EMPOWERING THE YOUTH
Jesenia and many other youth have grown up in bateyes, communities made up of families of Haitian ancestry who worked in the sugar industry. To the newcomer’s eye, a batey looks like pictures of Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Some families still crowd into barracónes, long houses with 12 small rooms on each side. Sixty percent don’t have water at home. Two out of three families have no bathroom.
“These communities—the government doesn’t pay any attention to them,” says project manager Emilio Desena, a 23-year World Vision veteran. “The services are very limited—especially in health, water, education, and good housing.” Eighty percent of the population is unemployed after the sugar industry replaced manpower with machinery.
Esteban is committed to these struggling communities in part because he knows of childhood hardship. As a child, Esteban was sent to work in Santo Domingo, selling produce in the market from 3 or 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. “I worked every day. There was no Sunday. There was no Saturday.” Yet he still managed to go to school, and today he is working toward a university degree in counseling. “So far it has taken 10 years,” he says.
To help rebuild these struggling communities, Esteban created a dynamic outreach that attracts what he calls “a big net of youth.” He invites young people into a range of clubs that target their interests. Youth can participate in baseball, soccer, and even chess; there’s a club for caring for the environment and clubs to build kids’ faith.
Esteban meets with club leaders like Jesenia next to an old school bus parked by his house. They sit in white plastic chairs and talk through the issues facing the teens in the neighborhood. Repairing the gap between genders is Esteban’s primary focus. He works with boys and girls to build their self-esteem and respect for one another.
“I’ve learned how to stop domestic violence and how to treat women right,” says Wascar Peña. The 19-year-old, who hopes to become a doctor, says he is learning things from Esteban that his parents did not know. “I am different from the former generation.”
In churches and homes across the bateyes, Esteban counsels couples whose marriages are in trouble. He leads by example. “He’s a good father,” says his son Emanuel, 15. “He’s a good husband. I’ve learned many things—how to treat a woman well.” Daughter Génesis, 13, agrees. “I have never seen a father like this,” she says.
Esteban is different because of his faith. “[God] is the reason I breathe,” he says. Faith infuses World Vision’s work. “Since we promote the values of God’s kingdom in everything we do, this helps a lot. People learn easier to accept differences,” he explains. “You start seeing how Dominicans accept the Haitians in their community. When people see how we work, how we promote acceptance, they quickly adapt to this way of thinking.”
Esteban’s work comes at a cost. “Sometimes I forget to eat because I’m moving around so much,” he says. Not eating and worrying about kids have created health issues for Esteban, but there is so much to do.
“I’ve been able to see the difference,” Esteban says. “Teens that marry after being involved with World Vision prepare for marriage. They don’t live from today to tomorrow. They plan for the future.”
This kind of planning comes out of frank talk with teens about gender issues, especially the hardships that come with teen pregnancy and how to avoid this pitfall. Elena Ramirez runs the lab at the local health center, where World Vision is one of a team of partners. She says there are now fewer instances of teen pregnancy in the bateyes than a decade ago. “It’s being controlled,” she says. “I think it is because of the information that World Vision is giving to teenagers.”