SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Luis Pierre Benza shared a one-bedroom residence with eight family members in a community built years ago to house sugar cane cutters.
His ancestors came from Haiti to work in the more prosperous Dominican Republic, but today there are no jobs to be had.
“There was really no way for us to improve our lives or to build our home because of the lack of work,” Benza, 21, said.
Life is still difficult in his community – ironically named Batey Paradise – but it got a bit more bearable recently.
“We have two bedrooms now and they built a second bedroom,” Benza said. “We have latrines that work and schools – a lot changed.”
During a five-year project that recently concluded, nonprofit humanitarian aid groups said they reached 10,300 people like Benza, improving health, water, education, emergency preparedness, business training and new homes.
The “Batey Community Development Project,” carried out by Dominican NGO Mujeres en Desarrollo Dominicana and the U.S. group Save the Children, could provide a model for future work in the most vulnerable Dominican communities.
“The key to making this successful – and the reason that it could be used as a model – is that it was an integral approach to development,” said Sara Julia Jorge, executive director of Mujeres en Desarrollo Dominicana. “We put together a plan that would address the needs of not just one group, but the whole community.”
So-called bateys are considered the least developed and poorest communities in the Dominican Republic.
Originally built to house workers who came to the country to cut sugar cane, bateys are now home to generations, many of whom can’t find jobs or an education.
“Most of what we have here are things that the community builds,” said Francisco Jorge, who lives in a batey near Monte Plata, a community in east-central Dominican Republic.
The project accomplished the following:
776 homes were constructed or repaired, improving living conditions for 3,130 people;
An additional 524 latrines were built;
300 people received microcredit to start a business;
1,300 children in 12 schools received education materials;
11 communities and nine schools were trained for emergency preparedness;
1,000 families received water filtration systems;
Eleven communities saw their water systems rehabilitated, benefiting 3,100 people;
Children under the age of 5 were treated for parasites, received needed Vitamin A, and, thanks to community training, cases of diarrhea were reduced by as much as 27%.
For Benza, numbers don’t capture all of the changes.
“We feel prouder about our community, our batey,” he said. “It’s a better place to live now.”