Every court project in the Dominican Republic comes with its fair share of challenges. With volunteer groups coming from U.S., “a world that moves at a mile a minute,” (Juwann Williams) it’s often an adjustment to get used to Dominican culture, especially the concept of time.
Life just doesn’t move as quickly down here and deadlines definitely don’t hold the same importance. Material donations promised by local governments show up late, if at all. Cement mixers have a tendency to break. Lack of running water often means we have to go to local rivers with buckets. Inconsistent electricity makes it hard for welders to get their job done. And as much as we try to plan, most statements are followed by “Si Dios Quiere” (God Willing), which on this island always reigns over the U.S. idea that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” But it’s these cultural differences that always make for a rich experience for the CFK volunteers who come to help build athletic courts.
So, when the group from the University of Oregon signed up to work alongside the community of Batey Siete, we expected to encounter a few obstacles. To add to the difficulty level, bateyes in general are some of the poorest communities in Latin America. They are primarily populated by Haitian immigrant families, originally brought over to harvest sugar cane. These
Haitians have a tumultuous history in the DR and have faced overt discrimination, despite many families having lived in the DR for generations. Recent history has been even more unkind. The government has recently revoked citizenship for many people of Haitian descent and set a date of June 17th (midway through our team’s trip there) for mass deportations, a move which has garnered wide spread international criticism.
And, in addition to these added obstacles, this project came with even greater adversity. A little over a week before the group was scheduled to arrive, Batey Siete’s Peace Corps volunteer and CFK’s key community contact wound up having emergency surgery and had to abandon the project. Despite all the hard work the volunteer and community had been putting in for weeks, they started to fall behind on their land preparation efforts. Amidst all obstacles, we pressed on together.
After almost 24 hours of travel, a powerhouse team of 24 U of O athletes and chaperones landed in the DR early Saturday morning. After picking up luggage that hadn’t made the flight, we arrived in Batey Siete on Saturday evening and were warmly welcomed by the community. Lisa Peterson, U of O’s Senior Associate Athletic Director said one of her top memories was “when we arrived and the community children greeted us and the way our
student-athletes responded to them. Several cannot speak the language, but they connected with them anyway.” We then spent the evening arranging our beds, hanging mosquito nets and getting used to our new home for the next week.
For the next few days, this hardworking, competitive, determined group helped prepare the land – digging, filling in with subgrade, compacting. Late Tuesday, we were finally ready to start the cement mixer and start pouring cement. The next two days were spent getting water from the river, shoveling sand and gravel, carrying and opening bags of cement, and wheel barrowing. Football player Matt Pierson said, “I learned that it is much harder to pour concrete than I thought.”
As we boarded the bus to head closer to the airport on Friday morning, the community continued to work
on their own. The U of O group worked extremely hard and showed a great deal of commitment for five days straight. As Devon Allen put it, “It was hard to work when machines kept breaking and things weren’t going as planned. But I feel like as a group we worked as hard as we could to finish the court.” While unfortunately the U of O group wasn’t able to help the community lay the last slab of cement, the court had been finished before the group boarded their plane! Not only did the U of O group help Batey Siete overcome all the obstacles and successfully build a court, they also created lots of great memories, and experienced firsthand the joys and struggles of living in one of the poorest places in Latin America. You can see from the following quotes that their experience was a profound one.
Stacey Cooper- CFK in-country director
“What I learned about the world is that not everyone operates in the same ways that we do; whether it was being punctual, working long hours or even having the drive to finish what was started, and that’s ok. Our lives and our circumstances make us operate in the ways that we do and it was interesting to see how the people of Batey 7 operate in comparison with us.”
– Johnny Ragin II
“We were clearly disappointed with not finishing the project we set out to do, but when Xavi and I were walking to the store we heard the radio talking about the deportation issues. It made me think about how trivial a court may be to some of them, especially those who have been there for generations and could be sent out of the only home they have ever known. The world is filled with some many challenges that it is easy to get caught up in my own bubble.”
– Lisa Peterson
“I feel this trip changed me in my observation of parenting and gratitude. It is fascinating to observe
children and parents in other countries. It also makes you think about the things we think are important. It makes me so grateful for not only the things we have but the people, our government and overall culture of getting stuff done.”
– Katie Harbert
“This community has taught me to be happy about the little things in life. After seeing how happy they are with the few things they had, I realize there are so many things to be happy about. This community has given me the opportunity to see life in a whole new way.
– Annie Longtain
“I learned that when adversity is present I have the strength and determination to persevere. I can honestly say this trip taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t know. I also learned that I’m not afraid to venture outside of my comfort zone and try new things.”
– Jill Alleyne
“What I learned from the community is that the political problems going on in the Dominican Republic. If I had not come on this trip I would have had no idea of the deportation of residents without proper documentation. It blows my mind that some people living in the Dominican can have generations and generations in the DR but still be able to be taken away and deported back to Haiti, even if they had never been there before just because their great great grandparents were Haitian.”
– Chelsey Keoho
“The most difficult part of going home is no matter what we changed for these people they are still victim of a broken infrastructure. We can lend them, money or any kinds of support but for them to truly improve their quality of life there is so much more to be done.”
– Katie Marlatt
“This trip has changed me by making me most grateful for having shoes because a lot of kids didn’t have shoes or clothes without holes. I am also grateful to live in a country where any and everything is possible. I learned not to be worried about having set plans and to go with the flow of things because problems will come up, but mostly how to handle adversity without complaining or whining about it.”
– Lexy Beaudrie-Pierson
“It was weird that a pickup truck with a megaphone telling everyone to get their papers ready because they could get checked and deported at any time. Hearing that definitely gave a better insight into the Batey mindset”
– Matt Pierson
“This trip changed my whole outlook on life. I will no longer take things for granted like fresh water, flushing toilets, a real bed, shoes and the list goes on.”
– Stevie Knapp
“I still don’t understand why the people that have been there for generations haven’t received any type of documentation for the families that have been there for years. The lack of documentation doesn’t give the community anything to strive for, they will live in a society where they have to look over their shoulders for the cops and wonder when their last day will be.”
– Juwann Williams
“The community showed me that it’s okay to appreciate time and spend it however you like. Life is short and time spent being carefree and happy is very important.”
– Sydnee Walton