was listening to Adolfo I was thinking about the political situation in the Dominican Republic, with the government implementing new rules that affect hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent. These rules prevent them from getting a birth certificate, an ID or any valid document that would allow them to have access to education or health services, among other things. These people are now “stateless.”

Luckily, not all Dominicans agree with this. In fact many others, like the staff from Caminante, a local CWS partner, work day by day with people like Adolfo to have their basic human rights be respected.

Yocasta, one of Caminante psychologists, told me, “We have had problems in many communities where Dominicans do not want to see Haitians benefitted with the programs or assistance we can provide.”

Luckily I had the chance to visit one of those communities where change is taking place.

As we were reaching the community I saw a big school being built in a place where only a year ago I saw a very tiny, two-room school made with tarps. That school, from May onwards, will give more than 400 children the chance to receive their primary education in a proper building and it will also have a kindergarten. This is a great achievement, but it did not happen overnight. It is the reward to the efforts of some community members – or heroes I would say – who, after devoting their lives to assist their children, one day felt empowered and advocated with local authorities in order to get what they needed.

I was able to have a chat with some of those amazing people, definitely a chat I will never forget. Altagracia and Beneralda are two community leaders that have worked for many years teaching children with almost no resources at all.

“CWS has helped us tremendously. Initially they helped us to build a school. We continued working and we saw a big increase in the number of kids that were coming to the school. The parents also started believing in us and we felt empowered to approach the authorities and tell them that we needed a school to accommodate all of them. Caminante supported us in this process and they were the ones that connected us with the right people who approved for the school to be built,” says Beneralda. “The key to success was the unity we had, the belief of our community leaders and the people that have helped us. This is a dream come true and I cannot wait for the day that the school will open its doors.”

I truly believe that one of our keys to success is finding partners that are fully committed to work in favor of the ones that need help the most. Partners that have strong bonds with their communities and the capacity to understand and fulfill their needs.

I believe we have already found many of those partners in the Dominican Republic. It is up to us to work with them, to support them and most importantly to build and nurture relationships with them that will allow us all to feel that the work we do has the power to change people´s lives. I am committed to that.

Luciano Cadoni, Program Officer for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, CWS