Poverty Prevention and Empowerment for Un-documented Adolescents in the Dominican Republic
Accompaniment and critical presence; the two themes were branded into my mind as I left for the Dominican Republic.
Accompaniment and critical presence; the two themes were branded into my mind as I left for the Dominican Republic. These two themes have defined my first quarter in the Dominican Republic. For months they were my safety net, when people challenged me, “why are you here?” or “why do you want to live there?” I had the perfect answers, “I am here to learn about the culture, language, and people. I want to walk daily though life and experience challenges with Caminante.” I have experienced and anticipate more time of observation, so that together, Caminante and I can create sustainable and beneficial solutions. I understood that after months of accompaniment and just “being” with Caminante, critical presence would happen… that I would find my place of purpose. My heart continues to be called towards a population of children and adolescents who are systematically being refused rights, most critically, the right to a public education.
Haitian refugees, Dominicans born in the DR of Haitian descent, and extremely poor and/or uneducated Dominicans are at risk of lacking personal identification and documentation. Documentation is needed to attend school, receive government assistance, get a driver’s license, legally work, vote, receive a pension, etc. Haitians had many challenges as refugees before 2010, but the influx in Haitian refugees has led to increased limits and tightened laws on immigration. “In recent years, the government has adopted new penalties for companies that hire illegal workers and has amended the constitution to no longer automatically grant citizenship to people born in the country before 2010, except for those whose parents were legal residents. The Dominican Republic saw a major influx of Haitians that year, after a massive earthquake destroyed much of the Haitian capital and devastated the country’s economy” (January 2013, Washington Post).
Many children in the Dominican Republic do not have the opportunity to attend school until late in their childhood, if at all; because they do not have birth certificates or their birth certificates are deemed false. Unfortunately, many people have falsified documents out of necessity.
In my accompaniment process, I have heard the stories of many children and my fellow Caminante staff who have lived through the struggles of not having documents. Caminante assists where they can to help mothers get birth certificates for their children, but their most effective ministry for this population is with the adolescents and young adults who do not have access to traditional education. Through Caminante’s trade school, La Casona, adolescents have the opportunity for alternative education in hotel management, restaurant staff, beautician, child care, cooking, tailoring, jewelry making, and information technology and other advanced computer skills. La Casona also provides English classes for adolescents and adults, a very desirable skill in this tourist area!
In addition, Caminante provides community and empowerment for an amazing group of teenagers, most of whom are Haitian. This group does not attend public school. Instead, they attend classes in La Casona in the morning and have alternative activities in the afternoon at Caminante. Throughout the week they have education classes, empowerment workshops, and Desportes para la Vida, a health and sexuality curriculum. The program is called “Espacios para Emprender” (EPE – Space for Entrepreneurship). In a discussion with visitors from Church World Services, the group shared how Caminante and EPE has helped them realize they have rights, are intelligent, and deserve to have a good life. Many of them, without the program, might be forced to work on the streets in extremely low wage and or dangerous jobs; now, they have received specialized education and have a certificate of a professional education. The group of 20 adolescents graduated in December 2012 with smiles of accomplishment and lots of words of gratitude for the many teachers and facilitators who coached them through the program. Caminante has given this group of amazing teens opportunities for a better life and empowered them to feel confident and safe in who they are.
Ashley Holst serves as a Global Mission Intern with Proyecto Caminante in the Dominican Republic. Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She works with the children in Caminante’s Outreach Ministry.