A Dream becomes a Reality for Batey 9 in the Dominican Republic with help from the Institute of Notre Dame

May 2019

This court story is a combination of two perspectives, that of the local community and the group of volunteers.  Written by Molly, Institute of Notre Dame student and Alexis, and Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Every idea needs an opportunity and a little hope to convert a dream into reality. There is a lively community tucked away in the sugar cane in the Dominican Republic named Batey 9. It is a community filled with youth that are motivated, passionate and not afraid to envision a better tomorrow. The Batey 9 Sports Committee has been organizing practices, matches and tournaments in basketball, soccer and baseball for more than 10 years. Every team from Batey 9, male and female, have been celebrated as the “Little Giants.” They are known as the community to beat in regional tournaments in all sports.

                The Batey 9 Sports Committee applied in August of 2018 and began program management and leadership trainings. They mapped out the short and long term goals that needed to be reached to achieve this court for the community. After being approved a month later, the team began strategizing on how to meet the community contribution through every facet available from materials to dormitories for the visiting group. They pin pointed community leaders and their political ties for donations, sent out letters and followed up with in-person meetings depicting the need and importance of the benefits a court could bring to the community. As a result, the committee was able to receive 100 bags of cement, 15 meters of sand and gravel, 6 truckloads of filler and $3,600 USD.

                The construction of the elementary school was both a blessing and a setback. When the government built the school, the basketball court was fenced in the premises. Leaving the youth of Batey 9 with no court to practice, play matches or just enjoy being young. After false hopes from the local government, a Peace Corps Education Volunteer was sent to Batey 9. The youth committee saw this as an opportunity to apply for Courts for Kids due to the great partnership between the two organizations. They organized themselves to form a plan of action and presented it to the volunteer for it to be translated and submitted.

                The committee consisted of 6 solid power houses and a Peace Corps volunteer that were divided into four committees: construction, food, dorms and activities. Each group has a committee under them that supported all the efforts to make the US teams visit possible. These youth for the first time were given the opportunity to manage a project themselves and learn that they too are leaders. They began to see not only the power they had within themselves, but also as a group to achieve what was once the unthinkable. Getting from the application process to the welcoming of the US team was not easy and a lot of lessons were learned, but it was the necessary experience the youth needed to be inspired to take on any challenge.

                When the US team arrived, the Batey 9 Sports Committee felt the realization of all their diligence become a reality. The US team was composed of 16 strong and dedicated young women who not only left the comforts of their homes to participate in hard labor, but they broke cultural and gender barriers. The first barrier broken was cultural because they were able to socialize and share narratives even with a difference in language. It was the limited amount of English on behalf of Batey 9 and the US teams limited Spanish that ignited a connection beyond words. Both groups interacted through their love of music, dance and curiosity to learn about the world they share. The US team also were an example of the value and strength girls and young women are capable of when they are given the opportunity to show their continuity. Both groups left an everlasting impression on each other and left inspired from their success to become better global citizens for a brighter future!  – Alexis, Peace Corps Volunteer

Virgina Feliz Santana was mixing frosting in the kitchen.

                Her pet chihuahua, Clifford, was treading carefully to avoid being stepped on by guests, and in front of the stove, a teeny-tiny cat stared with wide, curious eyes.

                Later on, the entire community would line up eagerly for a piece of her cake after playing a friendly game of basketball.

                Her favorite thing to hear, she explained, was that people enjoyed her cooking.

                There’s a myriad of worlds that make up the relative globe, and this is one of them.

                Virgina learned to cook by watching her mother.

                She lives in a small community in the Dominican Republic called Batey 9.

                And if you ask her to describe the hardest part of her life, she has no answer.

                Instead, she’ll tell you that her life is perfect.

                Bateys were originally living quarters for Haitian slaves and are now called home by thousands of Dominican people of Haitian descent.

                History runs deep here.

                Haitian people and those with Haitian lineage are treated as second-class citizens.

                This social dynamic fuels trends of intense racism and colorism in the Dominican Republic.

                So, just like the many other seemingly distant worlds, this one is complicated.

                At the center of it all, there are people like Virgina, who opt to live their lives to the fullest by choosing simplicity.

                She appears to be nothing besides completely content, a soft smile resting on her face even when nobody is looking.

                She cannot pinpoint her hardships, only the things that make her life beautiful.

                She willingly cooks for the entire community during a construction project because she loves being in the kitchen, and she loves her home.

                Humanity thrives in Batey 9 through Virgina and others like her who sincerely believe that the key to true happiness is living a peaceful, quiet life.

                Maura McCarthy ’19 shared that, throughout the duration of her stay in Batey 9, she came to realize that “the only difference between developing countries and developed countries is resources.”

                In many aspects, this is true.

                Take America for example.

                Racism in the States is much less outright than it is in the Dominican Republic, however it’s still a delicate web of implicit bias and bigotry that traps this country and prevents it from entirely moving past inequality.

                On the other side of things, people in developing countries are just as satisfied, if not more, with their quality of life as those in developed countries despite not having many of the resources that first-world citizens deem necessary.

                It’s a double-edged sword, so to speak.

                The parallels that exist in this scenario are present all over the world, reminding anyone lucky enough to witness them that it’s possible to connect with any situation, even one that’s vastly different from their own.

                Virgina displays a certain level of wisdom in her outlook on life, one where in the midst of inequality and conflict, people can still find freedom.  – Molly, Institute of Notre Dame student

I learned that I am stronger than I ever though I was. I have discovered that I am someone who is more tolerant and I can easily adjust to just about anything. I have learned that I would love to be in the Peace Corps. Between the lifestyle and the mission and the challenge, I think that there is a recipe for happiness and fulfillment.” – Noelle

“What I learned about the world is that racism and intercultural problems can be seen through every culture…. There are so many things that need to be changed in order for racial judgements to sway and it is such a deep-rooted issue that I want to help solve but don’t know how to.” – Maria

I have really really found this trip incredibly meaningful but also incredible eye opening. And while I have enjoyed it, it has changed me to be more aware of the roots of suffering and how to identify them. I’m definitely coming home as a changed person, just in a different way than I expected.” – Maura

I learned that people are placed exactly where they are meant to be. I learned that happiness thrives everywhere, even if things seem tough from the outside perspective.” – Molly

“I learned a lot about service, especially its flaws.  I appreciate CFK because they truly work with the community. Service can never be perfect but I think this trip was a sustainable, collaborative experience.” – Sarah

“Batey 9 is not so different from Baltimore, which I believe is both an important and heartbreaking realization. We need to create a new culture, but I’m not sure how.” – Maura

This trip changed me by making me realize that being myself, and not being perfect is ok. I don’t have to be perfect at speaking Spanish, or be the strongest person to carry cement. As long as I be myself, I will be happy and those around me will realize that this is who I am.” – Amanda