Mediation Helps Settle Dominican Republic Shantytown

Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is traveling in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us.

DR children

One of the children of Batey II in Mao, Dominican Republic. The shantytown recently launched a campaign to help resolve conflicts. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

Batey II is a shantytown right outside of the city of Mao in the Dominican Republic. Around a 1,000 people live in the one-room shacks made of scrap tin and plywood. It’s comparable in size to three U.S. city blocks. Moonlight is the only light shed here at night. Water comes from holes dug deep into the ground, protected by no more than a rubber tire at the mouth.

Rosalba and I arrive at the Batey’s CRS sponsored conflict resolution center located along the community’s only strip of road and greet the Batey’s leaders. Maria is sweeping a weekend’s worth of dust from the concrete floor, Daniel is outside shooting the breeze with a handful of locals.

People are drawn to the center, painted in turquoise and decorated with paper flowers. A vase full of artificial roses sits on the lone wobbly table they use to mediate discord. Since the center opened, violence in Batey has dwindled to zero. Neighbors look after one another. They know that when differences arise they can turn to Daniel, Maria and six other mediators to help resolve problems.

DR children

A child living in a shantytown in the Dominican Republic smiles for the camera. The town recently opened a center that offers conflict resolution and has dramatically reduced violent attacks. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

As I chat with Daniel and Maria, children start to gather outside the center’s doorway. They peer in and watch Rosalba and me with interest. I look up periodically and smile at them. They cover their mouths and giggle. I snap a picture. Walk up to them and show them the image on the large screen on the back of my Canon. Their eyes widen. One boy in threadbare clothes grabs my fingers, points at himself, whispers in Creole.

I lift up the camera again, take another picture. They tug on my arm, insist on seeing what I’ve taken. And so it begins, the snap-tug-show, snap-tug-show, of children interacting with me, a stranger, with an even stranger toy. Kids begin to swarm around me. I feel like the Pied Piper of photography. Everywhere Rosalba and I turn, a gaggle of youngsters follow close behind.

They hold on to my hand, caress my arm, pull out metallic blue toy cars, a favorite pair of high-heeled boots at least ten sizes to big. They run by chasing old tires with sticks and stand proudly next to a prized bicycle. With them there are no forced smiles or hamming it up for the camera. They aren’t used to photography, no one has filled a scrapbook of their first food, first steps, or first trip to the beach. They haven’t learned how to pose.

But they are still children, beautiful children who smile and laugh, and throw themselves into unabashed play with the foreign woman who has come to visit. And I feel that way as I photograph them, that I am there just for them. To share for an instant in their world and glimpse for a moment each little thing they love.

DR children

Children of Batey II in Mao, Dominican Republic, pose for a group shot with CRS photojournalist Sara Fajardo (back left) and CRS/DR staffer Rosalba Gómez. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

They give me a tour of their Batey. Pointing out friends, whispering about who lives where. It’s getting late. The sun is close to setting. Rosalba and I have to leave soon or we’ll miss our bus to Santiago. One more picture they pantomime to me. I lift up my camera.

An older gentleman who routinely comes from Mao to help in the community comes towards me. He’s holding a child, legs as thin as pencils. He pulls up the boy’s shirt his belly is swollen with parasites. “These children need medical care,” he tells me urgently, “you must help.” He points to the head of another child, the one with the blue car, a large round patch of hair is missing above his ear, “that’s from a worm,” he says soberly.

Our project in Batey II has helped to quell the violence, an amazing investment in these children’s future. I promise the man to share the photographs and tell their stories in the hopes that it touches someone. And that’s the thing about our work, as hard as everyone labors, as much as we invest in building and rebuilding lives, livelihoods and futures, there is more to be done. Changing lives is a communal effort, one that takes place on a universal scale.

– Sara Fajardo

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3 Responses to “Mediation Helps Settle Dominican Republic Shantytown”

  1. jules Says:

    beautiful my sista….you have found your true gift writing and photographing and helping those in need. Hugs to you…

  2. leah graham Says:

    i feel sorry for the people in your community
    so i am sending this to let you know send me back when get my message.

    love’leah graham
    a.k.a le-le

  3. John Lindner Says:

    Leah,
    Thanks for your great note. I’ve sent your email address to Sara in hopes she can get it to someone who can respond to you.
    -jl

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