The island of Hispaniola is the home of both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both countries have shared the struggles of poverty, military dictatorships, and hurricanes. They also share beautiful beaches and nice, warm weather.
This island was one of the first conquered by the Europeans in the early 16th century. The indigenous population was practically wiped out and was replaced by African slaves. Now, opportunities are scarce and the economy is supported by money sent back to the island by those living in Puerto Rico or the United States.
The capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, has suffered a dramatic increase in population over the last decades and this rise has continued during the last ten years. Families and children who previously farmed sugar cane moved to the city after the demand for sugar cane dropped in Latin America. Tourism began to become an important factor in the economy in the mid-1980s. Desperation has driven many children to prostitution in this popular destination for European tourism.
Apart from the typical prostitution, the child sex industry in the Dominican Republic includes both boys and girls, working away from indoor places, mainly in tourist areas. This new type of prostitution has resulted from the increase in tourism, particularly as tourists pay higher prices than local men. While the majority of the children work on their own, some may have someone who finds the ‘customer' for them. It is not uncommon for bar staff or taxi drivers to serve as intermediaries between their ‘customers' and child prostitutes.
Children involved in the sex industry are socially stigmatized and legally harassed. In the past, the police regularly rounded up and arrested those involved in prostitution. Corruption within the military and police force was also recognized as widespread. These street children were often mistreated by authorities who considered them a nuisance.
Caminante, meaning "One Who Walks the Path," is a grassroots organization made up of people who have first-hand knowledge of the struggles that face the kids and teens in their community. Caminante is located in Boca Chica, a beach-resort town, located close to the airport and the capital city of Santo Domingo. The project is providing a safe space where hundreds of youth and their families will receive counseling and participate in recreational and formation programs. Additionally, in coordination with local government and non-governmental agencies, victims of sexual abuse and exploitation are receiving special attention and services. Many of the staff of Caminante are former participants in the program who lived on the streets or had little support from a family.
The purpose of Caminante is to serve children who are at risk of being drawn into prostitution as a result of the culture associated with the tourist economy in the Dominican Republic. Caminante seeks to help develop the self-esteem of these children by teaching Christian values, through education and recreational activities. Also, Caminante works closely with the families, churches, and the community to raise awareness regarding the complexity of this problem.
Caminante offers the following services:
- Health and wholeness services
- Follow up with HIV/AIDS victims
- Medical services
- Legal Services
- Legal assistance in accordance with Law 136-03 (NNA protection)
The law is explicit in stating that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is a violation of human and child rights. It establishes penalties for those who violate such rights by sexually exploiting children and makes recommendations for ensuring that child victims and their families are protected and supported.
- NNA follow up to street situations
Vocational and Technical Education
- Study rooms
- Reinstate in school
- Workshops and courses
- Alliances with technical training centers
- Individual therapy
- Family and group therapy
- Emotional support
Gifts to Caminante can be used to:
- $10.00 help provide needed school supplies
- $25.00 help provide sports equipment
- $50.00 help provide medical and psychological services at Caminante
|Update: September 2013|
From July 2012 to July 2013, Caminante assisted 90 youth and children through their academic centers in Bella Vista and Brisas Del Norte. The alternative curriculum provided through these centers is aimed at developing cognitive and social skills in order to reduce risky behaviors. Global Mission Intern Ashley Holst’s work with participants through music has contributed to a significant reduction in the levels of violence and hyperactivity. The participants in these centers are more likely to continue their education and develop greater reading comprehension than children who do not participate.
Families with children attending the academic centers also are involved in workshops that encourage positive parenting methods. These workshops emphasize:
- Family ties
- Family participation in educational activities
- Respect for the rights of children
- Reduction of physical and psychological abuse of children
- Awareness of community problems
Caminante’s summer camp programs provided opportunities for dozens of children to learn more about decision-making, the environment, and the importance of universal education. This last point is crucial for Caminante as many of the children they work with do not have the legal documents required for local schools.
Caminante hopes to continue its educational work and to expand work related to basic healthcare, especially in the areas of nutrition, immunization, and waterborne infections.
|Update: January 2016|
Caminante offers morning and after school programs for children and youth to practice the areas of reading, writing, homework completion, and academic success techniques. Nearly 200 students have attended the program in the past two years, and each participant meets with a Caminante staff member to identify any potential academic or behavioral problems that can be addressed. In addition to the educational programs, Caminante provides school supplies on a case-by-case basis for children and youth, such as uniforms, shoes, backpacks, and more.
Recreational Activities and Life Skills
Caminante believes that children and youth should have the opportunity to play games and sports for the purposes of having fun and social development. Caminante provides a space for children and youth to play and understands that through having fun with peers, they are developing skills in decision making, managing peer pressure, and dealing with conflicts.
Summer Camps and Workshops
Over 250 children and youth attended summer camps through Caminante in the past two years. Summer camps included a schedule of activities, games, and workshops with the primary goal to have fun and socialize in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. Through workshops provided by Caminante, young participants learned about topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention, physical and sexual abuse prevention, and more.
Caminante also held lecture series and workshops on helpful tips and tools for parents and guardians. Common discussions at these workshops include conversations on the topics of participating in school meetings, checking homework completion, and ways to encourage their children to achieve academic goals.
“Soy Salud” Health Project
Caminante, through their “Soy Salud” health project, is increasing access to health care services and information on living healthy lifestyles for children, youth, and families in the Bresa del Norte (La Torre) Boca Chica community. The project aims to support families and local organizations to become jointly responsible for the care and protection of health. Caminante identified the following five areas as the key strategies to a healthier community: promoting health awareness and education, identifying and preventing potential social risks for poor health, treating existing health conditions, emphasizing mental and overall health, and lobbying for provisions from state health ministries. Caminante has been able to implement activities in each of these five areas, including workshops reaching over 600 attendees. They also have worked toward a 70% increase of individuals in the community receiving immunizations, better access to dental cleanings and treatments, and an increased partnership between local health care providers and the community for better treatment of existing health conditions.
|Update: February 2018|
Academic and health services, workshops for youth and families, and legal advocacy for children’s rights continue to be at the forefront of Caminante’s work in Boca Chica. Child and community education projects included academic initiatives as well as programs for learning about social issues and cultivating vocational skills. Through the academic program, which provides tutoring and a safe place for studying, 60 children from disadvantaged backgrounds reached a higher level of literacy by the end of the school year. Another step taken to help disadvantaged children stay in school was the distribution of free school supply kits to more than 100 kids. To bolster entrepreneurial skills, Caminante’s handicraft workshops instructed 47 adolescents in the production of sellable items handmade from environmentally-friendly materials.
Lessons on social awareness and activism continue to be carried out in Caminante’s Summer Camps. The most recent theme for the summer camps was “Prevention Roads: For a Community Free of Violence.” A total of 800 children participated in a Caminante Summer Camp. In addition to games, activities, snacks, and receiving school and clothing supplies, campers also learned about mediation skills for peaceful resolution of disputes and how to take non-violent actions for the protection of human rights. As a follow up to the Summer Camps, Caminante held workshops with families around the Dominican Republic to learn about conflict management within the family, and how parents can teach their children to cultivate positive relationships.
Health services provided by Caminante included public health workshops and visits from medical professionals. In conjunction with the Dominican Red Cross, Caminante offered workshops on the topic of identifying, treating, and preventing tropical diseases. Thanks to a volunteer group from Oklahoma, there were also workshops conducted on the importance of personal hygiene and oral health. People of all ages benefitted from the information. Children enjoyed receiving educational toys and hygiene kits, which included soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss.
In cooperation with the Tierra Alta Dominicana Foundation, check-ups from a mobile health clinic were arranged so that the children and their families received free medical attention. On the day of the mobile clinic visit, 77 people received check-ups, along with medication when necessary.
Legal advocacy for Haitian children is another focus for Caminante. In the Dominican Republic, obtaining legal identification documentation is vital for every child as it is the first step towards qualifying for school enrollment. In 2016, Caminante began the application process for 26 children to obtain a legal ID. The process of obtaining legal identification papers for Haitians living in the Dominican Republic is often slow and difficult. The process requires documents from hospitals, the City Hall, Court offices, and churches, and must be completed in cooperation with the UNHCR. By the end of 2017, 10 of the 26 children were approved to receive identification documents.
Children living and working on the streets are frequently changing locations due to job needs, which creates a few challenges for Caminante. When locations are frequently shifting, it is difficult to follow up with the children to provide assistance, as well as register children for programs. Caminante hopes to improve efforts in both of these areas. Caminante also plans to continue expanding their academic outreach and tutoring program, as well as their family training services, summer camp, and advocacy for Haitian children’s rights.
Ramone is a teenage boy of Haitian descent, whose family moved to the Dominican Republic in search of a better quality of life when he was four years old. Ramone shares, “When I was nine years old, I began shining shoes on the beach of Boca Chica. I was not able to go to school in Boca Chica because I did not have the proper identification documents so I would spend all day working on the beach to help my family. One morning, a staff member from Caminante came up to me and invited me to play a game of baseball.”
Ramone joined the other children at the Caminante programs for this baseball game that day. Since then, Ramone has been returning to Caminante programs and participating in the academic and social programs that Caminante offers. Eventually, Caminante was able to advocate for him to begin attending school. Now, Ramone is attending school and getting extra homework help through Caminante’s homework programs.
Global Ministries welcomes gifts for the work of Caminante and extends thanks to all those who have supported children’s rights in the Dominican Republic.
|Update: January 2020|
In 2019, Caminante benefitted 155 children, youth, and young adults directly, while also indirectly assisting almost 700 members of the community of Boca Chica by continuing its work on its main objectives of promoting education and vocational training, providing health services, and recreational opportunities for its community. Children involved in the educational programs are overwhelmingly Haitian or of Haitian descent. Due to the complexities of the immigration systems between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, many of these individuals are living without identity documents, making it difficult to follow traditional educational avenues or to access other government services. Because of their lack of access to formal education, combined with possible trauma, poverty, and managing two languages at once (Spanish and Haitian Creole), these children often suffer from low levels of formal educational achievement.
The Caminante Education Program has seen great results over the past year, with many students being provided quality education regardless of their documentation situation, thanks to the advocacy of Caminante staff in the schools. This means that more children are in school instead of finding informal work along the streets around Boca Chica. Caminante also was able to support 87 children and youth with school supplies such as notebooks, backpacks and writing utensils, as well as with shoes, and school uniforms. The staff of Caminante made many visits into the community to support the students and families, especially to encourage consistent school enrollment levels. This effort has led to higher scores and rates of literacy among students. Caminante paid special attention to addressing and working with mental health concerns when they arose in the children and their family members. Children who participate in the educational recreational activities at Caminante often see improved academic performance and lower levels of aggression.
Throughout 2019, Caminante continued to develop and improve its many workshops for educational and vocational training for members of the community. This year, 25 young adults have been in various technical job training courses as they learned computer skills, barbering, electrical work, and restaurant service. Additionally, 40 young adults and young people participated in workshops and trainings in areas of life skills, translation, and abuse prevention. Over 100 parents attended Caminante’s educational activities focused on positive parenting based on the values of self-esteem, conflict transformation, peaceful mediation, prevention of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and prevention of exploitation.
In addition to Caminante’s educational and vocational training programs, almost 100 children and families have received preventive health and counseling services over the past year. Furthermore, over 200 children and young adults participated in Caminante’s Playful Days—where youth can have fun and also learn with sports, games, and other educational and recreational activities. These recreational activities are designed to promote a recreational space in which the importance of living in a healthy community is encouraged.
Through all these activities, Caminante always works with participants who need to regularize their documentation situations. Over the past year, Caminante’s staff was able to assist sixteen children, youth, and young adults in obtaining their birth certificates. This is a difficult and arduous process; however, once completed, it allows an individual more rights such as freedom of movement and facilitates access to many services.
|Update: April 2020|
Caminante is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dominican Republic. The main offices are closed as the Dominican Republic is currently under a nationwide lockdown. However, Caminante’s staff have shifted their work so that they can continue to care for vulnerable households.
The Caminante staff are working with community partners to deliver services and support to the children. Additionally, staff members are able to communicate with one another over video to update each other on projects. One new program is carried out by a group of volunteers and Caminante staff members to provide food daily for a group of Dominico-Haitian children living in an outdoor area near the beach. Deliveries are made while wearing gloves and masks to protect everyone’s health. Also during this time, Caminante is assembling and delivering “COVID-19 Kits” for volunteers and others in the community. Each kit includes food items, hygiene items, masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and large containers of water.
Caminante staff members are continuing to check in with children and families by phone calls, for those who were attending educational programs. In this way, Caminante has created an informal network to monitor the health and safety of all the children. As Caminante continues their work in new and creative ways at this challenging time, they are requesting $20,000 to carry out these activities.