Ever since we came home from our trip friends and family have been asking, “How was the DR?”. The truth is, you can’t sum up your experience in a few sentences. You can’t tell others what we did there, until you give them a whole story of Batey 50. I feel obligated to tell the history of the sugar cane workers, and how they got to the Bateyes. We owe it to the people of Batey 50 to share the corrupted stories and educate as many people as we can about what happens outside of our bubble in Hamden, CT.
When I got home from the Dominican, I felt extremely disconnected, and still do to this day. It’s upsetting to know that as I continue to live my life and come back to Quinnipiac, the people of Batey 50 are still there.
Yesterday one of my roommates told me drinking tap water was “gross”. My response was, “It’s a miracle we even have running water in our house, it’s a luxury not everyone is able to have”. She responded by saying, “Wow the DR really changed you”. And she’s right. I walked off the plane home to JFK a changed person compared to the girl who left for the trip nine days prior. Before this trip I would joke about having a “first-world problem” but this was before I experienced life in a third-world country. I now understand that our “first world problems” are truly first world problems and they are SO minuscule and insignificant when you think about the people in Batey 50. Since returning home I am more grateful for things I have never thought about before; plumbing, heating/air conditioning, and electricity are all things I have never had to live without, and never realized so many people don’t have these luxuries.
During our time there I kept a journal so I would never forget what I saw and how I felt when we were there. I wrote this passage after our adventure to the water park with children from the Joe Hartman school.
Today at the water park a family from Canada asked my friend Mallory why we were there. I listened while she educated them on our trip and mission. Then they expressed interest in sponsoring one of the children from the Joe Hartman School! Mal spoke to this family with so much passion regarding the Bateyes. Hearing my friends talk about why we’re in the DR and working in the Bateyes is incredible. I have a hard time articulating how I feel when I speak, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to verbalize my love for this place and the work that we do here, as well as my friends can.
I still feel this way. It’s so hard to accurately articulate the way Batey 50 makes you feel. It’s a certain kind of feeling, and words just don’t do it justice.
However, there are so many standout moments from our time there, but I want to share my favorite with you.
One night we traveled to Jumbo, the Dominican version of Walmart. While we were there I purchased a bag of M&Ms for the children who traveled with us to the Bateyes each day (the pastors son and daughter, and the son of the man who worked at Casa de Pastoral- which is where we stayed in La Romana). The kids were grateful and appreciative. The younger of the boys who is 11, Caleb, told me I was a “very good person” and gave me a hug (he’s not fluent in English, and Spanish is his first language).
The next day I ran onto the bus to grab a drink of water in-between trips of wheelbarrowing dirt. (Each time you ran back to the bus there were kids hanging out outside the door, hoping you would bring off some food, or water, or just play with them). Caleb was sitting on the steps of the bus with his bag of M&Ms. I thought he had brought them along for himself to eat until I realized he was sharing them with the children who were hanging out outside of the bus. This was honestly the most pure and beautiful acts of kindness I have ever witnessed. It was a ‘faith in humanity is restored’ kind of moment and makes me smile every time I think back to it.
My breaking point on this trip happened on New Years Day. We fed the entire community of Batey 50. I noticed a young girl having trouble twirling her spaghetti on her fork, so I sat down in front of her and offered to help. While I sat there and fed her I thought back to our previous night in Casa de Campo (the most luxurious resort in the DR- Also, owned by the same family who owns the sugar cane company and is responsible for the conditions of the Bateyes).
Erika, my new little friend, would point at what she wanted on the plate, and then I would feed it to her. Watching her do this broke my heart. This precious little girl would have limited options and choices in her future and might never leave Batey 50, but for now she could pick out exactly what noodle she wanted to have. I though about the yachts we had seen in the marina at Casa de Campo and the absurd amount of money and privilege on that resort while I fed Erika. I started to lose it so I put my sun glasses on. Erika took them off for me and saw I was crying and looked at me like I was crazy. She was so young and could not yet understand that poverty would most likely be apart of her life forever because it’s not easy to get out of the Batey.
Another standout memory from the trip is our bus ride to the airport on our very last day. I wrote in my journal,
What I never want to forget about this day is the final bus sing-a-long. We were approaching the airport with the ocean on our right as the sun was setting. The golden rays illuminated the sky while we sang our favorite Spanish song with the biggest smiles on our faces. We knew it was the end, but we also knew the previous 8 days we spent together had changed our lives. I feel blessed to know these people and I could not be more grateful for their friendship.
In a little over a week Batey 50 felt like home, and the people we went with now feel like family. I encourage everyone interested in this trip to go and experience it for themselves. QU301DR taught me more about myself and the world we live in than I ever expected, and I am extremely grateful.